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November 15, 2019

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Why Kashmir remains an open wound between India, Pakistan

India says it has destroyed a training camp for the militant group that claimed responsibility for a deadly Kashmir attack on Indian forces two weeks ago. The fighting is the most serious escalation in years between the two adversaries, both of whom have nuclear arms. William Brangham talks to Indiana University's Sumit Ganguly, about the origin of the long-simmering conflict over Kashmir.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last night, India carried out a bombing raid in Pakistani territory, claiming to target a terrorist group responsible for a deadly attack on Indian forces two weeks ago.

    As William Brangham reports, this is the most serious escalation in years between the two nuclear-armed adversaries.

  • William Brangham:

    Indian officials said they successfully destroyed a training camp for the group known as Jaish-e-Mohammad. That group claimed responsibility for a massive suicide bomb attack two weeks ago that killed 38 members of India's security forces.

    Today, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, standing before photos of those killed two weeks ago, celebrated this retaliatory strike.

  • Narendra Modi:

    I will not let the country bow. I take an oath upon this soil that I won't let this country be erased.

  • William Brangham:

    That earlier attack occurred in Kashmir, the highly disputed region between India and Pakistan that's been a source of conflict for decades between the two nations.

    For more on all this, I'm joined now by Sumit Ganguly, distinguished professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington.

    Professor, thank you very much for being here.

    Before we get to this most recent escalation, I wonder if you could just explain, for those people who have not been following this, why is it that Kashmir, that region between the two nations, is such an open wound between them?

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    This is an issue that wasn't resolved at the time when the British were withdrawing from the subcontinent in 1947.

    And both India and Pakistan laid claim to this border state which abuts both the two countries. India wanted to claim Kashmir because it's a Muslim-majority region and wanted to demonstrate that a significant minority could thrive within a predominantly Hindu country.

    Pakistan, by the same token, which had been created as a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia, felt that an adjoining region had to be part of Pakistan, and otherwise Pakistan would be incomplete.

    And it's this sense of incompleteness that has driven Pakistani policy and helped drive Pakistan's claim to Kashmir. But since India controls two-thirds of the state, which is what it managed to hold after Pakistan launched an invasion shortly after the British departure, that it refuses to concede ground, and Pakistan holds on to the one-third that it does, there have been multiple wars trying to resolve this issue, and a series of negotiations, but they have all ultimately run aground.

  • William Brangham:

    So, given that long acrimony, how do you see this most recent escalation unfolding over the next few days?

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    This is a somewhat fraught situation, particularly since this is the first time that the Indian air force has tracked across what is called the Line of Control, which is the de facto international border between India and Pakistan in this disputed state.

    And this is first time that India used its air force across the border since the 1971 war. And, consequently, sentiments in Pakistan, I suspect, are quite raw at the moment, and Prime Minister Imran Khan will feel compelled to respond in some fashion.

    So the next few days and weeks are really a time probably laden with considerable tension. And we could see artillery barrages take place along the line of control.

  • William Brangham:

    And let's say that Pakistan does respond with artillery barrages or more. What does India do in response to that?

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    The Indians probably will return fire, especially in the form of artillery barrages. I doubt that the Indians would try to mount a second airstrike, because by now Pakistan's air defenses are probably on a state of high alert and are likely to remain in the foreseeable future.

    The fact that their air defenses were penetrated by Indian aircraft is obviously a source of considerable distress to Pakistani decision-makers, and particularly the overweening Pakistani military establishment.

  • William Brangham:

    The U.S. for many, many years has played something of a brokering role between these two countries. What role do you imagine the U.S. playing in trying to defuse this situation?

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    Ideally, the U.S. would try and step in and try to broker some sort of a peace.

    But, at this moment, I think if the U.S. were to simply urge restraint in both Islamabad and New Delhi, given the sentiments in New Delhi and in significant parts of Northern India, that wouldn't be received very well.

    I think at this point New Delhi would want Washington, D.C., to put — to exert considerable pressure on Pakistan, as it has done a few times in the recent past, particularly during the 1999 Kargil War.

    But suggesting that both sides exercise restraint probably wouldn't be very well-received in New Delhi, though that is exactly what Islamabad would want under the circumstances.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Sumit Ganguly, thank you very much.

  • Sumit Ganguly:

    Thank you.

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