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Kashmir: India Tomorrow part 3 podcast transcript

This is a transcript of part three of The Anthill’s podcast series, India Tomorrow. Listen to the full episode here and also find out more about past and upcoming episodes in our series episode guide.

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Gemma Ware: So what is Kashmir, what’s it like and what does it mean to you?

Ather Zia: Kashmir to me means home, which is where I was brought up. It’s my homeland. And it’s also a place which is an open prison currently because of the situation that is prevailing. And the situation is that of an occupation that Indian military has imposed on the region since 1947. And since 1989 what’s happened is that there is direct military violence that is exacerbated each year. People are living, but it’s under heavy repression.

Annabel Bligh: This is Ather Zia, an assistant professor of anthropology and gender studies at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley. She spoke to our producer Gemma Ware.

Ather Zia When you walk the expanse of Kashmir, there is no road, there is no alley, there is no street where you cannot be stopped.

Annabel Bligh: Since 1990, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which Ather calls Indian-administered Kashmir, has been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This is a law which was introduced after an insurgency began in 1989. Ather says the act gives the Indian military sweeping powers over property and life.

Ather Zia: So anyone is a suspect at any point in time and can be killed, can be disappeared, can be arrested, can be tortured without any accountability and that is what has been happening.

Annabel Bligh: Ather is a founding member of a group of scholars called the Critical Kashmir Studies Collective, which looks at Kashmir from the viewpoint of Kashmiris themselves. She studies daily life there.

Ather Zia: So living in Kashmir is very very difficult because it’s not a regular, normal life. When you live under militarisation, you’re under constant surveillance. I might give you a small example that if guests come into your home, you have to declare who is coming and you have to go to the local police station.

Annabel Bligh: Everyone is required to carry an ID card with them, and can be asked to produce it at any moment. There is no privacy, even in your home, Ather says.

Ather Zia: The government forces can barge into your home at any given point in time, say that you are under suspicion, or we suspect something, or there’s actually something happening. So there is no privacy. There is surveillance. And someone is watching you 24/7. And then also the limits and constraints to movement but also to life and to expression.

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Annabel Bligh: You’re listening to India tomorrow, a series from The Anthill podcast, brought to you by The Conversation. I’m Annabel Bligh from The Conversation.

Indrajit Roy: And I’m Indrajit Roy, lecturer in politics at the University of York.

Annabel Bligh: In this episode, part 3 of our series on India, we’re going to be focusing on Kashmir. Its history, its people, and the conflict over its future. To follow this episode, you don’t need to have heard the first two parts of our India tomorrow series. But we do hope you’ll check them out – the first is on fake news and the battle over information in India and the second is on the politics of hindu nationalism, which has been central to the BJP government’s platform.

Indrajit Roy: We weren’t initially planning to do an episode on Kashmir. But as we were putting this series together, Kashmir hit international headlines after a suicide bomb attack there killed 40 Indian security forces, and the Indian military responded by bombing militant targets in Pakistan.

Annabel Bligh: Yes, we’ll be hearing more about that later. But first, we thought it was important to find out how we got here and where the conflict between Pakistan and India over Kashmir came from.

Indrajit Roy: Kashmir is a region on the border with India and Pakistan, divided between the two countries, but claimed in full by both. To understand the roots of the Kashmir conflict, we need to go back to the 1940s and the violence, bloodshed and heartache of what’s known as the partition – the sudden and cataclysmic division of Britain’s Indian empire into the two separate independent states of India and Pakistan.

Sarah Ansari: The speed with which independence took place had a lot to do with the changed position of Britain after the Second World War. But partition took place because of the inability of the main parties involved – the British, the Congress and the Muslim League – to reach a compromise solution that would keep India united at independence.

Indrajit Roy: This is Sarah Ansari, professor of history at Royal Holloway University of London, who researches the history and the legacy of partition.

Sarah Ansari: The decision to grant independence to British India was finally agreed in February 1947, with the proposed date by which this should have happened being June 1948. However, in June 1947 plans were speeded up considerably and the date for independence was brought forward to August 15 1947.

Annabel Bligh: Decisions had to be made very quickly, Sarah says. Including where the dividing line between the two countries would be. A British judge called Cyril Radcliffe was brought out to India to draw it up, but he only had a few weeks to identify and secure agreement from all sides. And he later admitted he’d relied on out-of-date maps and census materials. The result was that two key provinces, Punjab and Bengal were each split in two. Sarah says that religious concerns were central to partition and what happened after it.

