What you should know about the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan

Members of the Indian Border Security Force patrolling near the fence at the India-Pakistan International Border at the Budwar post of the Arnia sector in May 2016.
Members of the Indian Border Security Force patrolling near the fence at the India-Pakistan International Border at the Budwar post of the Arnia sector in May 2016. PHOTO: EPA

The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than six decades.

Since 1947, the two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. Both claim the Muslim-majority territory in full but control only parts of it.

In the latest tensions, India conducted surgical strikes on alleged terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on Thursday (Sept 29) after the Indian army received information about planned attacks on major Indian cities.

Here's a quick look at the dispute over Kashmir:

1. Why do India and Pakistan distrust each other? 

India and Pakistan were created out of the bloody partition of British India in 1947. The tensions before and after the drawing of new borders uprooted 14 million people and erupted in mob violence that killed as many as one million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The two countries have fought three wars since independence.

Pakistan's founders believed India saw the subcontinent's partition as temporary and hoped to absorb the territory that had become Pakistan at the first opportunity.

India, on the other hand, has been frustrated by what it sees as Pakistan's support for terrorists that continue to strike inside its territory, particularly in Kashmir.

2. What's so special about Kashmir?

Two of the three wars between India and Pakistan were fought over Kashmir - in 1947 and 1965. At the time of partition, India and Pakistan courted the subcontinent's various princely states to join their respective fledgling nations. The Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Kashmir couldn't decide which new country to join. Pakistani irregulars invaded, India intervened, and the two countries fought to a stalemate.

Almost 70 years later, the two sides remain in a tense standoff along a de facto border known as the Line of Control, one of the most heavily militarised zones in the world. The border is about 700 km long.

3. Who controls what in Kashmir?

India controls about 45 per cent of Kashmir, with one state, Jammu and Kashmir, making up the southern and eastern portions of the region. Pakistan controls about 35 per cent, with three areas - Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan - making up the northern and western portions of the region. China occupies about 20 per cent of the territorry on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west.

4. Why is there insurgency in Kashmir?

Armed resistance to Indian rule began in the Kashmir valley in 1989. Muslim political parties claimed that the 1987 elections to the state's legislative assembly were rigged against them, and they formed militant wings. Some groups demanded independence for the state of Jammu and Kashmir and others supported Pakistan.

Pakistan gave its support to the movement, calling for the issue to be resolved through a UN-sponsored referendum. But India maintained that Pakistan's support of the insurgency consisted of training and supplying weapons to militant separatists and repeatedly called for Islamabad to stop what it called "cross-border terrorism".

5. What lies ahead?

India is contemplating non-military responses, including perhaps building dams or expanding hydro-electric projects along important rivers flowing from India to Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration is also suggesting it could revoke the "Most Favoured Nation" trading status which India granted to Pakistan in 1996 - an act that was never reciprocated. 

It's likely that tensions will remain high between New Delhi and Islamabad. "We are entering the worst period for India-Pakistan relations in over a decade," predicts Dr Shashank Joshi, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.