Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.
Pakistan and India gained independence in 1947 as British India came to its culmination. Since independence, the two neighbors have been all but neighborly towards each other. Their relationship throughout the years has been defined by political turbulences in the least and all-out wars at the most – both countries have fought three full and one limited war.
This rivalry between both stems from the disputed territory of Kashmir and has resulted not only in a massive trust deficit but also into the region becoming a global flashpoint. The latter is due to both countries’ massive nuclear arsenals and their engrossment in an arms race for supremacy. Although there have been many negotiations, peace initiatives, and CBMs (confidence-building measures) since independence, major success stories have been negligible.
Both countries have been ensnared in an enduring deadlock that continues to the present day. Pakistan and India have fought three wars over Kashmir and since the rise of BJP and the right-wing in India, another war seems inevitable. Since India abrogated articles 35A and 370 in August 2019 and imposed an ongoing lockdown in the valley, Pakistan and Indian relations have yet again escalated.
Pakistan has suspended trading with India and both countries intermittently exchange fire on the LoC (Line of Control – the de facto border between Azad Kashmir – in Pakistan – and Jammu & Kashmir – in India). This paper delineates the major reasons why another war is inevitable between Pakistan and India: Kashmir; proxy warfare & terrorism; international interference & alignments; trust deficit; and the Hindutva state & Islamic extremism.
Why Another Pakistan-India War?
The primary conflict between both countries is the territorial dispute of Kashmir. In fact, its preponderance is such that most, if not all, other reasons for enmity between the neighbors have been contingent upon it. Most scholars, academics, politicians, diplomats, and other officials would cite this as the root cause of all major barriers and divisiveness between Pakistan and India.
The division of the subcontinent into two nation-states based on religion (Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, while India, that of a Hindu-majority) implied that the princely state of Kashmir, that had and still has a majority of Muslims, would become a part of Pakistan (Arif, 1994). However, the Maharaja (ruler) of Kashmir who was a Hindu wanted to stay independent.
When the Muslim population of Kashmir grew unsteady, Pakistan sent its armed forces and tribal militias to aid the people and capture the land. The Maharaja, becoming desperate, sought Indian assistance. India maneuvered the Maharaja into signing an instrument of accession, whereby Kashmir would accede to India in exchange for military assistance.
This led to the first war between the two countries in 1947. It subsequently led to Pakistan controlling around a third of Kashmir (Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan) and India controlling the rest (Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir valley). A U.N.-led ceasefire was enforced in 1949 which led to the formation of the ceasefire line (later LoC) splitting Kashmir into Azad Kashmir (in Pakistan) and Jammu & Kashmir (in India).
Pakistan stated that a plebiscite for Kashmir under U.N. auspices would be the most amicable and logical way of resolving the dispute. India initially promised that the issue of Kashmir would be decided in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people, but that never transpired. Indian Prime Minister Nehru promised Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan that India’s pledge to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir on whether it should join Pakistan or India was “not merely a pledge to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world.”
Eventually, India began backtracking and stated that the issue should be engaged and solved on a bilateral level and that no third party, country or organization, should be a part of the process. The stances of both countries have endured until the present day without much deviation. Kashmir has been the primary reason for three wars between Pakistan and India (1947, 1965, and 1999).
Kashmir has unfortunately suffered via the militarized policies of both India and Pakistan (Mukarji, 1995). Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in India has suffered from the suspension of democracy in the past, while currently the situation is described as an undeclared martial law with the region being under Indian lockdown for 415 days. Pakistan, conversely, in the past, has trained and funded insurgent groups to achieve its objectives in J&K especially in the early 1990s including the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Tayaba.
Pakistan historically cites Kashmir as the major issue between the two (Effendi & Choudhry, 2016), while India contrastingly maintains that cross-border terrorism is the main issue and not Kashmir (Mehta, 2003) – both countries displaying a diverging interpretation of the conflict. Expanding on the preceding thought, Pakistan cites the harsh Indian military occupation of Kashmir, paralleling it to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, as the major cause of Kashmiri dismay, while India alleges that the cross-border terrorism financed and managed by Pakistan instigates anti-state activities in J&K.