Sarah Ansari: Large numbers of Indian Muslims felt sufficiently concerned about what the future political arrangements in India would mean for them as a perpetual minority, let’s say, within this new political unit. And it was that concern that the Muslim League was able to tap into and win support from in its negotiations with the British and the Congress over what would happen at independence. However we must be careful that we don’t assume that firstly all Muslims in India before August 1947 supported partition. That was definitely not the case. And it was only very late in the day that the Muslim League was able to win support from majority Muslim provinces for this, I suppose, kind of negotiated outcome.

Annabel Bligh: So, Indrajit, it wasn’t simply a case of a Muslim-Hindu divide?

Indrajit Roy: No. As Sarah says, it was definitely not the case that all Muslims in India supported partition. It’s very hard of course to know the exact numbers that supported it. Many Muslims, chose to stay in India and not to migrate at all to Pakistan which is why today they make up such a substantial minority of about 14% of India’s population, according to the 2011 census. What we do know is that partition brought with it a huge amount of uncertainty and violence in a summer of intense confusion and human suffering.

Sarah Ansari: We don’t know how many people precisely migrated, but maybe as many as 14m people uprooted themselves and crossed what they thought were going to be the new borders in order to reach a place of greater safety. So that’s probably still the largest migration that the world has yet seen. And as part of that, large numbers of people died – maybe as many as a million. I mean the figures are not precise because of the, I suppose, confusion of the of the time itself.

Annabel Bligh: But what about Jammu and Kashmir? At the time of partition the area was a princely state. Under the plans drawn up by the British, princely states would initially have the right to remain independent, or to join India or Pakistan. It was up to each ruler to decide the future of their territory and its people. Sarah explains.

Sarah Ansari: In the main, this proved relatively unproblematic, especially where there was a clear, as people describe it, geographic compulsion. Or where the wishes of the ruler and his subjects were straightforwardly aligned in terms of religious identity.

Annabel Bligh: Sarah says that, in the end, those princely states that had perhaps considered remaining independent, found it impossible in practice to do so.

Sarah Ansari: So the vast majority of princely states acceded to either India or to Pakistan by the agreed deadline. But problems arose where or when the ruler and his subjects disagreed. And so Jammu and Kashmir was one of a small number of princely states where this proved to be the case.

Indrajit Roy: The ruler at the time, Maharajah Hari Singh, was a Hindu, but the population of Jammu and Kahsmir had an overall Muslim majority.

Sarah Ansari: The Maharajah initially chose to remain independent, signed what was known as a standstill agreement, at least with Pakistan. It hadn’t managed to do that with India, which kind of paused the process until a decision had been made. But protest uprisings, combined with tribal military-backed incursions from Pakistan, or the Pakistani side of the new border, led him, the Maharajah that is, to request intervention from the authorities in Delhi.

Annabel Bligh: What happened next is controversial, says Sarah, because there is disagreement over whether the Maharajah signed what was called the instrument of accession to join with India before or after India sent in troops. In any case, Pakistan contested Kashmir’s accession to India and a war ensued. India’s prime minister at the time, Jawaharlal Nehru referred the Kashmir issue to the UN, which got involved to try and find a way through the conflict. A ceasefire was agreed in early 1949, which created the ceasefire line, later known as the “line of control”. That’s the dividing line between Pakistan and India in Kashmir that still exists today.

Sarah Ansari: The outcome was, in due course, that the western portions of his territory, Jammu Kashmir, came under Pakistani control – so today known as Azad Kashmir and also Gilgit-Baltistan – while the remainder constituted the Jammu and Kashmir state as it later came to be known that remained within the Indian framework.

Indrajit Roy: Sarah says that the fact India and Pakistan found themselves fighting a war over Kashmir so soon after independence had significant long-term consequences for both countries. From the get go, they were on a war footing.

Sarah Ansari: It meant on the one hand that right from the outset Pakistan spent a huge proportion of its of its revenue, its GDP, on military-related development which I think hindered all sorts of other kind of state building programmes.

