Drone Warfare Could Enter the Kashmir Conflict

Blog Post
Dec. 4, 2018

India may be the next country to opt to use armed drone strikes against its own citizens. Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat attended an annual lecture at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in Delhi on November 28, which focused on threats relating to hybrid warfare.

A question was posed to him about whether India may follow the United States’ example of using drone strikes in conflict zones, specifically in the disputed and conflict-ridden areas of Jammu and Kashmir. General Rawat responded that “the Indian Army is capable of using drones to attack hostile targets inside Jammu and Kashmir and across the Line of Control, and sees no problem in using them provided the nation is willing to accept mistakes and collateral damage.”

The Line of Control is the near 460 mile (740 kilometer) border that runs through the Kashmir region between Pakistan and India. While violence has erupted in the past three years, this conflict has been ongoing since India and Pakistan’s Independence and partition in 1947. Kashmir has been partitioned between India and Pakistan since a 1949 ceasefire.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over this territory since Independence. Over the course of the nearly 70-year ceasefire period, nearly 70,000 individuals have been killed in border fighting. The intractable conflict between India and Pakistan has escalated yet again within the last month. It is estimated that at least 233 terrorists have been killed this year by Indian security forces, 39 this month alone, and a total of 438 dead in the region as a result of this conflict. Pakistani officials estimate that more than 40,000 refugees live in camps spread across Azad Kashmir due to the conflict.

The threat of a potential drone strike against Pakistan in Kashmir has alarmed Pakistani officials. General Rawat’s comments, while hypothetical, touched a nerve, not just in the international security community, but in the international law and human rights community. A targeted drone strike across the border could yield high death tolls for civilians. However, India may be willing to take that risk. As General Rawat states, there could be “collateral damage” as a result of a drone strike. The question, he asks, is “Will the international community get after us, or will they spare us in case mistakes happen? That is a call we have to take. Otherwise, there is just no problem in using it.”

India is not the first country to consider using drones in combat, nor is it the first to consider using armed drones within its border. New America tracks the United States counterterrorism drone strikes as well as the proliferation of armed drones in its databases. The United States, among others, has used covert drone strikes in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya for years. Ten states have used armed drones in combat, and four have used drones to strike within their borders: Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey, and Iraq. As states become more comfortable with using drone strikes as alternatives to boots on the ground, the character of warfare will continue to morph.