In 1947, when the British divided the Asian subcontinent into Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India, it set off a bloodbath that left around half a million people dead.
Called “Partition” across the subcontinent, it was a bloody baptism for the two newly independent nations from which the region has not recovered.
More than 50 years after independence, the two neighbors have seen three wars, a dangerous arms escalation and the looming threat of a new nuclear war.
At the heart of the seemingly intractable conflict between the two countries is the Himalayan region of Kashmir, famed for its snowcapped mountains and lush green valleys, a region described by travelers, poets and conquerors through centuries as “paradise on earth.”
But after a brutal 12-year insurgency that has claimed more than 60,000 lives, according to human rights groups, and almost daily threats of terrorist attacks and military crackdowns, the paradise is for all purposes lost.
While one part of Kashmir lies in Pakistan and another part in India, the two countries have conflicting claims to the whole that are rooted in religion and history.
The Indian position is that Kashmir belongs to the Indian republic because of the Instrument of Accession signed in October 1947 by the Kashmiri ruler at the time, Maharajah Hari Singh, which handed over the princely state to India.
But because the maharajah was a Hindu ruler of a majority-Muslim kingdom, Pakistan rejected the Instrument of Accession. It maintains numerous U.N. resolutions mean that Kashmiris should be allowed to vote in a plebiscite to decide between India or Pakistan.
For its part, India refers to the Simla Agreement signed by then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, which calls for a bilateral solution to the Kashmir issue.
The Simla Agreement came at the end of the second war between the two countries, which erupted when the Indian military backed what was then the East Pakistani independence movement.
Separated by the Indian subcontinent from the rest of Pakistan and reeling from human rights atrocities that are still under dispute, East Pakistan emerged from the conflict as the newly independent nation of Bangladesh.
Wars of Words
While the Simla Agreement reaffirmed the Line of Control between Pakistan- and India-administered Kashmir that was arrived at after the 1947 war, the violence flared again in 1982 when an insurgency broke out in India-administered Kashmir.
India holds Pakistan responsible for sponsoring militant Islamic groups in India-controlled Kashmir. It says Pakistani madrassas (religious schools) as well as Pakistan-supported training camps in Afghanistan through the 1980s and 1990s have trained recruits from across the Muslim world to operate in Kashmir.
Pakistan insists it only offers the groups moral support and accuses India of denying Muslim-majority Kashmiri’s the right to national self-determination.
In the summer of 1998, the conflict reached alarming proportions when New Delhi announced it had conducted successful nuclear tests in northwestern India. Weeks later, Pakistan announced that it had conducted five nuclear tests of its own.
Ever since, the international community has watched in dread. A border conflict in 1999 threatened to spill into an all-out war, but wide-scale conflict was averted. Two years later, on Dec. 13, 2001, an audacious terrorist attack on the Indian parliament killed 14 people and moved the two countries once again to the brink of war.
India blames two militant Islamic groups, which it says enjoy Pakistan’s support, for the attack. Pakistan denies the charge and, following the warming ties between Islamabad and Washington in the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism, it announced a crackdown on the two militant Islamic groups.
But India denounced Pakistan’s measures as “cosmetic” and both sides launched a dramatic military buildup on either side of the Line of Control.
In May 2002, militants attacked an Indian army camp in Kashmir, leaving more than 30 people dead, including the wives and children of Indian soldiers. It was followed by the killing of moderate Kashmiri leader Abdul Gani Lone, who headed the the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, a group that has called for the separation of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan, on May 21. India blamed Pakistan-backed hard-line militants for the killing, which occurred at a public meeting in Srinagar. Pakistan denied the charges.
But tensions have continued to mount as Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called upon the military to prepare for a “decisive fight” and Pakistan test-fired three medium-range surface-to-surface missiles.
Note: This article Originally published in abcNEWS in 2006.