Annabel Bligh: The border tensions with Pakistan have also contributed to India’s rationale for keeping such a large army of around 1.4m active service personnel. In 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India spent US$63.9 billion on defence, making it the fifth-highest spending military budget in the world, behind the US, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Indrajit Roy: But what about Kashmiris? This is the question around which Ather Zia has focused her research. For Kashmiris, she says, history is ever present, and dominates the way they think about the future. A central issue, the bone of contention as it were, is India’s promise of a plebiscite, to the people of Jammu and Kashmir – a referendum on their future.

Ather Zia: And the fact is that the plebiscite has not been conducted so far and people in every decade, in my field at least, Indian-administered Kashmir, have been seeking that plebiscite one way or the other. But what has happened since 1947 is that the dialogue or the narrative around plebiscite got has gotten really, really diluted.

Indrajit Roy: India’s offer of a plebiscite was subject to Pakistan withdrawing troops from the western portion of Jammu and Kashmir. The ceasefire terms mandated that both sides withdraw their troops from the state. Neither side agreed, effectively killing the idea of a plebiscite. Elections were held in 1951 to convene a constituent assembly for the state, something like its own local parliament.

Ather Zia: And at that time you have evidence and you have the UN telling India that you cannot do this you can’t hold these elections because the case is sub judice. India responds saying that we are doing this for temporary governance and plebiscite is on the table still.

Indrajit Roy: As a matter of fact, journalists and academics covering that period suggest that those elections were completely rigged in favour of the Congress Party’s ally in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference, that was keen for the state to join India.

Annabel Bligh: Contrary to a wider Indian narrative, which argues that Kashmiris only began wanting independence in 1989 when the armed insurgency began, Ather stresses that Kashmiris had actually been resisting for decades – even before partition in 1947.

Ather Zia: So we have to understand, while India was fighting for its independence, Kashmir was fighting for its own independence from local tyrannical monarchy. And Kashmiris were fighting what they at that time called “quit Kashmir”. So they were asking the monarch to quit Kashmir and to establish a sovereign democracy.

Annabel Bligh: But despite this much longer history of resistance, and despite Kashmiris’ desire for a referendum on their future, it has never happened.

Ather Zia: So India kind of has sidelined and it has pushed the idea of plebiscite and referendum on the backburner, saying you know we have been doing elections since 1951. So the plebiscite is gone now.

Indrajit Roy: Ather is about to publish an edited volume of research on how Kashmiris in every decade since partition have kept on talking about the promise of a referendum. Today, that desire for independence has not abated, she says.

Ather Zia: And what other colleagues of mine who work in the same area have found, and what also some surveys and different researchers who have worked for some media groups have found, is that more than 70% of the people of the region support independence and there is a section which supports a merger with Pakistan. And of course there are people who are collaborating with India currently and who are running the pro-India politics and who are also pushing for integration with India to the resistance of the masses. So what we find is that there is a lot of sentiment for independence or what Kashmiris call Azadi which is the Urdu and Kashmiri word for freedom. And freedom for Kashmiris means freedom from India on this side of the line of control, where I work, the Indian administered Kashmir.

Annabel Bligh: Ather says history is very present in the everyday lives of Kashmiris. Even the children.

Ather Zia: If you ask any child across the world like, “What do you want?” They might want toys. But one of the major slogans in Kashmir is Hum Kya Chahte, which means, “What do you want?” And people say, “Azadi.” So that’s kind of a rhetorical thing. And even the little kids say like, “What do we want? We want Azadi.” So it’s become a cultural motif. The resistance in Kashmir is very, very cultural. It’s woven into the daily life.

Ather Zia: The tragedy is that no one really pays attention to the historic political struggle of Kashmiris and everything goes to this post-colonial idiom where you look at big countries and you think about their territorial dispute not thinking about whose territory are we talking about.

Indrajit Roy: In our last episode we heard about the ideology of Hindutva, and how central the idea of a Hindu nation is to the BJP, the party of Narendra Modi and the family of organisations of which it is a part. Such Hindu nationalist ideology impacts the BJP’s position regarding Kashmir – and Pakistan.

Sita Bali: The BJP has its roots in a rightwing movement called the Jahn Sang which was present during just after partition and it also traces its roots back to some of the more right wing and the more stridently Hindu voices at the time of partition, like the Hindu Mahasabha.

Indrajit Roy: This is Sita Bali, a lecturer in international relations at Staffordshire University.

