Kashmir Conflict: Why Nuclear Powers India and Pakistan War Over the Region

Tensions are running high in the region of Kashmir after at least four Pakistani and three Indian soldiers were killed in attacks along the border on January 15.

The Indian army killed the Pakistani soldiers in a mortar attack. Pakistan retaliated by killing three Indian soldiers and wounding others.

Pakistan claimed its troops were conducting maintenance on a communication line in a village along the border when the mortar attack took place. However, India accused Pakistani troops of starting the attack and said no casualties were reported on the Indian side.

Pakistan summoned India's deputy high commissioner in Islamabad, following the incident, Reuters reported.

The clashes occurred against the backdrop of rising tensions and threats of an armed conflict between the two nations, which both administer and claim total sovereignty of large swathes of Kashmir.

India accuses Pakistan of backing militants who carry out attacks in India-administered Kashmir. Pakistan denies the allegations and calls for a dialogue to resolve the dispute.

What is the Kashmir dispute?

Kashmir tensions
Kashmiri refugees protest in Muzaffarabad,Pakistan-administered territory, on December 10, 2017, as they commemorate International Human Rights Day. SAJJAD QAYYUM/AFP/Getty Images

The dispute over the territory dates back to 1947, when India gained independence from Britain. The partition of British India along religious lines, led to the creation of two separate states, the mainly-Hindu India and the mainly-Muslim Pakistan.

At the time of the partition, some states run by princes were given the option to choose be annexed to either India or Pakistan.

Hari Singh, the then local ruler of the Muslim-majority princely state of Kashmir and Jammu, initially planned to remain independent. However, following tensions within the state, he later chose to join India, sparking a two-year war, known as the First Kashmir war.

As per a ceasefire declared on December 31, 1948, warring sides agreed that Pakistan would administer one third of Kashmir and India the remaining territories.

A second war erupted in 1965, following a series of skirmishes between the two countries. The conflict lasted two months and ended with a U.N.-brokered ceasefire and no territorial changes.

The two states engaged in a third conflict in 1971, which resulted in the creation of the state of Bangladesh (East Pakistan). One year later, both countries reached an agreement that created the Line of Control (LoC), a de-facto military border that separates India-administered Kashmir from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The 1980s saw the birth of militancy in India-administered Kashmir, with most separatist groups fighting against Indian rule over the region.

The majority of groups have Islamist elements and are opposed to Indian rule in the region, given that most of the territory is inhabited by Muslims. Some groups call for independence, others for annexation to Pakistan.

Thousands of people have died due to fighting between separatist groups and the Indian government over the years.

In 1999, both countries engaged in a fourth war, known as the Kargil War, after militants from Pakistani-administered Kashmir invaded the Indian-administered Kargil district. India accused Pakistan of being behind the incursion and relations grew sour. The conflict ended the same year, with no territorial changes.

The two countries enjoyed a relatively peaceful time after they signed an 2003 ceasefire.

China has, at times, been involved in the dispute. Both India and China claim control over Aksai Chin, a region in northeastern Kashmir. Beijing currently administers the area, arguing it is part of its Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

What is happening today?

Kashmir tensions
The younger brother of 16-year-old Indian Kashmiri rebel Fardeen Ahmad Khandey shouts slogans during his funeral in the Tral area of South Kashmir on January 1, 2018. Suspected rebels stormed a paramilitary camp in Indian-administered Kashmir on early January 1 leaving eight dead, police and security forces said. TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

Tensions resurfaced in 2016, after Indian security forces killed Burhan Wani, the commander of Pakistan-based militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, in July.

Dozens of people died during months of unrest following the death of Wani, who enjoyed widespread support among the Muslim population of Kashmir.

September 2016 marked the deadliest militant attack to occur in the region in years. Heavily armed militants killed at least 17 soldiers when they stormed an army base in India-administered Kashmir

The same year, India claimed it carried out cross-border strikes against militants hiding in Pakistan, which in turn denied the claims.

In July 2017, violent clashes erupted between security forces and protesters marking Wani's death anniversary in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Both countries continue to accuse each other of violating the ceasefire agreement, and attacks by militants and skirmishes between troops stationed along the border continue to claim lives.

Suspected rebels stormed a paramilitary camp in Indian-administered Kashmir, killing eight people on January 1.

A few days later, the Indian army's chief claimed it was ready to conduct operations in Pakistan to root out militants. Pakistan derided the assertion and deemed it as an "invitation for nuclear encounter."

Last year, China offered to play a role in talks to resolve the dispute, but India rejected the offer, saying a dialogue will only take place with Pakistan.