Kashmir: Flashpoint for a Nuclear War or Even a Third World War?

  • Egbert Jahn


The former principality of Jammu and Kashmir, usually referred to simply as Kashmir, has become one of the most dangerous centres of conflict in world politics since the founding of the states of Pakistan and India in 1947. Different parts of Kashmir are currently occupied by India, Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China. The population of Kashmir consists mainly of Muslims, although in some parts of the country with their own long history of independence, they are outnumbered by Hindus and Buddhists. The Kashmir conflict is embedded in the wider conflict over the incomplete creation of nations and states on the Indian subcontinent, which during the east-west conflict even threatened at times to escalate into a nuclear world war between Pakistan and the USA on the one side and India and the USSR on the other. Since May 1998, India and Pakistan have faced each other as atomic powers in their own right.

Until now, there have been three wars between India and Pakistan over the state affiliation of Jammu and Kashmir: in 1947–49, 1965 and 1999. The Kashmir question was also thrown open by the Indo-Pakistani war over the independence of East Pakistan/Bangladesh in 1971. Finally, the Indo-Chinese border war of 1962 led to the secession of Aksai Chin from Jammu and Kashmir and the Chinese occupation of this almost uninhabited, strategically important high plateau. Even after these five wars, the “frozen conflict” between Pakistan and India repeatedly flickered after brief intervals in the form of armed disputes between terrorist groups and troops, as well as mass political demonstrations and acts of suppression by the police and military, and could unexpectedly again lead to a regional and under certain circumstances even a major nuclear war.

There are also political forces that are playing an important role in the conflict, alongside Pakistani and Indian maximum demands for the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir, usually silently waiving claims to the Chinese occupied areas. These forces are demanding the independence of the entire country from both India and Pakistan, while at the same time, others are striving to achieve regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh within India or strengthen the regional autonomy of Azad Kashmir within Pakistan. Finally, the progress of the wars in Afghanistan, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the increasing importance of the global and geopolitical competition between the USA and the People’s Republic of China have also significantly altered the power constellations within and around Kashmir. A concept for peace that could regulate the conflict and also resolve many border issues is feasible if it is supported by several local and regional referenda, but is unlikely in the coming decades to meet with the agreement of the decisive conflicting parties.


Indian Subcontinent Atomic Bomb Muslim Population East India Company Maximum Demand 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Egbert Jahn
    • 1
  1. 1.Frankfurt/MainGermany

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