The disputed territory of Kashmir shares borders with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. Kashmir was partitioned as a result of the Indian Independence Act of 1947. About 65% of the territory is administered by India, the remaining 35% by Pakistan. Jammu Kashmir is the predominately Muslim state within India, which is mainly Hindu.
This conflict, between two of the world's most populous countries, both with nuclear capability has the ominous potential to escalate into theater nuclear war, or beyond.
Tensions between India and Pakistan increased after a series of nuclear tests in mid 1998, as both states sought to demonstrate military parity. In May 1999 hostilities flared when India launched military strikes against Kashmiri insurgents.
Adding to the problems in Kashmir is the areas proxity to Pakistan's badlands, remote, virtually ungoverned regions in Pakistan's Northwest, namely the province of Waziristan. The area provides refuge to Mujahidin fighters moving between Afghanistan and Kashmir to engage their enemies. Many believe that al_Qaeda's Usama bin Laden is hiding in this region, beyond the reach of gvernment security forces. Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda trained fighters in Afghanistan, some of whom then travelled to Kasmir to fight. It's believed that similar, if smaller scale, training continues in remotest Pakistan.
During India's struggle for independence from Britain, the Muslim League argued for a separate state for Muslims. After independence two states were created India (Hindu) and Pakistan, which itself was divided into East (Bengal) and West (Muslim).
Maharaja Hari Singh had wanted Kashmir to remain independent, but merged with India in exchange for military support and the promise of a referendum on independence, which has never been held. As a result of the unresolved dispute, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir in 1947-48. In 1949 a UN Peacekeeping mission arrived and has remained as observers ever since. A second war was fought in 1965, leading to the peace agreement and a new cease-fire line, known as the Line of Control (LOC).
In 1971, India's military intervened in the conflict in East Pakistan, where Bengalis were fighting for independence from Pakistan, with subsequently became Bangladesh.
Pakistan is an Islamic state and claims Kashmir, where the majority of people are Muslim and bound to India against their will. India claims Kashmir, as agreed under the Indian Independence Act. Meanwhile, within Kasmir a separatist movement has emerged, seeking an independent state, which is opposed by both Pakistan and India.
Pakistan developed close relations with the US, during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and received substantial military aid and arms. After the Russians abandoned Afghanistan, the US abandoned Pakistan, leaving behind a large arsenal of weapons.
Islamic fundamentalists, active in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, seek to spread their influence and control into Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits (Hindu), living within strife-torn Kasmir claim that Islamic terrorists are carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Hindu population. As a result, India forces are deployed to protect their Hindu brethren and protect their borders.
India claims that insurgents are supported by the Pakistan government, which provides bases for their training and operations, as well as weapons and, when necessary, military support. Since the Pakistanis, with aid from the US and China, actively supported Afghani rebels, the Indian charges seem plausible. China, meanwhile, has provided assistance to the Pakistani nuclear program.
As is the case in Afghanistan, rebel groups are rather fluid, their importance fluctuates constantly and little is known about their political doctrines. The Hurriyat Conference is a legally recognized coalition of non-violent separatist groups and is thought to include representatives from various militant factions.
Kashmiri militant groups include:
Hizbul Muhajideen - pro-Pakistan rebels and the oldest active group.
Lashkar-e-Toyeba - Sunni Islamists, including fighters from outside Kashmir.
Harkut-ul-Muhajideen - a coalition of factions including Kashmiris, Afghanis, and Arab fighters.
Tehreek-e-Jehad.- a new organization of uncertain origins, membership and goals.
Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) - a pro-independence group of declining influence.
India maintains military and paramilitary forces, estimated at well over 125,000 in, or adjacent to Jammu Kashmir, that includes artillery and air support.