Why has the conflict between India and Pakistan lasted so many years?
The genesis of the conflict between India and Pakistan dates to the end of British colonialism in the Asian Subcontinent in 1947 and the subsequent break-up of India into three countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. At its core, it is a manifestation of intense hatred between Muslims and Hindus, and its resolution is unlikely anytime soon.
When Britain granted India independence in 1947, it was hoped – certainly by Indian independence leader and adherent of nonviolence Mahatma Gandhi – that India’s huge population of both Hindus and Muslims would be able to coexist in one nation. No sooner had independence been granted, however, than the country disintegrated into a bloody sectarian war, ending with the creation of majority-Muslim Pakistan, which was comprised of two parts, east and west. In 1971, following yet another protracted, bloody struggle for independence, East Pakistan broke away from West Pakistan to form the independent nation of Bangladesh. While the history of that particular conflict is peripheral to the subject at hand, its history was illustrative of the animosities that permeated the subcontinent, and that continue to be prevalent throughout the region.
In addition to the intensity of the animosity between Hindus and Muslims that continues to fuel the conflict between India and Pakistan, there is a major territorial dispute that serves as an ever-present and highly flammable flashpoint for a potential war between the two nations, both of whom possess sizable arsenals of nuclear weapons. The territory in question is the region of Kashmir, which is currently divided between India and Pakistan along what is known as “the Line of Control.” Control of Kashmir was a major issue during the 1947 war, and was again the source of large-scale armed conflict in 1965. While 1965 was the last major war over Kashmir, the Line of Control remains one of the most tense boundaries in the world, as the world was reminded during the 1999 conflict centered on an icy mountainous range known as the Kargils.
One of the bloodier and more memorable outbreaks of violence involving the Hindu-Muslim relations was the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya by rioting Hindu extremists. Sacred to Muslims throughout the Indian Subcontinent, the mosque’s destruction remains an extremely sensitive topic in that region.
A notable example of the volatility of the India-Pakistan conflict was in May 1998, when India conducted a series of nuclear tests in defiance of international efforts at mediating the conflict between the two nations. Pakistan retaliated by conducting its own series of nuclear detonations, bringing the world to the brink of its first full-scale nuclear war. While the crisis was eventually resolved, the incident served to remind the world of the dangers present on the India-Pakistan border.
With Islamic extremism a serious challenge in the 21st Century, and Hindu fundamentalists always ready to respond the slightest provocation from either India’s large Muslim minority or from Pakistan, there is no reason to believe the underlying conflict will be solved any time soon. In fact, the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, which were carried out by Lashkar e-Taiba, a Pakistan-created and allied militant organization, further served to illuminate the enduring animosities existing in that region.