India and Pakistan agreed early last week on the first truce in 14 years between their troops deployed along the disputed border between the two countries in the beautiful mountainous region of Kashmir. While the official military forces of the two countries refrained from gunfire, however, on Thursday alone violence flared that left 12 people dead.
The problem, beyond the fact that Indian and Pakistani troops had been trading machine gun and mortar fire almost daily, is that separatist rebels who want Kashmir to be independent or part of Pakistan continue to operate. India accuses the Pakistani government of encouraging, supporting, cooperating with and even subsidizing the rebels, while Pakistani officials deny it.
Thus on Thursday a predawn gun battle between Indian forces and suspected Kashmiri rebels left four suspected rebels dead in the village of Nowgam. In Kashmir’s winter capital of Jammu, several battles left six rebels dead. And a grenade attack in the summer capital of Srinigar killed a shopkeeper and wounded nine passers-by.
Such violence is unfortunately commonplace in the disputed region. India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, twice over Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. About 65,000 people, mostly Muslim civilians, have been killed in Kashmir in recent years.
Relations between the two countries have improved this year. India and Pakistan have restored diplomatic relations, reopened a bus line between the two countries and are negotiating a resumption of air travel. The cease-fire is seen as another step toward reduced hostility, but last week’s clashes between Indian and rebel forces do not bode well.
For better or worse, there is little the United States can do but hope hostilities decline. The U.S. has an ongoing interest in good relations with India, the world’s largest democracy and a significant trading partner, as well as with Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan and faces an active Islamic militant movement itself.
A more active stance by the U.S. probably would not help that much and could make America a handy target for all sides. So the wisest course is to pray for a peaceful resolution and be prepared to help mediate — but only if asked by all sides.