Sita Bali: So for the BJP and for that whole group of organisations, in a sense, partition is a kind of incomplete process because while most of the Muslims of India have not left to go live in Pakistan, most of the Hindus of Pakistan have come to live in India.

Annabel Bligh: A particular issue is around what’s called Article 370, part of the Indian constitution which gives a special status to Kashmir. Indrajit, why is it so controversial to some Indians?

Indrajit Roy: That’s a tricky one actually. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allows the state of Jammu and Kashmir a greater degree of autonomy compared to other Indian states. The article says that the Indian government has control over defence, external affairs, currency and communication, but on all other matters the state of Jammu and Kashmir can take its own decisions. Indian laws can only be applied to the state with the agreement of the state’s legislative assembly.

Indrajit Roy: For example, the Indian government cannot alter the boundaries of the state or make new provinces, as it can with other Indian states. Of course, in all this, we shouldn’t forget that people are constantly moving about. There’s a steady circulation of “ordinary” people, if you will, between Kashmir and the rest of India. Kashmiri students study in various Indian cities. Labour migrants work in Kashmir. As it happens, my own research on labour migration in India suggests that labourers from Bihar state in eastern India have never felt particularly discriminated against when they go to work in Jammu and Kashmir.

Annabel Bligh: So in terms of this, Article 370, gives Kashmir special status, do some people and politicians in India want to get rid of it altogether?

Indrajit Roy: Kind of. Now, to be honest, the Indian government has been quietly eroding the special status provided under Article 370 for a long time, not just under the BJP but also under the Congress. But the BJP would like to see the article completely scrapped as it considers it to be a barrier to the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India. And as you can imagine, political parties in the state are vehemently opposed to it. They say, and from a legal point of view they may have a point, that Article 370 is the link between India and Jammu and Kashmir. If you get rid of Article 370, then the legal basis of Jammu and Kashmir joining India is scrapped. That’s one reason most political parties in India tend to keep quiet about Article 370. Even one of the BJP’s own allies recently warned against removing the special status for the state.

Annabel Bligh: OK, so that’s the legal position. But what about feelings of security? How serious a security threat is Kashmir to India?

Indrajit Roy: Look, Kashmir is not the only insurgency that the Indian government confronts. You know, there have been insurgencies in the north east, in central and eastern India where the Maoists have been operating for decades. But the situation in Kashmir presents a special threat because of the ways it has been linked to Islamic terrorism.

Annabel Bligh: And why’s that? Where’s this link to Islamic terrorism come from?

Indrajit Roy: Here we have to zoom out of Kashmir a bit and look at the region more broadly since the 1980s. Now you remember the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? And remember that Islamic freedom fighters were drafted by the United States to wage a jihad against the Soviets. Pakistan of course gladly hosted these guys because it meant aid and weapons. The Soviet defeat emboldened the jihadists, and Pakistan happily directed them towards its old friend India. The infiltration of the jihadi element was new and unprecedented. The Kashmiri struggle against Indian high-handedness had so far been peaceful. But it took a violent turn in 1988, after armed groups began to exploit local resentment – and make no mistake, there was enough grounds for local resentment – against what now came to be called Indian occupation.

Annabel Bligh: Ok. So actually the last time the BJP was in power in India, under the prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, there was a considerable escalation in tensions between India and Pakistan. Sita Bali told us that when Vajpayee initially came to power, there had been some hope he may have been able to make peace.

Sita Bali: And there was a time when people really believed – both in India and Pakistan – that because the BJP were the more extreme element in India, in terms of their hard line on Pakistan and on Kashmir, that actually if peace was to be made between India and Pakistan on this matter that it was more likely to come from the BJP because they were the more extreme. I mean, if the Congress made some sort of peace, the BJP would come in and say it wasn’t good enough for them. Whereas a peace made by the more extreme right will likely satisfy everybody.

Indrajit Roy: When a bus service was opened between India and Pakistan, Vajpayee was on the first service. There was a lot of optimism. But Sita says all that soon dissipated after it emerged that Pakistan had been preparing for what’s been called the Kargil invasion, a border dispute high up in the mountains in an area called the Siachin Glacier. The Kargil conflict was made all the more dangerous because both countries had tested nuclear weapons in 1998, the year before. For India, it was a hard fight to win.