While it is indeed true that Pakistan supported proxy groups in the early 90s, which led to a massive and bloody armed freedom movement in J&K, it has significantly reduced these efforts and therefore the current resistance and anger of Kashmiris against India is considered homegrown (Gettleman, 2018). “Homegrown” implies that the BJP’s own avaricious and extremist policies have led to the marginalization of the Kashmiris and hence their renewed anger in recent memory.
Pakistan, however, is not out of the woods as it still remains on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list – the FATF is a global watchdog combatting terror financing and money laundering. India, too, is in the crosshairs of international agencies, however. In May 2020, India re-entered as a “country of particular concern” by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Since 2016, after the killing of popular Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani by Indian forces, mass protests engulfed J&K.
India responded with further hardline tactics that have led to the deaths of many civilians and therefore have had a counterproductive effect on the protests. Draconian laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Protection) Act (AFSPA) are still enforced in J&K, although there have been many international calls on its dismissal for decades. The AFSPA gives widespread discretionary powers to security forces such as shoot to kill, right to raid houses, right to arrest without warrant, etcetera (Alliance for Justice & Accountability, 2017). Furthermore, the AFSPA also grants security forces impunity from civilian prosecution.
Since the BJP government came into power, human rights abuses in J&K have risen meteorically. From July 2016 to February 2017, more than 90 civilians were killed (Bashir & Dar, 2016) and over 15,000 were injured due to the use of pellet guns by security forces. Modi’s government worsened the situation by abrogating articles 35A and 370 from the constitution (which gave the state of J&K special privileges) and bifurcated J&K into two union territories – J&K and Ladakh. To deter the Kashmiris from protesting against this unpopular decision, India deployed tens of thousands of Indian troops, in addition to the half a million troops already present in J&K (Al Jazeera, 2019).
Furthermore, the BJP employed a curfew and media blackout in the valley, which continues unabated (it has been ongoing for 415 days). International humanitarian organizations and media outlets have all admonished India for its reprobate actions in Kashmir. From the South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, all have expressed their concern over Kashmir.
The latter, Antonio Guterres, stated that: “When we see situations of discontent and unrest [in Indian-administered Kashmir], it is of utmost importance to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Al Jazeera, 2020a). Therefore, it is conspicuous that the BJP’s recent mishandling of Kashmir has reinvigorated the Kashmiri freedom movement and has soured Indian relations with Pakistan which could lead to war.
Proxy Warfare and Terrorism
Although India has perpetually blamed Pakistan for using proxies to incite violence in J&K and other parts of India, the truth is that both countries have intermittently intruded into each other’s affairs since independence amounting to proxy warfare and state-sponsored terrorism. India, in the period before and during the War of 1971, funded and trained the Mukti Bhiani (an ethnic Bengali rebel group) and played a heavy role in severing Pakistan’s Eastern territory – East Pakistan that became Bangladesh after the War of 1971.
An eyewitness to the atrocities in East Pakistan recounts that Indian intelligence agencies utilized propaganda tactics and provided weapons to the Mukti Bahini while the Indian army trained the rebel group to dissent and kill the West Pakistanis in the region. However, Pakistan (then West Pakistan) must share the blame as the situation on the ground should never have deteriorated so much than an ethno-nationalist uprising that India leveraged could transpire.
The current Indian Prime Minister, Modi, has admitted Indian involvement in the creation of Bangladesh quite brazenly during his visit to Bangladesh. Pakistan, on the other hand, assisted the Khalistan Movement – a Sikh secessionist movement in Indian Punjab – that gained momentum in the 1980s. India blamed Pakistan for aiding the Sikh rebellion and discerned Pakistan’s main motivation as the role played by India in the 1971 war in the East Pakistan theatre (Noor, 2007).
Akin to West Pakistan’s negligence that led to the Mukti Bahni rising via Indian support, the same is true vis-à-vis India for the resurgence of the Khalistan Movement. After the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Indian Hindus embarked on anti-Sikh riots which led to the massacre of 8,000-17,000 Sikhs (according to independent sources) – some elements of Delhi police were found complicit in these riots.
