Pakistan has drastically scaled down its diplomatic and economic relations with India — a move that underscores just how quickly tensions ramped up this week between the two nuclear-armed nations due to New Delhi’s decision to gain more control over the disputed Kashmir region.
Earlier this week, India’s government revoked a constitutional article that had for decades afforded the Muslim-majority Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) substantial autonomy over its own affairs.
That didn’t sit well with Pakistan, which since the 1940s has claimed it should govern India-administered Kashmir and views itself as the protector of the territory’s Muslim-majority population.
In response, Pakistan’s government announced on Twitter Wednesday that it was downgrading diplomatic relations with India, cutting bilateral trade with the country, and referring the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council. As part of the measures, Pakistan will expel India’s ambassador to the country and won’t send its own emissary, who had been preparing to go to New Delhi, to its rival neighbor.
In the midst of this kind of political crisis, having no emissaries in each other’s countries can certainly make it harder to solve issues peacefully. But experts say Pakistan’s statement, while serious, isn’t overly worrisome.
“The diplomatic statements on their own mean really nothing,” Raja Mohan, the director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, told the Guardian on Wednesday. “It’s really what happens on the ground that will be far more consequential.”
There is a chance of war. Pakistan is already talking about it.
Kashmir, the majority-Muslim region in both India and Pakistan’s north, has been partitioned between the two countries since 1947. It’s become a major hot spot ever since, sparking two deadly wars as both sides dispute how much control they should have over it.
So the last thing one would want to do is make a hair-trigger situation even worse, right? Yet that’s exactly what India’s government did this week, meaning the prospect of a third war has become a distinct — yet still relatively low — possibility.
Pakistan and others fear that India’s power grab may lead to ethnic cleansing by Hindus of the area’s Muslim-majority population. India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, aims to have the whole country abide by policies based in that religion and its culture.
And an insurgency on India’s side of Kashmir has killed thousands of people over three decades, bloodshed that New Delhi claims Islamabad helps fuel. Some worry that insurgent-driven violence may tick up in the coming weeks in retaliation for India’s actions.
In anticipation of growing unrest, India sent thousands of extra troops to its already heavily patrolled side of Kashmir, 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.
The quick escalation is why some believe a fight may break out. Pakistan’s leaders have already warned of such an outcome. On Tuesday, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, said that his country was “prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations” to the people of Kashmir.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan noted the same day that India and Pakistan have fought before and could do so again: “Such incidents are bound to happen again. I can already predict this will happen.”
A full-scale war between India and Pakistan could potentially be catastrophic, as both countries have nuclear weapons. And though a nuclear war is still very, very unlikely at this stage, even the distant possibility of it happening has many worried given the scale of destruction that could be unleashed.