Sita Bali: This was in a sense India’s first TV war. And so you saw people being killed up there of course and then you saw the body bags come down and be put into boxes and boxes covered with the Indian flag then being dispatched to all corners of India. You know all over the place. And so there is a real kind of build up of nationalism in India.

Annabel Bligh: The Kargil conflict started in May and ended in June 1999 when India’s military forced a withdrawal of Pakistani militants back across the line of control. But it left an uneasy sense of peace, and since then there have been continuous skirmishes across the line of control.

So let’s fast forward to 2014, and the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India. Sita says that Modi came to power saying he’d be much stronger on the Kashmir issue.

Indrajit Roy: So of course removing Article 370 was a key BJP manifesto promise because of, you know, the idea in the BJP that this article was a barrier to the state’s integration into India. But Modi also promised that he would defend the interests of Kashmiri Pandits, the valley’s Hindu minority that had been forced to flee to other parts of the country when militancy took over the state in 1989. Modi said that at the very least he would ensure the rehabilitation of the Pandits within the state. The BJP was of course exploiting the emotive issue of Kashmiri Pandits for its own electoral advantage because five years down the line, it has not had much to show for itself.

Annabel Bligh: After Modi was elected, he went to Kashmir, to see how people there would react to him. Kashmir went into shutdown.

Sita Bali: Because what he was suggesting essentially was that any problems in Kashmir were largely to do with Pakistan, that Kashmir was an integral part of India. There was no recognition for the fact that Kashmir has a special status in the Indian constitution; that it was India’s Muslim majority region. There was no other in India like this and that therefore the special status meant something to the, particularly, the Muslims of Kashmir.

Indrajit Roy: To be fair, Modi did seem to strike a chord with the electorate in Kashmir. The BJP made some noise about reviewing the act which gives the Indian military sweeping powers over people’s lives that Ather spoke of earlier. Elections to the state assembly were held in December 2014, soon after the BJP stormed to power in Delhi. Turnout was a record 65%, among the highest in India and certainly the highest in the state since militancy erupted in 1989.

As it happened, the BJP did rather well in these elections, especially in the Jammu region, which has a Hindu majority. Another state party called the People’s Democratic Party, or PDP, won the majority of seats in the Kashmir valley, which has a Muslim majority.

Annabel Bligh: And so then what happened?

Indrajit Roy: The negotiations that followed were fun to watch. On the one side, you had the PDP, you see, which was committed to keeping Article 370; party leaders had sometimes been called “soft separatists”. On the other hand, you had the BJP, which you know, has always been in favour of scrapping Article 370. So, thanks to some skilful negotiations, and you know out-of-the-box thinking, you had these two parties with opposing ideologies tied together in a coalition.

Sita Bali: So people were quite optimistic, because you know with the BJP that if they’re in power at the centre and they’re in power at the state assembly level then you’ve got a better chance of getting things through from the state assembly to the centre and back.

Indrajit Roy: But Sita says it turned out the BJP didn’t really have a plan for Kashmir.

Sita Bali: The BJP’s plan was non-existent in that they decided that they would treat Kashmir purely as a law and order problem – as a security problem.

Annabel Bligh: In July 2016, mass demonstrations erupted in the Kashmir valley after the leader of an armed group was killed by Indian security forces. The protesters were met with force.

Annabel Bligh: Today, Ather Zia says that daily human rights violations in Kashmir are at an all time high.

Ather Zia: In June 2018, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights published a report on Indian-administered Kashmir as well as Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Gilgut and Balistan talking about the human rights violations in the region. What the report established was that since 2016 the human rights record of the Indian Army has really touched an all time low.

Annabel Bligh: The UN report was the first ever on human rights violations in Kashmir. It was carried out remotely as investigators weren’t given full access by either India or Pakistan. The authors cited civil society reports that 145 civilians were killed by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir between mid-July 2016 and the end of March 2018. Ather says that while cases of Kashmiris “disappearing” may have lessened in recent years, other human rights violations have increased. In particular, she points to large numbers of people being blinded by government forces.

Ather Zia: Basically the world’s first mass blindness happened in Kashmir because the government forces are using shotgun pellets, which is also erroneously called pellet guns and it kind of makes the Western audience think that it’s very small something like a BB gun of some sort, but this is actually a shotgun and it fires pellets very fast.