Pakistan, as mentioned, has also supported and patronized Kashmiri insurgent groups that led to a very bloody phase in India’s history but has clamped down on these efforts since 9/11 and the war on terror (Ishfaq, 2018). Despite this clampdown, some groups contrive regardless – so much so that these groups could attack India with or without the authorization or complicity of state authorities in Pakistan (Perkovich & Dalton, 2016).
The primary reason Pakistan severed ties with many insurgent groups was due to the post-9/11 American backlash. This decision of siding with America, however, proved to be unpopular and led to a rise in anti-state insurgencies that wrapped the country in terror for many years. Pakistan has only recently defeated most of the insurgents by launching successful counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas and Balochistan, but it still remains on the FATF’s grey list.
According to the FATF, Pakistan has, out of the 27 points, fully complied with 14 and now has to comply with the remaining 13 points by June 2020 to ensure its exodus from the grey list (Haider, 2020). Post-9/11, India was quite opportunistic in fanning the flames of insurgency in Pakistan and leveraging international powers to pressurize Pakistan relentlessly. When India saw its neighbor in a crisis, it funded and trained insurgents to undermine Pakistan.
For example, India has been supporting Baloch insurgent groups in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and has amplified these anti-state efforts showcased by the apprehended Indian spy, Kulbushan Jadhav, who admitted Indian support to the Baloch insurgency in 2016. A video released by the government shows Kulbushan Jadhav admitting that he was assisting anti-state rebels in Balochistan at the behest of the Indian spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) (Dawn, 2017).
Pakistan and India have also perceived Afghanistan as a vehicle for increasing their influence in the region. Pakistan has historically, until 2001, backed the Taliban in Afghanistan’s game of thrones. The goal was to establish a pro-Pakistan government in the country and concurrently to reduce Indian influence in the region. India contrastingly supported the Northern Alliance traditionally (an anti-Taliban group) and aimed to establish a pro-Indian government in the region to negate Pakistani influence. India also requires a pro-Indian government to make headways towards the Central Asian republics.
From 1994-2001, Pakistan enjoyed the peak of its influence in Afghanistan as the pro-Pakistan Taliban was in control of the country – during this time, India removed its embassies and consulates from the country to express its displeasure. However, post 9/11 events turned around as the Taliban government was ousted from power, and Pakistan had to publically end all dealings with the group under American pressure.
After the Taliban ouster, the new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai became a close ally of India to the dismay of Pakistan (Dalrymple, 2013). Since then, India has increased diplomatic, economic, and cultural spending in Afghanistan in pursuance of its foreign policy objectives. India has built roads, power plants, provided buses & aircrafts, dug wells, and implemented telecommunication links in Afghanistan making it one of the largest donors to the country (Dalrymple, 2013).
While this tug of war for influence continues, the pendulum currently sways towards India. This might not last for long however as Pakistan’s influence became necessary in 2019 for the peace talks. A peace deal has since then been signed in February 2020 between the Taliban and America. This means that American troops will probably decrease in the coming months much to the anguish of the Indian and the pro-Indian Afghan governments.
International Interference and Alignments
Since independence, Pakistan and India have allied themselves with different countries. Important nations such as China, Russia, and the United States have enjoyed ample influence in this region via Pakistan and India. Due to the self-interests governing the foreign policy of these countries (including Pakistan and India), it has led to the formation of a dyadic bloc, namely Pakistan’s allies and India’s allies.
The region has also become fertile grounds for a cold proxy war between China and the U.S. – where China backs its “iron brother” Pakistan to keep India in check, while the U.S. backs India to counter China’s hegemonic designs. Historically, Pakistan and America have shared a marriage of convenience, which has been categorized by a myriad of difficulties.
Where America has traditionally used Pakistan to further its foreign policy objectives in the region from defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan to the war on terror, Pakistan, in return, has been rewarded with billions of dollars in military and economic support from America. Even with such aid pouring in, Pakistan has had a rocky relationship with America, while India has had a steadier one.
