With continued violence in Kashmir and a heightened threat of terrorist activity by Pakistan-based militant groups, the threat of a serious military confrontation between India and Pakistan remains high. In January 2016, six armed militants attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot (near the border with Pakistan), killing seven Indian security personnel before being killed themselves.
In July 2016, anti-India protests broke out across the Kashmir valley following the death of local militant leader Burhan Wani. Violent demonstrations and protests calling for an independent Kashmir have continued through November 2016, with more than ninety people killed and thousands wounded in the heavy-handed response by Indian security forces.
In September 2016, armed militants attacked a remote Indian Army base in Uri, near the Line of Control, killing eighteen Indian soldiers in the deadliest attack on the Indian armed forces in decades. Indian officials have accused Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group with alleged ties to the Inter-Services Intelligence—Pakistan’s main intelligence agency—of being behind the attack. Later in September 2016, the Indian military announced it had carried out “surgical strikes” on terrorist camps inside Pakistani-controlled territory across the Line of Control, while the Pakistani military denied that any such operation had taken place.
Tensions remain high between the nuclear-armed neighbors. In late October 2016 and again in November 2016, Indian and Pakistani diplomats were each expelled from each other’s countries on charges of espionage, and an uptick in cross-border firing along the Line of Control continued throughout 2017 and into 2018, with military and civilian deaths on both sides.
Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, and a limited war in 1999. Although both countries have maintained a fragile cease-fire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border. There was an increase in high-profile cease-fire violations beginning in July 2014, and artillery shelling and small arms fire continued through late 2015. Both sides accuse each other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in retaliation to attacks.
After India’s newly-elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his inauguration, there were hopes that his government would pursue meaningful peace negotiations with Pakistan. However, after a brief period of optimism, relations again turned sour when India canceled talks with Pakistan’s foreign minister in August 2014 after the Pakistani high commissioner in India met with Kashmiri separatist leaders.
In July 2015, Modi and Sharif met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia, where they issued a joint statement and announced that Modi would travel to Pakistan in 2016 for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. However, in August 2015, planned high-level talks between national security advisors were called off the night before they were slated to start after Pakistan announced it could not accept India’s precondition that talks only focus on terrorism.
In December 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had an unscheduled meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. This led to a meeting between national security advisors in Bangkok a few days later, where the Kashmir dispute was discussed. Later in December, Prime Minister Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet with Prime Minister Sharif, the first visit of an Indian leader to Pakistan in more than a decade.
Following the Uri attack in September 2016, India announced a boycott of the SAARC summit, planned for November 2016 in Islamabad, citing Pakistan’s alleged involvement and support for terrorism; this boycott was joined by Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Bhutan and led to the summit’s indefinite postponement.
The diversion of jihadi fighters and proxy groups from Afghanistan to Kashmir threatens to further increase violence along the border. If another Mumbai 2008–style attack, where Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters rampaged through the city for four days, killing 164 people, were carried out by Pakistan’s militant proxies, it could trigger a severe military confrontation between the two nuclear-armed states.
Having identified South Asia as an epicenter of terrorism and religious extremism, the United States has an interest in ensuring regional stability, preventing nuclear weapons proliferation, and minimizing the potential of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.