Bad blood between India and Pakistan goes back decades, but tensions have escalated in recent days after a suicide bomber from a Pakistan-based militant group killed Indian paramilitary troops in Kashmir. Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter and Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution explain what you need to know about the ongoing crisis between two nuclear powers on this week's Deep Dish podcast.
Brian Hanson: A quick but important correction: A previous version of this episode incorrectly referred to the perpetrator of the Pulwama attack as Pakistani. This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs going beyond the headlines on critical global issues. I'm Brian Hanson and today we're talking about the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan. Bad blood between these two nuclear powers of course goes back for decades, but tensions have recently flared ever since a suicide car bombing by a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed dozens of paramilitary troops on February 14th. In recent days, both countries have ordered military actions against the other. Joining me to discuss what is happening in this current crisis and its bigger implications for the region, I have with me ambassador Cameron Munter who is CEO and president of the EastWest Institute where he hosts the excellent EastWest podcasts that I encourage you to check out. He was a career foreign service officer and served as US ambassador to Pakistan from 2010 to 2012 which you may recall includes the time during the US raid that killed Osama bin Ladin. Welcome Cameron. It's good to have you on Deep Dish.
Cameron Munter : Pleasure to be with you.
Brian Hanson: Also joining us is Tanvi Madan, who is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and as the director of it's India project where she explores New Delhi's foreign policy with a particular focus on India's security policies and its relationships with China in the United States. Welcome Tanvi, it's great to have you on as well.
Tanvi Madan: Good to be on, Brian. Thanks for having me.
Brian Hanson: So I wanted to start by setting the context of the current dispute between India and Pakistan and and really build off a question that's asked by one of our listeners who asked on the Deep Dish Facebook group, could you please give us the briefest refresher on the history between India and Pakistan and why is Kashmir so important? So Cameron, if I could start with you, what's the background for this?
Cameron Munter : Okay. At the risk of really skipping over a lot of details very quickly, at the time of partition Indian Pakistan split apart in 1947 and the territory that's now known as Kashmir was divided into two parts and there was never an official end to the war. There's a line of control that divides the two parts of Kashmir. And this has been disputed ever since. There's been conflict there in 1947 there was conflict in 1965 between India and Pakistan, 1971 at the time when Bangladesh was formed and in 1999 in Kargil, also another time of conflict. So continually through their history, India and Pakistan have clashed and very often Kashmir has been the cause. Recently what has happened is that especially the momentous attacks of 2001 and 2008 that took place inside India were traced to groups that had been in Pakistan. And so from the Indian point of view, not only is there the question of the legitimacy of who's in control of Kashmir, but the question of whether there are terrorists who are aided and abetted by Pakistan. That's the Indian side of the story. The Pakistani side of the story is that the original division of Kashmir was supposed to be followed up by a plebiscite. Kashmir is heavily Islamic Muslim population ruled by a country that is predominantly Hindu, and there are many hundreds in fact of a Indian troops that are keeping order in Indian Kashmir as we speak. So that's some of the history here. There's just been a disagreement on the Indian side about whether the Pakistanis are meddling and causing trouble, a disagreement on the Pakistani side onto whether Indian rule in Kashmir is legitimate.
Brian Hanson: That was a fabulous summary and incredibly succinct. I appreciate that. So Tanvi, take us to these recent events. This recent crisis and conflict was created by indeed a terrorist attack on Indian paramilitary troops in Kashmir. Who committed this attack and why has India held the Pakistani government accountable for it?
Tanvi Madan: The group did claim responsibility for, this is Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is a UN designated and a US designated, sanctioned terrorist group. It's based out of Pakistan. Its leaders are there including Massoud Azher. This is a group that has been responsible and claimed responsibility for some of the attacks that Ambassador Munter mentioned a but also a couple of additional attacks in the last few years and Indian military facilities. The Indians promptly asked the Pakistani to take some action against these groups, as did the US, France, and a few other countries. The Pakistanis did not take action and partly because of the context we're in with the two countries and these repeated strikes, but also because we are headed into election season in India that we saw an Indian ... what they called a nonmilitary, a preemptive strike that was essentially a retaliation for this attack, with the Indian Air Force striking within Pakistan at what they said was a terrorist training camp that belongs to this group.
