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The Tinderbox Called Kashmir: The Boston Globe
by Saima Alvi
28 May 2002 11:48 UTC
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Published on Saturday, May 25, 2002 in the Boston Globe

The Tinderbox Called Kashmir
============================

by Adil Najam

Adil Najam is a professor of international relations at Boston University.


THE MOST dangerous place in the world is not the Middle East. It is a
620-mile track of mostly mountainous terrain - much of it inhabitable -
that the UN calls ''the line of control.''

Over the past half century, the line - which separates India and Pakistan
in the disputed state of Kashmir - has witnessed anything but ''control.''
A continuous war has raged here for more than 50 years. Military
''incidents'' involving death and serious injury happen routinely. Tensions 
escalate repeatedly, especially when the government in one or both 
countries has domestic crises from which it wishes to distract attention. 
Sometimes things get totally out of hand.

Both countries are among the poorest in the world, yet they have large
standing armies. Between them, they boast an active military force of
nearly 2 million and 1.5 million in paramilitary forces. India, which spends
about five times more than Pakistan on its military, has overwhelming
superiority in every aspect. The great equalizer is the fact that both have 
nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of delivering them.

What makes this the most dangerous place is not just the history of
conflict, the propensity for belligerence, and the possibility of nuclear
annihilation. It is the fact that the two countries sit in the middle of
the toughest and most militarized neighborhood in the world. Russia remains
the largest military supplier to India, a trusted ally of the Soviet Union
during the Cold War. A series of military pacts between India and Russia
will ensure that the latter is dragged into any war in the region.
Pakistan has a similar relationship with China, which occupies a small part 
of Kashmir and is a party to the dispute. Any conflict between India and
Pakistan is likely to involve not two but four nuclear powers.

One wrong move along the line of control could spark a forest fire in a
region that is already a tinderbox: nearly 3 billion people, four nuclear
powers, a host of unstable regimes, and home to about three-fourths of the
world's nuclear arsenal and even more of the world's standing militaries.

Last week the region got more dangerous. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Indian
prime minister, told his troops in Kashmir that the time for the
''decisive fight'' has arrived and that they should prepare 
for ''sacrifices.'' Pakistan vowed to use ''full force'' in its defense.

With nearly 750,000 Indian soldiers facing an estimated 250,000 Pakistani
soldiers along the 620-mile track, this unprecedented escalation in
language cannot be brushed aside as mere brinkmanship.

Unlike other recent altercations, this time India seems to lack the
inclination and Pakistan the ability to deescalate. For India, a ''limited
war'' in Kashmir must be an appealing idea. It would distract domestic
attention from the ethnic slaughter in Gujarat that has claimed more than
1,000 mostly Muslim lives. The prime minister's Hindu nationalist party
leads a fragile minority government that barely survived a recent
no-confidence motion in Parliament. The Kashmir escalation seems to have
paid dividends already: The domestic media that had become very critical
have rallied to the prime minister's emotional appeals for unity. Hawks
see this as a moment of opportunity when they can sneak behind the cover of
the global war on terrorism. Their belief is that as long as Delhi can
disguise the dispute as a threat of ''Islamic terrorism,'' the United 
States will have to look the other way.

The problem is that the choice to keep the war ''limited'' is not India's
alone. Since Sept. 11, General Pervez Musharraf's attempts to cleanse the
military and intelligence establishments of religious zealots have won him
many friends but have also created many enemies. Given the public's mood,
the military's patience, and his own disposition, he cannot be seen as
weak on Kashmir. To do so would be to validate all that the religious
extremists have been saying. War histrionics from India provide the Islamic 
extremist fringe the ammunition they need: a rallying cry to help them 
regroup, recruit, and retaliate. Doing so would undermine the measures 
Musharraf has been taking and also the larger global war on terrorism.

In short, domestic conditions in both India and Pakistan are ripe for
escalation. For the sake of its own sanity, the rest of the world must not
allow things to spiral out of control. The international community needs
to push both sides toward a meaningful resolution to the Kashmir dispute. A
good first step would be for both countries to begin with the Security
Council resolutions they have each accepted. Half a century ago the UN
came up with a four-step formula that was largely designed by the United
States. First, cease fire. Second, establish international monitoring. 
Third, demilitarize. Fourth, ask the people of Kashmir what they want. This
sounds even more sensible today. Maybe, the world should give it one more 
try.

 Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company


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