Kashmir Article 370 – nuclear war flash-point?

India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has made a controversial move to usurp power from the nation’s only Muslim-majority state, potentially igniting unrest in one of the world’s most dangerous nuclear flashpoints. For sure India’s power grab will cause unrest. This is not difficult to foresee. Can Pakistan allow this move to be not responding to? With India and Pakistan being nuclear powers, the questions News Forecasters ask is, how likely is a nuclear confrontation to occur?

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced in Parliament that the government would scrap Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Since 1949, that portion of the constitution has given near-autonomous authority to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), India’s side of the Pakistan-disputed Kashmir region, to conduct its own affairs. Basically, the state could mostly govern itself, except in some areas like foreign policy and defense, and have its own constitution and even its own flag.

But now, the government says, J&K will turn from a state to a union territory, meaning India’s central government in New Delhi will gain much more control over the area’s affairs. New Delhi is also considering splitting parts of J&K into two federal territories: the new state of Jammu and Kashmir, which will get its own legislature; and Ladakh, a remote and mountainous area that won’t get a legislature. This is obviously a massive power grab by the central Indian authorities.

That’s mainly why Shah’s announcement was met with loud jeers from opposition politicians as well as J&K’s leaders in Parliament. Some think the government’s move may be challenged and end up with the nation’s Supreme Court for a final decision. More broadly, though, India unilaterally pushed to change Kashmir’s status without Pakistan’s buy-in. The worry now is that widespread unrest will spike in the region. Indian forces already heavily patrol Kashmir, but it has sent thousands of extra troops there in anticipation of violence, as well as closed schools, evacuated tourists, cut off internet connectivity, and put some of the area’s political leaders under house arrest. In effect, the area is on lockdown.

What do those who defend the law say? They say abolishing the law would dishonor the Indian government’s promise to protect Kashmir’s special status. They also fear that it would open up the state for outsiders to settle, eventually changing its demographics. The profiteers are already out encouraging Hindu Indians to take land in Kashmir areas. One fake SMS comminations reads, “Book your land at Kashmir Laal Chowk Rd from 11.25 Lacs with GST. KASHMIR 370 removed. Limited Stock! For more details call on 9019292918.” Perhaps fake, but the sentiments are clear – immigration for demographic change most likely will happen. Sound familiar?

The Line of Control (LOC) is the line that marks where the region of Kashmir is divided. The land on one side of the line is controlled by India, and the land on the other side is controlled by Pakistan. It is not a legal international border but is the effective boundary between the two countries. The Indian LOC fencing is a 550 km (340 mi) barrier along the 740 km (460 mi) disputed 1972 LOC (or ceasefire line). The fence, constructed by India, generally remains about 150 yards on the Indian-controlled side. Its stated purpose is to exclude arms smuggling and infiltration by Pakistani-based separatist militants.

India and Pakistan have had a long history battling over the region. The India-Pakistan border, the second most heavily guarded (after the Korean dividing border), is 1,800 miles of heavily guarded and extremely dangerous land. It is so heavily guarded that it is the only border seen from space due to the high voltage flood lights on the Indian side. Since the 1947 partition which saw hundreds of thousands die, the countries have fought in 3 other wars and spent at least 25 years disputing claims to the Kashmir province as well as a mountain glacier. The number of casualties has passed the 50,000 lives mark.

Pakistan began development of nuclear weapons in January 1972 under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in response to the loss of East Pakistan in 1971’s Bangladesh Liberation War. Pakistan detonated its first nuclear bomb by the end of 1984. India has developed and possesses nuclear weapons for some time now. Although India has not made any official statements about the size of its nuclear arsenal, recent estimates suggest that India has 200 nuclear weapons. India first tested a nuclear device in 1974. So both Pakistan and India have a lot of historical experience with nuclear weapons.

News Forecasters asked, how likely is a nuclear confrontation to occur? There are two points that need to be understood. First, India, for now, is the winner there’s no point for them to start any confrontation. It is up to Pakistan to respond. Second, a nuclear conflict would not start immediately. It would stem out of conventional military action that would be done by the Pakistanis and then responded to by the Indians.

What could be some trigger points for a nuclear confrontation? One, trigger point would be if the Indians go beyond the LOC and take more of Kashmir than they already have. Another Trigger Point would be if after a protracted conventional military confrontation (2 to 4 years), escalates. India has the upper hand in any conventual military confrontation, however, if a more radical leader of Pakistan (either current one or a replacement) were to emerge, common sense goes out the window. Though foreign powers will try to arbitrate any conflict, most will stay clear of any direct involvement.

The Pakistani people can be easily radicalized, but it’s leaders most likely will be too busy trying to manage a country that is difficult to manage. News Forecasters’ view is that Pakistan will not have a leader that will emerge radicalized and strong enough to confront India. News Forecasters believe the likelihood of a nuclear flashpoint occurring in Kashmir is low, at least for the next 2 to 5 years (the situation can always change). This is probably what India is counting on. In the meanwhile, it will conduct its demographic change program to solidify its control over its portion of Kashmir.

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