Annabel Bligh: The UN cited official figures reporting that 17 people were killed by these shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017. And more than 6,000 people were injured by the pellets between 2016 and March 2017.

Indrajit Roy: In late 2017, the BJP coalition with Kashmir’s PDP collapsed, and the state was governed directly from Delhi. Ather says the BJP is now openly attacking those parts of the Indian constitution that protected Kashmir’s autonomy and special status. For instance, there’s currently a case before the Indian Supreme Court aimed at getting rid of Article 35a.

Ather Zia: That’s an article that kind of ensures Kashmir’s territorial autonomy which means that people who are not Kashmiri residents do not have the right to franchise, and they don’t have right to property inside Kashmir. So it looks like a very discriminatory act and it has also been portrayed as a gender discrimination act. But the fact is that this is a protection of a territorial sovereignty of a region to which you have a certain access.

Indrajit Roy: Ather says Kashmiris are still anxiously waiting for news from the supreme court.

Ather Zia: And they are really really worried that it might be taken away from them. And there are political analysts inside Kashmir who have called this demographic terrorism. That if this is taken away and there is an influx of Indian businesses and Indian, you know, just citizens inside Kashmir and taking the property and you know all sorts of demographic changes it is going to change the situation inside Kashmir. And it is going to kind of tip the scales in favour of India.

Annabel Bligh: In early 2019, the situation in Kashmir suddenly made news around the world again. A suicide bomb attack in mid-February killed 40 Indian paramilitaries travelling in a convoy in Jammu and Kashmir at a place called Pulwama. A Pakistan-based military group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed responsibility. A few days later, Indian planes launched strikes on what it said were Pakistani militant bases on the Pakistani side of the border in Balakot. An Indian pilot whose plane was shot down, was returned by the Pakistanis a few days later.

Sita Bali: Not only did it de-escalate the situation but it also, I think handed a bit of a publicity coup or made Pakistan look very much the more magnanimous, the more peace seeking, whereas it made India look like India was more gung-ho and warlike.

Indrajit Roy: We asked Sita Bali what this escalation – and subsequent de-escalation – of the conflict with Pakistan means for Modi politically, in the run up to the elections.

Sita Bali: I think that, there being a tense situation with Pakistan where Modi can stand up to them and can look tough and look hard and so on, is very helpful to his election prospects, because it plays into that sense that the BJP and Modi are the tough guys, the Congress is kind of weak and wimpy. And you know they’ve been in power for so many years and they’ve never sorted it out. So I think it’s going to help Modi if the situation in Kashmir is not peaceful or is not settled for the moment. And it isn’t.

Indrajit Roy: It’s worth remembering also that the nuclear issue is always there in the backdrop of the tension between India and Pakistan. Both countries have nuclear weapons, but while India has declared that it won’t use them in the first instance, Pakistan hasn’t.

Sita Bali: Well, logically it should actually rule out things like an Indian armed response to an act of terrorism within Kashmir. Because on one argument you could say that because Pakistan has not committed itself to no first use, it has increased its ability to do things that might annoy India, and to have some cover, because India will think very hard before responding militarily simply because Pakistan can escalate the problem at any time that it wants, without breaking any commitment that it has made in the past. So arguably this works to Pakistan’s advantage.

However, I also think that in the end if it came to it, a commitment that India has given to the international community, if we ever came to a point where India genuinely believed that it was in their interest to use that nuclear weapon first, never mind that it meant breaking a commitment, I think that they would probably do it, particularly under a BJP government.

So I think at the moment in a way what we’ve got is a situation where both sides’ nuclear weapons are cancelling each other out and we are going ahead with a conflict, or behaving in a conflict, very much like the nuclear weapons don’t exist. Except that both countries are quite careful not to escalate too much.

Annabel Bligh: Sita says that while both sides are constrained by their nuclear capabilities, India is more constrained because it sees itself as a more responsible player on the international stage. But there is a wider regional dynamic at play too.

Sita Bali: This Pakistan problem, or the Kashmir problem, whichever way you choose to look at it, has always stood in the way of India’s relations in the whole region. Because in the whole region you have to think of, first, all the countries of South Asia. And India is surrounded by these countries. It has a common border with so many of the countries of south Asia, none of whom have a common border with each other, and all of whom are far far smaller than India. So India is already susceptible to the perception that because she is the biggest, which she is by a long shot, that she is a bully in the region. And that Pakistan, in the regional balance of power, Pakistan refusing to accept Indian hegemony is one of the things that, quietly, all of the other countries of South Asia would support.

