Pakistan-India Border Conflict: Civilian Casualty Report (2016 – 2020)

Mohammad NafeesCenter for Research and Security Studies (CRSS)

The subject of the Muslim-majority Himalayan state of Kashmir – divided between India and Pakistan through a 720-km long Line of Control (LoC) – has remained part of regional and global headlines particularly since August 5 2019, when New Delhi revoked the state’s special states and annexed it as the union territory along with Ladakh. Even before that, both countries have been trading mutual allegations of cross-border shelling and firing resulting in harm to civilian populations in areas under their respective administration.

The 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistan-based militants, an attack on India’s Pathankot airbase in 2015 and an assault allegedly by Kashmiri militants on the Uri army camp in the Indian part of Kashmir in 2016 have been some of the triggers of extreme tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

An attack on the India security forces in the Pulwama district (February 2019), which left over 40 Indian troops dead, brought the two countries to the brink of another potential conflict, prompted by a major Indian fighter jets’ intrusion into Pakistan’s forested Balakot valley in the northwest adjacent to the disputed Kashmir, followed by the downing of two Indian jets by Pakistan on Feb 27.  The wreckage of one of the jets fell into Pakistan’s part of Kashmir. Its pilot, Abhinandan, was arrested but released in a goodwill gesture within two days.

Bilateral relations as a whole have remained remarkably tense since March 2016, when Pakistan captured a serving Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav for espionage and sentenced him to death. Accompanying these tensions is the cross-border firing by the Indian border security forces that Islamabad says has cost hundreds of civilian lives. India makes similar claims but allows little civilian or UN access to verify the veracity of its claims. This report captures the civilian cost of conflict along the LoC since October 2016. Open-source data from both sides suggest an unusual rise in the civilian casualties in Kashmir during the period under discussion.

Casualties from cross-border attacks in Pakistan – (October 2016 – May 2020)

During the past four years, as many as 325 civilians fell to firing and shelling by the Indian security forces on the Pakistani side of Kashmir (see Table 2 below). India puts the casualties off Pakistani firing in the areas around LoC at around 222 (see Table 1 below), though unverifiable through independent or UN sources.

Table 1: Indian casualties of cross border attacks
October 2016 – December 201640747
January 2020 – May 2020121628

In Pakistan, civilians suffered heavily from these border conflicts as their casualties were almost five times that of the security personnel’s casualties. Civilian fatalities were 20 per cent higher compared to those among the security forces (see Table 2 below).

Table 2: Pakistani casualties by victims
Security Officials12824152

A large number of sectors along the Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) – Pakistan-administered part of the Himalayan state – and a couple of sectors in the Punjab province along the Indian border suffered cross-border shelling and firing. Five sectors (Poonch, Nakyal, Bhimber, Muzaffarabad and Rawlakot) faced frequent cross-border shelling and firing, resulting in a higher number of casualties compared to other sectors (see Figures 1 and 2 below). In the last four years or so, Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs summoned the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad dozens of times to lodge protests against the Indian violations of the ceasefire and the cross-border firing.

Figure 1: Pakistani Casualties by location (AJK)

Figure 2: Pakistani casualties by location (Punjab)

Casualties from cross-border attacks in India (October 2016 – May 2020)

Security personnel in the Indian-administered Kashmir suffered the bulk of fatalities (70%) but as a whole human loss hovered around 222 (see Table 3 below).

Table 3: Indian casualties by victims
Security Officials15773230

The Indian sectors that allegedly came under frequent attacks from the Pakistani forces were Poonch, Rajouri, Samba, and Baramulla (see Figure 3 below). Pakistani military officials defend them as “response” to unprovoked firing by the Indian security forces.

Figure 3: Indian Casualties by location

It is evident from the statistics above that unarmed civilians invariably bear the greater brunt of inter-state political conflict. Often, the Indian forces claim that the firing, which ends up damaging civilian life and property, is meant to stop infiltration from across the LoC, which meanwhile is heavily fortified with hundreds of watch-posts and barbed wire.

Pakistani officials deny the Indian claims and routinely invite national and foreign media as well as officials from the diplomatic community and those from the UN Military Observers’ Group for Indian and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir. On the other hand, Pakistan, currently implementing an Action Plan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has also increased the scrutiny of terror suspects using its soil. In this regard, many Laskar e Taiba (LeT) / Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) and Jaish e Muhammad (JeM) terror suspects are under trial in Pakistani courts. Around 15 JuD leaders and activists have already been convicted in terror financing cases. However, suspects linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks are still under trial.

Experts fear that India’s recent border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, and BJP’s attempt to save face, might turn Indian PM Modi’s attention back to Pakistan to appease his domestic support base after the embarrassment in the Galwan valley, says Fahd Humayun, writing for the Foreign Policy. Humayun believes that ‘successive regional crises, including the Galwan fiasco, mean that the domestic costs for PM Modi – for not to be seen as backing down against external adversaries – are growing, not diminishing’. Similarly, losses incurred by the Indian Army in the Galwan valley have been a shot in the arm for India’s opposition politicians, who have been quick to condemn the BJP for its lack of preparation and in some cases for surrendering entirely. Humayun foresees that this situation increases the chances of India escalating conflict with Pakistan to deflect criticism.

This may also mean heating up of the Line of Control with consequences for the civilian population in the border regions in Kashmir. In such a scenario unarmed Kashmiris, on both sides, may likely continue to suffer the cost of this simmering conflict; the only unfinished agenda on the UN platter.

Mr. Mohammad Nafees is a freelance journalist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies focusing on subjects related to socio-political issues of the country.

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