During the Cold War, India was aligned for the most part with Soviet Russia. It was only after the fall of the U.S.S.R. that India started forging ties with America. Following the September 11 attacks, India “assumed a pre-eminence in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy” (Gul, 2004). Although Pakistan was the partner of choice for the Americans in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, Bush engaged the Indian government simultaneously vis-à-vis military cooperation and nuclear trade (Chaudhuri, 2011).
Although Pakistan was receiving U.S. support to assist the latter in overthrowing and ridding militants from Afghanistan, they would only get so if they broke off existing ties with militant groups such as the Taliban. India, taking advantage of the global environment, used and maneuvered 9/11 to highlight Pakistan-supported proxies to the U.S. to further pressurize Pakistan into ceasing patronage to Kashmiri proxies.
America rebuffed Pakistan’s support for such groups in Kashmir and warned of negative aftermath (Gul, 2004). Malik and Hussain (2018) cite that due to the incessant involvement of the U.S. in South Asia, it has kept the animosity between Pakistan and India active and has made peace a fleeting dream. Pakistan has always been one of the strongest allies for America but their relationship is one dictated by mistrust and self-interest. India has enjoyed a more unwavering association with America especially to counter China’s hegemony.
Where Pakistan has used military funds from America to strengthen its army against India and extremism, India has leveraged its strong relationship with America (using a dominant Indian lobby in Washington) and pushed for pressure against Pakistan. Since Obama and Trump, Indian relations with the U.S. have drastically improved. Concurrently, Pakistan-U.S. relations became frostier since Trump became President but the relationship has improved recently as America needed Pakistan’s assistance (yet again) to aid the Afghan peace process in 2019-20.
Before the peace process, however, Pakistan was publically called out by the capricious Trump for harboring terrorists – in January 2018, the White House moved to block $2 billion in military aid allocated for Pakistan (Tharoor, 2018). All of this sat extremely well with India, particularly the ruling BJP. Pakistan, therefore, faced a joint Indo-U.S. effort to isolate them from the world. America and India stepped up their cooperation against Pakistan and have been constantly labeling the country as a terror-sponsorer.
Modi’s far-right Hindu nationalist tendencies and support are reflected in his speeches and actions against Pakistan, which include calling Pakistan as “the mothership of terrorism” and boasting of how India played a huge part in seceding Pakistan in 1971. Malik and Hussain (2018) state that during a meeting between Modi and Trump, Modi actively leveraged Trump’s campaign against terrorism, by accentuating Pakistan’s alleged role in harboring terrorists. In June 2018 Pakistan was placed in the FATF’s grey list.
When it comes to China, the roles seem to reverse. Pakistan has historically enjoyed steady and extremely positive relations with the regional hegemon while Sino-Indian relations have been rocky. During the Cold War, South Asia was a significant theatre of operations where the U.S.S.R. was supporting Afghanistan and India, while China backed Pakistan against the Soviet-Indian nexus (Hilali, 2006).
Since, the collapse of the U.S.S.R., America has adopted a similar strategy of empowering the Indians to keep China in check while China has maintained its economic and military support to Pakistan in alignment with its Indian foreign policy. Although China and India enjoy strong trade relations (albeit heavily in favor of China), this is overshadowed by their historical border disputes which have led to 3 military conflicts: the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Chola incident in 1967, and the Sino-Indian skirmish in 1987. In early 2017, both countries faced an intense showdown on the Doklam plateau on the disputed Sino-Bhutanese border.
Presently, Pakistan and China are working on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – part of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The corridor is supposed to be a game-changer for Pakistan and is valued at around $62 billion. India, however, does not appreciate this corridor mainly as it views CPEC as a modern-day Great Game by the Chinese and also because it will pass through the disputed territories of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (Cai, 2016).
India and America both consider the CPEC/BRI as a threat – for India, it would reduce the relative power balance between Pakistan and India and might propel China to superpower status, while America is more concerned about the latter. Due to this, India and America colluded to disrupt the CPEC (Ishfaq, 2019). In fact, the Indian spy captured in Pakistan, Khulbashan stated that the “…CPEC region between Gwadar and China had to be distorted and disrupted” by proliferating the intensity of “insurgency within Balochistan and the Karachi region.” (Dawn, 2017).
