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NYTimes.com Article: The Most Dangerous Place in the World
by alvi_saima
31 May 2002 14:51 UTC
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This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by alvi_saima@yahoo.com.

ABSTRACT: The risk of a nuclear battle, however improbable, makes Kashmir 
everybody's problem. Right now it's the most dangerous place in the world. 


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The Most Dangerous Place in the World

May 30, 2002


The present Kashmir crisis feels like a déjà vu replay of
the last one. Three years ago a weak Indian coalition
government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party had just lost a confidence vote in India's Parliament
and was nervously awaiting a general election. At once it
began to beat the war drums over Kashmir. Now another
coalition government, still led by the B.J.P. and deeply
tainted by B.J.P. supporters' involvement in the massacre
of hundreds of Muslims in Gujarat State, may be about to
lose another general election. So here goes the government
again, talking up a Kashmiri war and asking India to stand
firm behind its leadership. 

Three years ago in Pakistan, the equally weak government of
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had bankrupted the national
economy and was facing well-documented corruption charges.
Mr. Sharif, too, had much to gain from war fever - fed by
the various Muslim terrorist groups operating in Kashmir.
The hawkish Pakistani general then responsible for
communicating with and training those terrorist groups was
one Pervez Musharraf. (By the way - just so we're clear on
who Mr. Musharraf, now Pakistan's president, really is -
some of these groups were almost certainly sent by
Pakistan's intelligence service to Qaeda training camps in
Afghanistan.) When Nawaz Sharif succumbed to American
pressure and promised to rein in the terrorists, General
Musharraf was furious. A few months later he overthrew Mr.
Sharif in a coup and seized power. 

Will the outcome also be a replay of three years ago? Will
the conflict be contained again? 

This time President Musharraf is the one being pressed by
the United States to stamp out Kashmiri terrorism. He has
been playing a double game, arresting hundreds of members
of the groups he once fostered but quietly freeing most of
them soon afterward. Caught between two necessities -
placating his major international sponsor and playing to
the home audience - he may well in the end follow his
deepest political instincts: to support (overtly or
covertly) the Islamist radicals who have terrorized the
once idyllic valley of Kashmir for well over a decade. 

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of India, with his talk
of a "decisive battle," clearly feels that direct military
action, resulting in the reconquest of some if not all of
the Kashmiri territory now under Pakistani control, is the
only way of preventing attacks like the atrocity this month
in which women and children were slaughtered at an Indian
army base. Mr. Vajpayee knows that Indian rule is unpopular
in the valley, that the Indian army looks to many Kashmiris
like an army of occupation. But he will also have
calculated that in the opinion of the international
community, and also of many fearful, near-destitute
Kashmiris, Pakistan's protracted sponsorship of terrorism
has damaged its claims to moral legitimacy. 

Would a war between India and Pakistan, if it came, go

Pakistan, with its suggestively timed missile tests, its
refusal to adopt a policy of not being the first to use
nuclear arms and its hawkish talk, is trying to give the
impression that it would have no compunction about using
its nuclear arsenal. India's military leadership has said
that if attacked with nuclear bombs it would respond with
maximum force and that in such a conflict India would
sustain heavy damage but survive, whereas Pakistan would be
destroyed utterly. 

Is it really likely, however, that Pakistan would, so to
speak, strap a nuclear weapon to its belly, walk into the
crowded bazaar that is India and turn itself into the
biggest suicide bomber in history? 

Mr. Musharraf doesn't look like martyr material. Ah, but if
he were losing a conventional war? If India's overwhelming
numerical superiority on land, at sea and in the air won
the day and Pakistan lost its prized Kashmiri land, would
reason be swept aside? Worst of all, if Pakistani fury at a
military defeat by India were to result in Mr. Musharraf's
overthrow by Islamist hard-liners, Pakistan's nuclear
warheads could fall into the hands of people for whom
martyrdom is a higher goal than peace, people who value
death more highly than life. 

Pakistan is calling on the international community to
intervene, but this call must be heard with caution. For
half a century Pakistan has sought to internationalize the
Kashmiri dispute while India has consistently described
that effort as interference in its internal affairs. Both
sides are locked into old language, old strategies and an
old game of chicken that's currently playing itself out
across the Line of Control. Like two aged wrestlers
fighting on a cliff, India and Pakistan are locked
together, rolling ever closer to the edge. 

But their ancient hatred is no longer a matter only for
them. The risk of a nuclear battle, however improbable,
makes Kashmir everybody's problem. Right now it's the most
dangerous place in the world. These pathetic old fighters
must be pulled apart, and soon. Yes, that probably does
mean intervention by the West, though Russia seems eager to
help as well, which is useful. 

This should not, however, be the intervention that Pakistan
wants. The point is not to restrain Indian "aggression,"
but to make the world safer for us all. The situation can
only be stabilized if India and Pakistan are both forced to
back away, preferably to outside of Kashmir's historic,
unpartitioned borders. This "hands off Kashmir" solution
will have to be externally imposed on the reluctant
principals and will require that a large peacekeeping force
be sent to the region to support Kashmir as an autonomous
area. But who in the West wants that - it's just the old
colonialist-imperialist power trip, isn't it? And who's
supposed to pay for all this peacekeeping, anyway? 

The answers to those questions are also questions: What's
the alternative? Do you have a better idea? Or shall we
just stand back and keep our postcolonial, nonimperialist
fingers crossed? Will it take mushroom clouds over Delhi
and Islamabad to make us give up our ingrained prejudices
and try something that might actually work? In the immortal
words of the Spice Girls, "Will this déjà vu never end?" 

Salman Rushdie is the author of "Fury: A Novel" and the
forthcoming essay collection "Step Across This Line."


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