The Indo-Pakistani Conflict:
Bordering on Madness, 3 July 2002
In the aftermath of September 11, the standoff between Pakistan and India over Kashmir has taken on a new dimension. Today, more than one million Indian and Pakistani soldiers are massed along 120 kilometers of borderline, putting the strategic and political tolerance of both countries to the test. With this new escalation, many fear the potential consequences of a fourth Indo-Pakistani war.
Kashmir, the Himalayan region shared by India and Pakistan, has never known a truce. The border drawn after the bloody partition of 1947 poisoned relations between the two rivals, causing three wars. The first, which ended in 1949, led to the division of the territory into Indian Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir) and Pakistani Kashmir (Azad Kashmir); the last amputated Pakistan’s eastern part, which became Bangladesh.
Victorious in each war, New Delhi has staunchly defended national cohesion and the inviolability of its borders. But since India has never made good on its commitments, the sovereignty of this majority-Muslim state has always been contested. Today, the Kashmiris are still awaiting a troop withdrawal and a national referendum on the territory’s future, as promised in 1947 by Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru.
Driven by domestic instability, Islamabad has continually laid claim to this territory and its large Muslim majority. And there is no doubt that the Pakistani government has supported the separatists, mobilizing Islamic mercenaries on the front; however, New Delhi has responded with a campaign of indiscriminate repression whose only effect has been to fortify the secessionist forces. Though the Kashmiris are tired of the jihadis deployed by Pakistan, the arrogance of the Indian army - widely accused of various human rights violations - has greatly favoured the insurrection.
"There are specific political and economic reasons explaining the Kashmiris’ alienation from the Indian government," comments Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor in Chief of the daily Times of India. "We will never solve the Kashmir problem simply by asking the United States to order the Pakistani militants back home. There are much more pressing issues in this conflict; especially the political dynamics inherent in Indian Kashmir, and the people’s dissatisfaction with New Delhi."
New Delhi’s Game
Since the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, and buoyed by the so-called "war on terrorism," the Indian government has been conducting a virulent propaganda campaign. The government is led by the Hindu fundamentalist, fascistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has recently endured several electoral setbacks. With Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s mediocre performance as well as the grave domestic crisis taking place against a backdrop of religious and communalist ferment, India is trying to rally its supporters by playing the nationalist card. The escalation has helped the government sidetrack international criticism of the carnage perpetrated in the state of Gujarat, where more than one thousand Indians, most of them Muslim, have been massacred by fanatical Hindu militants. More than half a century after its independence, this imperfect democracy of one billion people has not yet managed to integrate all of its national minorities - the largest of them being its 120 million Muslims.
"The war on terrorism has helped India to strengthen its program with respect to Pakistan," explains I. A. Rehman, Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Vice-President of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy.
So far, no one has attempted to defuse the crisis. Challenged from all sides, in the grips of their own fundamentalist fervor, the two governments see flag-waving as the only way to rebuild their popularity.
"Both parties have idealized Kashmir into a fundamental question of survival and prestige. The real question, though, is whether either one of them has any vision whatsoever for South Asia. If the missiles start to fly," worries Rehman, "our work will be in vain."
Fearing that it could lose the next election in 2004, the BJP is calculating that a new war would allow it to recover lost political ground. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Indian insolence has lent legitimacy to the dictatorship in power since 1999. As one Pakistani human rights advocate notes, this crisis has helped to consolidate President Mu-sharraf’s power: "In the face of the Indian threat, any criticism of the Indian government becomes difficult; even though the majority of Pakistanis don’t want war."
For the time being, the United States has no interest in war breaking out involving Pakistan, its primary ally in the Afghan adventure and the gateway to the new playing field in central Asia. However, a shift is discernible in the American rhetoric on South Asia. India - more stable politically than Pakistan, more powerful economically - is increasingly being talked about as a significant ally in the region as well as a major trading partner. Moreover, the Indian diplomatic strategy seems to be driven by the unspoken objective of becoming the dominant power in the region. Once the leader of the non-aligned movement, India now accepts American supremacy as an established fact.
According to Varadarajan, most of the region’s problems stem from near-sighted governmental policies, but also from the short-circuiting of regional economic and political cooperation by the foreign powers. "It is disconcerting to see how India, traditionally a voice of reason which has supported multilateral approaches, refuses to countenance any regional initiatives to find solutions to the problems of South Asia. It prefers to play the game of the United States, which claims to be the only power that can guarantee regional stability."
In one of the poorest regions of the world, both countries could be channeling resources now devoted to the military into social and economic development. Instead, they are playing a dangerous game of escalation which could explode into a nuclear war at any time.
The last thirteen years of this conflict have witnessed more than 50,000 deaths, not to mention a veritable arms race on either side. An entire people is being held hostage, while the question of Kashmiri self-determination has been reduced to a mere territorial and ideological dispute. Today, Kashmir - an important centre of Sufism - is playing host to tense power games and a clash of fundamentalisms. It seems that not much ever changes in this cursed land, caught in the crossfire between two declared nuclear powers.