Brian Hanson: You mentioned the elections in India as being one of the drivers of the response. Are there other things that account for why India has responded so strongly to this particular provocation?
Tanvi Madan: So I think one thing is that we still don't know ... there's a lot we don't know in the fog of ... if not war, the kind of conflict at the moment. But one thing we don't know is whether it was actually intentional or part of the initial plan for India to actually not just crossover into airspace that it, it still claims, but in kind of a Pakistani airspace proper, so in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. So we don't know if that was intentional. Nonetheless, it was an action that hasn't ... the use of the Indian Air Force is an action that hasn't been taken for a while. The other drivers, I think part of it is that there is a frusteration on the Indian side that these attacks repeatedly happen. And that there's ... because of the concern about escalation in particularly that both countries have nuclear weapons, that there's actually not very much that they had been able to do or change the Pakistani military and intelligence authorities going to decision making on this. It's not clear that these strikes are going to either compel or deter Pakistan in any way. But that would have been a driver as well. That there is a sense of kind of frustration about not retaliating after the 2001 attack on the Indian parlament and the 2008 Mumbai attacks and a few other attacks on Indian military facilities. So I think there would have just been a sense of frustration as well.
Cameron Munter: If I could add on that, I think that, there's very strong domestic concerns on both sides. There's not only the Indian election where Modi I think is compelled to show resolve. And if you have talked with Indians in the past, there's a lot of feeling that previous governments showed extraordinary restraint. The Singh government in 2008 showed restraint after the Mumbai attacks. And so there's a lot of pent up anger, I think, in India in addition to their domestic situation. And then domestically you have Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan also who was being compelled by certain elements of his constituency, which is a very broad constituency, to show resolve. I'm actually impressed that the Indians in showing resolve, whether they chose to or not, made an attack that apparently didn't have casualties. If that was on purpose, that shows, I think, an amount of restraint from the Indians that I think is impressive. And if indeed the offer by Imran Khan to return the pilot who was captured is accepted. We have on both sides the need for domestic audiences to show resolved, but indications that both leaders are showing some restraint. I don't know, Tanvi, if you agree with that.
Tanvi Madan: I agree. And I think this is where the ... and I think that's a great way of thinking about it, both resolve and restraint. And I think this is where actually the Indian elections play out in a different way, which is that it actually means the Indian government and Modi will want to deescalate, not have this get out of control because no politician going into election season wants a situation that they cannot control that will affect the Indian economy. And that's the kind of stuff that Indian voters vote on, not on foreign policy issues.
Brian Hanson: That's very interesting. And I want to turn our attention now to the Pakistani side in really follow up, Cameron, on the points that you made about how Prime Minister Khan has responded to this. We did a Deep Dish episode back in July when he was elected and at the time there was concern about his close relationship to the military and intelligence services in Pakistan and the potential an increased in the level of confrontation with India. But as you point out, in many ways it looks like his management of this crisis has tended toward pushing an a deescelatory direction. Now, I know that just ... I believe it was in January that you actually met with the prime minister, Prime Minister Kahn. What is your sense for how he is thinking about this crisis and what does it tell us about how he plans and what we can expect for how he will manage the relationship with India both in the continuing kind of deescalation of this crisis, but then in more general terms too?
Cameron Munter : I think that there is a distinction between Imran Khan and the military even though it's very easy for some critics of Khan to call him a puppet of the military. The military is very strong in Pakistan. Some people use the joke that some countries have armies, Pakistan is an army that has a country. There's a very strong political role of the military. Nonetheless in my meetings with Imran Khan and in his public statements, he has made it clear that he wants to try to figure out a way to deal, to engage India, to try to come up with a peaceful notion whether he has the military support and that is something no one knows. But he's tried to do that and made that very clear. I think one of the problems is that even if we get past this immediate crisis, which I'm very hopeful that we will, there are two really big problems they have to face. Can India, which it is up until now not willing to address, can India addressed the problem that it has a real difficult situation in Kashmir that there are many very unhappy Kashmiris who feel they're under Indian occupation, which the Indian simply say that's not anyone else's business. On the side of the Pakistanis, are the Pakistanis able to really go after Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and these other terrorist groups that have worked with impunity and lived in public at a time when the international community is calling out for them to be cracked down. It's a rare day that the United States and Iran both criticize Pakistan at the same time for allowing this to happen. So both of these countries have very tough decisions to make and beyond the statesmanship of Imran Khan, if he can pull this off, beyond the restraint of Narendra Modi, if he can accept this in the lead up to the election, there are deep problems that they have to come to grips with. And there's not a whole lot of dialogue between the two countries and it's going to be tough.