As India leverages its relationship with America, Pakistan, too, leverages its relationship with China to counter India. For example, when India created nuclear weapons, China massively aided Pakistan’s nuclear program in the early 1980s so that a nuclear parity could be achieved between both countries. China passed the entire design for a nuclear weapon to Pakistan in the early 1980s and also provided the country with weapon-grade uranium (Gogna & Khatoon, 2020).
In sum, Pakistan and China get along swimmingly while India and American relations have drastically strengthened. American-China relations are not pleasant, while Pakistan and Indian relations are worse. This is an ideal scenario for an all-out war in the South Asian theatre.
The trust deficit is a barrier between both countries and acts as a means and ends – a dialectic process. It is a means to an end because the trust deficit has led towards finger-pointing in the least and to military conflict at the most. Simultaneously, the trust deficit is an end due to it being a product of the contentious history and legacy that has plagued both countries whether this is Kashmir, the four wars, or the use of proxies from both sides. Since partition, depleting this trust deficit between Pakistan and India has been an arduous challenge (Gul, 2004).
The ethos of suspicion that afflicts both governments means that any significant sincerity will be a distant outcome (Mehta, 2003). It is ingrained in Pakistani and Indian society that each is the eternal antithesis of the other. From school textbooks to the overly loud media operating on both sides, the people of Pakistan and India are socialized into hating each throughout their lives. It is a part of the DNA to distrust and perpetually have misgivings about one another.
The trust deficit is so prevalent in the psyche of Pakistani and Indian governments, that many peace processes have usually been derailed due to it. Even the academia of both countries are distrustful of each other and have generally played to one side of the argument rather than writing balanced papers. This dichotomized academic narrative of both countries enables the world to see Pakistan and India through a dual-lens, but since the Indian narrative is much wider and prevalent than Pakistan’s, academics around the world discern Pakistan in the same light as India does.
Due to India’s strong lobby around the world and its huge diaspora, the country has seemed to get away with the atrocities in Kashmir as well as the surge of religious extremism in mainland India – until recently. After the abrogation of the Kashmir-centric articles from India’s constitution, mainstream news and academic coverage have increased highlighting how oppressed Kashmiri people and other minorities in India actually are. Many international news outlets have highlighted Modi’s culpability vis-à-vis the abhorrent treatment of minorities.
A recent example of the distrust and its outcome between both countries is when the Pulwama attacks occurred in India. Without any evidence, India immediately blamed Pakistan and its government, and the media began a jingoistic tirade against Pakistan. In retaliation, the invasive Modi government entered Pakistan’s airspace with fighter jets and claimed to have destroyed a terrorist base.
This was refuted voraciously by Pakistan which stated that no terrorist base existed there and only a few trees were uprooted – later the international media such as Reuters, The Guardian, The New York Times, Washington Post, etcetera corroborated the Pakistani stance. Pakistan, in retaliation to India’s aerial aggression, entered Indian air space which led to a dogfight that saw the downing of two Indian MiGs by Pakistan’s air force – and the capture of the now-released Indian pilot, Abhinandan.
The Indian security forces and the government attempted to dissimulate this embarrassment by stating that they shot down a Pakistani F-16 in the dogfight. However, such Indian claims were refuted by international experts, security officials, and the media yet again. According to two senior American defense officials, none of Pakistan’s F-16 jets were found missing when American officials did a count (Seligman, 2019).
Perhaps most disconcerting for India was when Christine Fair, an American scholar known to be a seasoned critic of Pakistan, stated at the Indian-hosted Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh: “I say this clearly with 100% certitude that there was no F-16 struck down…I believe that my bonafides as a critic of Pakistan stand for itself”. (Dogra, 2019). There were even murmurings of nuclear weapons being readied and targets being locked for attack by both countries. Fortunately, however, the war was barely avoided by both but for how long?
The Hindutva State and Islamic Extremism
Although the international media usually portrays Pakistan as a hotbed of terrorism and violence against minorities, India ironically fits this bill more aptly, especially since Modi’s rise. This is not to say that Pakistan does not have extremist Islamic elements present within its borders, but just that their numbers pale in comparison to what the scenario was more than a decade after 9/11 – this is because groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Punjab Taliban have been neutralized.
