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World - Asia/Pacific

Ground Zero Graphic

Could tug of war over Kashmir spark nuclear battle?

Indian soldiers
Indian soldiers guard the border  

Indian-Pakistani dispute spans decades

In this story:

June 18, 1998
Web posted at: 6:08 p.m. EDT (2208 GMT)

INDIAN-PAKISTANI BORDER (CNN) -- Nestled near the top of the world, in the foothills of the Himalayas, lies a region considered the top prize in India and Pakistan's half-century rivalry: Kashmir.

Experts say each government's desire to control the region, and their inability to agree on seemingly any topic involving it, could make the area the flash point for a war with wide-ranging implications.

Kashmir lies in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, just below China. It was divided in two in 1948, after India and Pakistan fought their first war over the territory.

CNN's Anita Pratap at the India-Pakistan border
icon 2 min. 30 sec VXtreme video

The trouble started immediately following the independence of India and the birth of Pakistan in 1947.

Bowing to religious schisms at the time, Great Britain carved the Muslim state of Pakistan out of India. The Hindu ruler of the predominantly Muslim area of Kashmir then acceded to India, an action Pakistan never recognized.

The uneasy truce negotiated by the United Nations in 1948 gave one-third of Kashmir to Pakistan and the rest to India.

But neither government is satisfied; each wants to control all of Kashmir.

Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars -- two of them over Kashmir. The last one was in 1971.

'Line of control'

The stakes rose considerably in May, when both governments confirmed what Western powers have feared for years: Each has nuclear capabilities.

For 50 years, the rival armies have kept a round-the-clock watch over the 500-mile (800-kilometer) line separating India and Pakistan.

The sound of gunfire and the exchange of artillery is a regular event, especially along the border in Kashmir, where the armies are about a 1 1/2 miles (2 km) apart.

The border running through Kashmir is referred to by both governments as the "line of control."

The Kashmir rebellion

Complicating the Kashmir issue is an eight-year-old rebellion among the region's residents. Nearly a dozen militant groups are fighting for independence, or for a merger with Pakistan. About 25,000 people have died since the rebellion began.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the separatists, and of bolstering their support with militants from other nations, like nearby Afghanistan.

Pakistan says it only provides diplomatic and political support to the rebels.

Pakistan would like to let Kashmir's residents vote on the issue of independence, and have a voice in which government gets all of Kashmir. India, which once supported such an initiative, doesn't want the issue put to a vote.

Indian forces last week launched active operations against rebels in the area. On Thursday, three separatists and one Indian soldier were killed in clashes.

But the Indian soldiers say the border skirmishes with the Pakistani army have neither increased nor decreased since the governments conducted nuclear tests in May.

"We are still manning the same weapon stations, and we are still looking at each other with the same amount of friendliness or hostility as was there before we went nuclear," Indian Army Maj. Gen. Nagaraj told CNN.

New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap contributed to this report.

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