NEW DELHI – Recent incidents on the Line of Control (LoC) – the frontier between India and Pakistan in the state of Jammu and Kashmir – have again raised fundamental questions about the nuclear-armed neighbors’ fraught relationship. Early this month, India’s army foiled an attempted incursion by a group of 30 to 40 militants from Pakistani territory, leading Indian critics to decry official peace overtures. Indeed, barely two weeks before the latest incident, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, during the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
Pakistan was hacked off the stooped shoulders of India by the departing British in 1947 as a homeland for India’s Muslims; but, until recently (as Pakistan’s population continues to grow at a higher rate than India’s), more Muslims remained in India than lived in Pakistan. Bilateral relations have been bedeviled ever since by a festering dispute over the divided territory of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state (but home to only 3% of India’s Muslims, who are scattered in larger numbers throughout the country).
For decades, open conflict and simmering hostility have been punctuated by periods of short-lived bonhomie. The principal obstacle to peace has been Pakistan’s sponsorship of militancy and terrorism within India, culminating in the horrific attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, in which terrorist commandos killed almost 200 people.
In the late 1980’s, Pakistan backed an insurrection by some Kashmiri Muslims and supplied arms, training, and funds to militants who infiltrated across the LoC. The insurrection, which continues to this day, and Indian security forces’ response to it have caused great loss of life and property, and have all but wrecked the state’s economy, which is largely dependent on tourism.