Pakistan’s security situation has massively improved since 2014 after the military launched the immensely successful counterinsurgency operation, Zarb-e-Azb. In 2015, there were a total of 706 militant attacks in Pakistan which dropped to 420 in 2017 and 229 in 2018 (Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, 2019). Unfortunately, some religious parties such as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) in Pakistan still lend their overt and covert support to extremist elements, but fortunately they only have a modicum of electoral support.
However, JUI and other religious parties own many madrassas around Pakistan, some of which have been associated with recruiting people for militant groups. This is one of the reasons why Pakistan remains on the FATF’s grey list despite its various counterterrorism operations. To remedy this, the government of Pakistan launched the National Action Plan and National Internal Security Policy to bring all madrasas under a regulatory framework, which includes only allowing registered madrasas to operate in the country and a revamp of their curriculum (National Counter Terrorism Authority Pakistan, n.d.).
Progress has been made but more needs to be done to gain complete confidence of the international community. Furthermore, since many madrasas are funded by Saudi Arabia and espouse the hardline Wahhabi ideology, it has led to the creation of militant groups in the past. Conversely, Iran’s funding of Shia madrassas in Pakistan, particularly after the Iranian Revolution, has not helped. This Saudi-Iran proxy war gravely exacerbated the Sunni-Shia schism and escalated sectarian militancy in the country. This was especially true after President Zia’s Islamization drive in the 1970s and 80s and also after 9/11.
These sectarian fractures, albeit relatively filled now, still remain and therefore Pakistan must look to resolve the foreign funding issue of madrasas as well. Post-9/11 and Pakistan siding with America, many extremist elements that harbored anti-American sentiments also began displaying their discontent for the Pakistani state and its security forces. Pakistan’s past patronage to proxy groups therefore ended and this led to insurgencies in some parts of the country – mainly the tribal belt, Swat, and parts of Balochistan.
However, a ray of hope was that even when Pakistan was embroiled in an extremist insurgency, most of the population renounced the militants – according to a Pew Global Survey in April 2008, only 5% of people agreed that suicide bombing and violence against civilians could be justified to protect Islam (Wike & Holzwart, 2009). The lack of mass support was one of the primary reasons why major insurgent groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan were struck a heavy blow during counterinsurgency operations.
When Imran Khan was elected as Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 2019, the security situation had already greatly improved. He attempted rapprochement between Pakistan and India, but Modi rejected those invitations. Even when Pakistan downed 2 Indian MiGs and captured the Indian pilot Abhinandan, Imran Khan sent him back soon after as a gesture of goodwill and stated that Pakistan did not desire war. India’s media and government, however, displayed this as a show of weakness and stated, as always, that Pakistan was an incubator for terrorism.
Imran Khan has displayed maturity by seeking dialogue with India – it is only when he discerned that India’s hostilities would not cease in Kashmir and against Pakistan, that he warned India that an attack on Pakistan will be met with severe retaliation. A central tenet of Imran Khan’s foreign policy has been to expose the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP’s Nazi-inspired motivations to the world – and this has paid dividends. According to research conducted by Pew Research Centre, India was ranked the fourth worst country vis-à-vis religious violence (Bhattacharya, 2017).
Although India, an ostensibly secular country, has had its fair share of religious violence, communal unrest, terrorism, and insurgency under Congress rule, India’s rise of the right i.e. the BJP, RSS, and Sangh Parivar (SP), etcetera have exacerbated many of the said issues since 2014. It did not take long for people to realize what kind of India Modi wanted – a Hindu Rashtra – when he became India’s prime minister. His party won massively in 2014’s general elections and began its Hindutva agenda across India and its institutions.
“Hindutva” is a fringe ideology based on Hindu nationalism and its main facets include, but are not limited to, the belief that the entirety of the subcontinent is the homeland of Hindus and “Hindus” are only those people who accept India as their holy fatherland (Ishfaq, 2018). Since the advent of the BJP in 2014, minorities have been ostracized, especially the Muslims. Under the label of “cow protection”, Hindu “vigilante” groups started targeting Muslim farmers, their families, and businesses (Missaglia, 2018).
