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Analytical Piece "Nuclear shadow falls on Kashmir" [Quick Read]
by Saima Alvi
25 May 2002 19:11 UTC
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Posted from San Franisco Chronicle

Nuclear shadow falls on Kashmir

Friday, May 24, 2002
Zulfiqar Ahmad     

Zulfiqar Ahmad is a South Asia program officer for the Berkeley-based 
Nautilus Institute for Security & Sustainable Development. Further 
information is at www.nautilus.org/sand. 

POISED "eyeball to eyeball," more than a million soldiers face each other 
along the 2,000-mile border between India and Pakistan. Thousands of 
villagers on either side of the line have fled their homes; others take 
shelter from periodic mortar and artillery fire. Pakistan has reportedly 
mobilized its nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missiles; India is 
amassing its troops in a threatening manner. There is obsessive talk of war 
in India and endless repetition that "we will respond with full force" in 
Pakistan. Kashmir, once again, is at center stage of the war dance. 

India accuses Pakistan of sending terrorists into Kashmir; Pakistan, 
predictably, denies the charges. Another day in messy South Asia? No, this 
one is far worse. 

Two factors make this crisis in South Asia far more dangerous than previous 
tense standoffs between the two countries. 

First, the religious fundamentalists on both sides of the border would, as 
always, like to see a war. They may now have the chance to fulfill that 

Second, the U.S.-led war on terrorism has created an international 
environment in which many countries feel emboldened to pursue their agendas 
through violent, military means. Ironically, the war on terrorism has both 
undercut the United States' authority and limited its foreign policy 

For more than 20 years, successive Pakistani governments created, 
cultivated, recruited and supported extreme, violent and armed Islamic 
fundamentalist forces that include both the Taliban and a variety of jihadi 
(holy warriors) groups. The idea was to add "strategic depth" to Pakistan's 
borders by installing the Taliban in Kabul while bleeding India by sending 
in armed jihadis to conduct military operations in Kashmir. The Kargil War 
of 1999 between India and Pakistan and the rout of the Taliban from 
Afghanistan shows the spectacular bankruptcy of both policies. 

Since Sept. 11, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has been trying, with 
questionable success, to control these jihadi groups. Abandoned by their 
mentors, experiencing the shrinking of political space to propagate their 
vision of a theocratic state, these groups need a war to survive and 

An India-Pakistan war translates easily into a war between Hindus and 

These groups have the organization and the capacity to create great trouble 
in Kashmir even without support from Pakistan. The killing last week of 
more than 30 civilian family members of Indian army personnel indicates 
that these groups are trying hard to ignite a war. 

The situation in India is no better. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's 
Hindu nationalist Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) recently suffered significant 
political setbacks in state elections. The Indian government has also been 
under intense criticism for its handling of the killing of hundreds of 
Muslims by Hindu fundamentalists. The BJP and the Hindu fundamentalist 
groups such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have close links. It is unlikely 
that the BJP-led government can satisfy the loud demands of both the Indian 
media and opposition political parties that the people responsible for the 
massacres in Gujarat state, including the chief minister, be brought to 
justice. A war with Pakistan will help relieve some of the political 
pressure on the BJP. A war will also expand the political space for Hindu 
fundamentalists to promote their visions of a Hindu India. 

The ever-present refrain from Indian political leaders and sections of the 
Indian media is that the United States must support, not stop, India from 
waging its war against terrorism, even if it involves Indian military 
excursions into Pakistan. The presence of U.S. forces in Pakistan has made 
anti-American sentiments in the country stronger, making it more difficult 
and dangerous for Musharraf to control or confront militant Islamic groups 
without appearing to be the U.S. lackey. 

It is likely that saner voices in South Asia, coupled with significant 
international pressure, will prevent India and Pakistan from sliding into a 
full-scale war. There will always be a next time however, until the Kashmir 
dispute is resolved. 

Left to their own devices, India and Pakistan will remain fixed to their 
irreconcilable positions. India will continue to claim that Kashmir is 
India's "internal affair," and Pakistan will keep stating that whether 
Kashmir belongs to India or Pakistan must be decided by a plebiscite, as 
originally envisaged by a U.N. Security Council resolution of 53 years ago. 
Kashmir and Kashmiris will continue to suffer. 

After half a decade of oppressive Indian administration and cynical 
manipulations by the Pakistan government, there is a strong Kashmiri 
aspiration for azadi -- freedom. The world must make a collective 
commitment to finding a just and durable resolution of the dispute that 
fulfills the legitimate concerns of both India and Pakistan, while also 
satisfying the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Only a resolution that 
flows from one simple principle -- that the ultimate arbiters of the 
Kashmiri dispute are the 13 million people of Kashmir -- will have a chance 
of success. 

The price for ignoring the Kashmir dispute will be high. In every war game 
simulation conducted by the U.S. government, a war between India and 
Pakistan has always ended in a nuclear holocaust. 


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