Annabel Bligh: And then there is China.

Sita Bali: China is an established, longstanding and close ally of Pakistan. And they have supported Pakistan. Even right now, for example, over the issue of declaring the Jaish-e-Mohammed a terrorist group and banning them and freezing their assets and all the usual things that happen in the UN when somebody is declared a terrorist group, China is resisting. And it’s taking Pakistan’s side in this argument.

Annabel Bligh: Our producer Gemma Ware put one last question to Sita, about how concerned she is now, after the Pulwama attack and Indian air strikes.

Gemma Ware: So in terms of where we are now, are you worried? Is this a very concerning moment for you? You’ve been studying this region for a long time. Is this just part of the ebb and flow of, unfortunately what the Kashmir and the India-Pakistan conflict are? Or is this a particularly worrying moment for you?

Sita Bali: No, I think Kargil was more serious than this. Because it was the first time we had been skirmishing after the establishing of nuclear weapons on both sides. What is worrying about this is not so much to do with Pakistan and nuclear weapons and so on, what is worrying about this at the moment is the future of Indian Kashmir. Because ultimately if the people of Indian Kashmir decide that they do not want to be a part of India then all bets are off in terms of what Pakistan will do as well.

Indrajit Roy: For Ather, the international attention on Kashmir once again takes the focus away from the suffering of the Kashmiris. Her collective of Kashmiri scholars have been trying to fight the notion that the Kashmir conflict is merely a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.

Ather Zia: That is an aspect. But it is also an issue of democratic sovereignty of a certain people and political consciousness, which has not only strengthened, but it has evolved and emerged in different ways over the last 70 years.

I kind of like to see it as that the Kashmiris are doing all the dying. This has been noted by many people before. And all we are talking about is India and Pakistan. So we have to see the human cost. Who is paying the human cost when the strikes were happening from India and Pakistan? And all of that is going on very recently. We kind of forgot in the middle that it was a Kashmiri who became the human bomb. And the question was not asked like, what happened there? Why is Kashmir becoming a lab for making militants? Because there are no policies for a just peace.

Annabel Bligh: It’s their future, says Ather.

Ather Zia: Kashmiris are the most canny and most political of peoples. And if you go to any street corner you will see the most evolved narrative and political narrative on Kashmir from everyone. Because that’s what they live every day. And after what happened very recently there was some interest in, “hey, let’s think about what’s happening to Kashmiris”. But then after a while everything went back to thinking about how can we bring the two countries to the table. And the Kashmiris again got snowed under that narrative because it’s a post-colonial reality that we are thinking about big nation states and we’re not thinking about peoples, we’re not thinking about cultures. So that’s something that we need to keep in mind. We need to have the Kashmiri vantage. Without that everything is incomplete.

Annabel Bligh: That’s it for this episode of India Tomorrow from The Anthill. In our next episode, we’ll be looking at the changing role of women in Indian society.

Charu Gupta: Love Jihad was actually a jihad against love. It was a war against love you know it was this kind of mythical and violent campaign. It was emotive. It was a political fantasy.

Annabel Bligh: That’s in part 4 of this series from The Anthill, India Tomorrow. Do subscribe to The Anthill podcast so you don’t miss out. You can also sign up to our Anthill newsletter, by clicking the link in the show notes.

Annabel Bligh: You can read more of The Conversation’s coverage of India by academics around the world on or follow us on social media. If you’ve got any questions about issues we’ve been discussing in this series, please do get in touch via email on or on twitter @anthillpod. We’ll be putting your questions to a panel of academics we’re lining up to discuss the election results at the end of May. And you can find a transcript of this episode, and other episodes in this series, on

A big thanks to all the academics who spoke to us for this episode and to the journalism department at City University for letting us use their studios. The Anthill is produced by Gemma Ware and me, Annabel Bligh. Sound by Alex Portfelix. Lastly, an extra big thanks to my co-host, Indrajit Roy.

Indrajit Roy: Thanks Annabel. See you next week.

Annabel Bligh: Thanks for listening. Goodbye.

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