Muslim lynching proliferated as BJP candidates leveraged the cow during election speeches. Siraj Khan, a Muslim, was lynched to death by a Hindu mob in 2018 for “slaughtering” a cow. In the year prior, a Muslim teenager traveling on a crowded train was stabbed to death on a mere accusation of carrying beef. Before 2017’s state elections, Gujarat raised its punishment for cow slaughter to a lifetime sentence. The federal government, too, joined in and proscribed the selling of beef nationwide (Chhibber & Jassal, 2018).
In India’s most populated state, Uttar Pradesh, Modi selected Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister who is an anti-Muslim far-right leader and founder of the militant Hindu youth organization, Hindu Yuva Vahini – to the obvious dismay of Muslims. Yogi is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and his organization has been a part of communal violence against Muslims in the past. Besides Muslims, Dalits and Christians have also been severely targeted.
Modi’s supporters uncaring and unapologetic on how he was treating minorities, voted for his party in even more numbers in the 2019 general elections. This empowered the BJP even more and they abrogated article 370 in Kashmir in August 2019 – an internationally condemned move which chiefly angered Kashmiris and Pakistan. In December 2019, India introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) which is Islamophobic as it allows a path to citizenship for illegal Christian, Hindu, Parsi, Jain, and Sikh migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India before December 2014.
This was the first time religion was used as a criterion for nationality in India’s citizenship law (Slater, 2019). Muslims in India, who are around 200 million strong, protested the CAA heavily along with other Indians who showed solidarity with them. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the law (CAA) was “fundamentally discriminatory”. Protests engulfed many Indian cities and did not subside – the Indian security forces in response used hardline tactics leading to the deaths of many civilians.
As of January 4, 2020, 21 people were killed due to police firing in Uttar Pradesh, 5 in Assam, and 3 in Karnataka – all three states ruled by the BJP. Even after the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in India, the BJP and its followers have not abated their targeting of Muslims. Right-wing parties are disseminating the propaganda that Muslims are spreading the virus. One BJP legislator stated, “Keep one thing in mind. I am telling everyone openly. There is no need to buy vegetables from ‘miyans’ [Muslims]”.
Indian vegetable vendors and others have begun differentiating themselves from Muslim vendors by hoisting saffron flags over their shops/stalls. Some BJP politicians accused Indian Muslims of hatching a “conspiracy” to spread the virus (Al Jazeera, 2020b). The already Islamophobic Indian media used the coronavirus as an opportunity to scapegoat the Muslims. Anchors accused Muslim missionaries of “deliberately” spreading the virus and labeled them as “human bombs” and “virus villains” (Yasir, 2020).
Indian mobs continue to attack Muslims all around the country over the coronavirus. Ambreen Khan, an Indian Muslim nurse, was returning from her hospital shift when she was harassed, physically attacked, and told to “Go back to Pakistan…” by a Hindu mob (Yasir, 2020). One hospital in India’s Gujarat has begun segregating patients on religious lines claiming it as a government order (MN, 2020). Pakistan, the international community, the international media, and human rights organizations have constantly condemned such Indian acts, but Modi’s brazen policies continue relentlessly.
Despite Pakistan’s own past being entangled with proxy warfare and other illegalities, the country’s administration has matured in recent memory from facing a turbulent decade and a half after 9/11, which was characterized by suicide bombings, international interference, proxy wars, insurgencies, indiscriminate attacks, and an economic slowdown. After emerging victorious and improving the security situation of the country, things are looking better internally – aside from the economy.
When Pakistan was clearing out extremism via counterinsurgency operations in 2014, India filled this vacuum by electing the radical and Islamophobic BJP into power. India, truthfully, has become what it always accused Pakistan of – extremism. India today is one of the most dangerous places for minorities and has betrayed its ostensibly secular roots by adopting the ideology of Hindutva.
Although Pakistan and India have been enemies, even before the BJP’s 2014 return, Modi and his antics have reinforced the reasons the two countries have always hated each other, while concurrently adding Hindutva and Indian extremism into the mix. This, in my opinion, will eventually cause another war between the two states – for which the BJP will be solely culpable.
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