Brian Hanson: So Tanvi, how do you view it? Is there a possibility to make progress on those issues?
Tanvi Madan: Not immediately and partly because these all kind of deeper issues that will take a different set of leadership circumstances. There is also the asymmetry in terms of who is making the decision making. That's made dialogue hard, which as we've seen in the past, Indians and Pakistanis, as Ambassador Munter has been part of these discussions and has witnessed them firsthand, which is we've seen dialogue, but there's often a disconnect in terms of the fact that in India as the political leadership that makes the decisions on these things. And in Pakistan it's frankly the military leadership who will decide where this goes. So there's a little bit of a disconnect. We've seen attempts to do this. Frankly, we know what the solutions are and what the solution is in Kashmir, just the way geopolitics works. We do know that at the end of the day, what is likely to happen in Kashmir is an acceptance down the line of the Line of Control, which separates the two parts of Kashmir, and potentially a soft border so Kashmiris themselves can move back and forth. But the circumstances, especially not at the moment exists, but I do hope what this does lead to some questioning in both countries about the questions that ambassador Munter raised. I think there is, though ... I don't see this crisis in itself changing anything fundamental in terms of the reasons why there had been problems in Kashmir, but also the reasons why parts of the Pakistani military and intelligence authorities have used these groups instrumentally against India. I don't see this crisis changing either of those two things.
Cameron Munter: I would very much agree. Just the only other point I'd add is that it is a possibility for the relationship between the two leaders to perhaps take a turn for the better. I'm being optimistic now, that if in the wake of the election, let's assume as many do that Mr. Modi is reelected, let's assume that in the wake of this crisis things don't get too much worse. There will at least be an admission that the two leaders might be able to talk to each other in a new way. But I very much take your point Tanvi that I think that getting to the core of these issues is something that's going to take a very long time. Well all we can hope for is perhaps that the modalities of being in touch with each other become just somewhat simpler.
Brian Hanson: So I want to address the issue of the US role in both this crisis and also in the bigger context of being potentially a player who can help address the broader set of issues. Some have pointed out in the terms of this crisis that they see what could be a shift in the US approach to these kinds of conflicts between Pakistan and India where a President George W. Bush and President Clinton both responded in a way to diffuse conflicts that have arisen in the past in response to conflicts and terrorist attacks. Some have pointed out that this administration, the Trump administration, responded to this particular set of events by siding with India, saying that India has a right to self defense. Are we seeing a shift in the US orientation to the conflict of this region or is this just completely specific to this set of events?
Cameron Munter: From my view of Washington, I think that there is an enormous amount of Pakistan fatigue. That is to say that the efforts to try to work with Pakistan and the war on terror, that kind of peaked around 2010, 2011, 2012 have ended or at least have faded. And there was a lot less work with Pakistan and concurrently there was a lot more effort especially in the business community and in other areas with India. So that what in the past might have been more engagement from the American side based on a closer relationship with Pakistan is not there. So I would argue that the American ability to engage is perhaps less than it was years ago.
Brian Hanson: So Tanvi, how do you see it?
Tanvi Madan: I would just add, I think I agree with that. I would just add that one thing that this highlights is, this approach is not unique to the Trump administration. The Obama Administration acted pretty similarly in 2016, in September 2016, when there was an attack, again, by a Pakistani based terrorist group against an Indian military facility and India did undertake what they called surgical strikes against some facilities across the Line of Control. And so the Obama administration actually did ... it took a fairly similar approach and it is because of the reasons Ambassador Munter said, which is kind of just fatigue, American frustrations with Pakistan on the counter terrorism issue, but also this larger goal that the US has in mind about seeing a partnership with India as a balance to China, which is seen as the larger strategic challenge.
