In the current strained situation between India and Pakistan, any attack committed by Kashmiri insurgents bears the risk of escalation, including into military confrontation between the two nuclear-armed powers, according to the latest report of the just-concluded Munich Security Conference.
Increasing ethno-religious nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment in India heighten this risk as they might induce the Indian authorities to respond with particular force, said the report released on the occasion of the conference at which the Indian delegation was led by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
It noted that in February 2019, a young Kashmiri Islamist committed a suicide attack in Jammu and Kashmir, killing 40 Indian soldiers. In response, both India and Pakistan attacked sites across the Line of Control (LoC). The situation deteriorated further when India stripped the Muslim majority region of Jammu and Kashmir off its autonomy rights and imposed a security lockdown, during which Kashmiris suffered arrests, shortage of medicine, communication cuts and a rising death toll of both civilians and militants.
The report observed that China’s growing role in the region added another layer of complexity. With one of the main corridors of its Belt and Road Initiative running through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Beijing has a strong stake in regional stability.
Despite Chinese support for Pakistan on Kashmir, Beijing might, thus, exercise a moderating influence on its close economic partner, it said even as it noted that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has stoked Chinese tensions with India.
The US, the report said, has sought closer relations with India, perceiving New Delhi as a crucial partner for efforts to counter-balance China. However, with substantial progress on closer US-Indian strategic alignment still lacking, the extent to which India could manifest its status as a regional – let alone global – power would depend not least on the handling of its own territorial conflicts.
Regarding Afghanistan, the report said that disillusioned with the results of almost two decades of state-building in the war-torn nation, the West, and the US in particular, desired to hand over responsibility for regional security to South Asian actors. Yet, conflicts and rivalries between the main powers active in the region, namely India, Pakistan, and increasingly also China, picked up steam in 2019.
With India having completed its nuclear triad and Pakistan intending to do so, the risk of a regional nuclear arms race added another delicate component to a worsening security situation, it said.
In 2018, Washington entered into direct talks with the Taliban about the conditions for a US retreat. A significant reduction of US troops in Afghanistan – with or without a US-Taliban deal – would likely also entail a withdrawal of the other allies in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.
In this scenario, neighbouring Pakistan, which has long played an ambivalent role in Western counter-terrorism efforts, would become the main lynchpin for efforts to prevent transnational terrorist groups from regaining strength, the report added.