Brian Hanson: So as we close, I want to pull back a level to ask each of you how you see nuclear weapons affecting the way these kinds of conflicts play out. Some people of course, are very concerned and understandably that conflicts like this can escalate to a war between two nuclear powers with vast devastation. Others say actually nuclear weapons can be a calming effect because of the risk of just the massive destruction caused by the use of these weapons. I'd be interested in each of your view of whether or not the fact that these are two nuclear armed powers is having any effect on how this crisis has been dealt with or what we can draw in terms of lessons for future crises. Cameron, let me start with you.
Cameron Munter: Well, I think that the Indians and the Pakistanis had had a number of years to suss each other out, to get to each other, to learn the means by which they can, even if they're not in very close contact on all issues to make each other predictable. And the predictability is the key. I believe that at this point there is a certain stability. I don't want to comment beyond that, but there's a certain stability in the understanding that both countries have about the capabilities that the other country has in nuclear areas. What is of concern is that technological changes may upset this set of predictability, that is, if indeed a nuclear doctrine, which now is simply a missiles in both countries aimed at each other, where they are fairly well understood. How long it takes for a missile to get somewhere, how the command and control works. If that were to change, if the nuclear weapons were to be, say, miniaturized, if you were to have battlefield nuclear weapons, that could upset the set of understandings and the predictability that we now enjoy. So the immediate answer to your question is, I think it's predictable. I think it is not a yet as scary as it might be, but I think that if battlefield doctrine and new technology changes, it could be become more difficult in the future. All the more reason for India and Pakistan to talk so that they can avoid these kinds of crises.
Brian Hanson: So Tanvi, how do you see this role of nuclear weapon?
Tanvi Madan: I think it as ambassador Munter said and that the stabilizing effect it's had is partly we're seeing it, which is that this is why both countries are being careful about trying not to escalate further. So it is putting a certain amount of ... creating a ceiling, except what we don't know, and this is the part that in crisis circumstances, we don't know if the other thinks ... that India thinks Pakistan is not going to take a certain action because it could escalate further. There is the potential for miscalculation. But I think there's a more fundamental way that it is destabilizing, which is there is an argument to be made, and Indian and American officials have talked about this, which is an absent nuclear weapons, Pakistan would not have been able to support these terrorists groups that have attacked Iranians, Americans and Indians, with frankly impunity and are allowed to operate pretty freely. I think there would have been more action taken against Pakistan but because it's done under ... some people put it under the nuclear shadow, there is a limit to what military action, countries can take to stop these terrorist groups operating in Pakistan. So I think the nuclear weapons play both a destabilizing and kind of a limiting role on conflict.
Brian Hanson: So Cameron and Tanvi, thank you very much for being on Deep Dish, I think one of the things I've gotten from this conversation is understanding how this particular conflict is playing out in a broader context and what it means for the future relationship between these countries. Tanvi, thanks so much for being on Deep Dish.
Tanvi Madan: Thanks very much, Brian.
Brian Hanson: Thanks so much for being on Deep Dish, Cameron.
Cameron Munter : Thanks. It was a pleasure being with you. Thanks so much
Brian Hanson: And thank you for tuning into this episode of Deep Dish. If you liked the show, do me a favor and tap on the subscribe button so that you can get each and every new episode as it comes out. You can find our show under Deep Dish and Global Affairs, wherever you listen to podcasts, and if you think you know someone who would enjoy today's episode, please take a moment and tap the share button and send it to them as well. As a reminder, the opinions you heard belonged to the people who have expressed them and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This episode of Deep Dish was produced by Evan Fazio. Our audio engineer is Andy's Zarnekki. I'm Brian Hanson and we'll be back soon with another slice of Deep Dish.
For those of you interested in learning more about the upcoming Indian election, I wanted to let you know about an upcoming event at the Chicago Council. Tanvi Madan will be part of a panel on April 2nd called "India Votes: 2019" and if you'd like to register to attend the event or watch the live stream, please go to our website at thechicagocouncil.org.