On the Brink: Inching Closer to War over Kashmir
By Praful Bidwai, Delhi-based political analyst, peace activist, columnist and co-author (with Achin Vanaik) of New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament (2000).
India and Pakistan continue to stand eyeball to eyeball, with three-quarters of a million troops mobilized at the border between the two nuclear rivals.
India's largest-ever military build-up was launched in response to an attack on December 13, 2001, on its Parliament by five men, who New Delhi claims were Pakistan-based "terrorists." The attack, in which 14 were killed, was condemned by governments the world over, including Pakistan.
Like the U.S. did with September 11, India hyperbolically dubbed the December 13 attack an "act of war" and an "assault" on democracy. It too refuses to make any distinction between terrorists and their supporters and harborers. It demands that Pakistan surrender 20 "terrorists" it claims are responsible for activities similar to the December 13 attack - or else.
The U.S. leaned toward India in this confrontation, and in the last week of December placed two Pakistan-based groups on the "foreign terrorist organizations" list. Bush has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan crack down on "terrorist" groups active against India, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair, during a visit in early January, conveyed the same message. The Indian government feels greatly encouraged by the early U.S. statement that it has the right "to act in self-defense" following December 13 and has imposed harsh diplomatic sanctions on Pakistan.
Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf has cracked down on a number of extremist jehadi organizations, freezing bank accounts, sealing offices, and arresting more than 1,600 militants. On January 12, he announced a major "anti-terrorist" policy change and held out substantial concessions to India. New Delhi, however, refused to de-escalate its military build-up. It wants Islamabad to blink first by surrendering the 20 "terrorists." Powell thus finds himself in the middle, trying to calm extremely frayed nerves in the troubled subcontinent. Ironically, India is only imitating the U.S. and that other very American example, Israel, in its fight against "terrorism."
India is playing a game of brinkmanship, steadily ratcheting up military pressure and coercive diplomatic measures against Pakistan. The pressure has largely been exercised through the U.S. - by frightening Bush with the prospect of a South Asian nuclear confrontation, India implored him to tell Pakistan to take "effective" action against terrorists.
India's government persists in the dangerous game of nuclear poker, even though its adversary has announced dramatic, far-reaching policy changes. On January 12, Musharraf inaugurated a radical break with Pakistan's two-decades-old policy of Islamization. He announced a plan to sever the links between political Islam and the state, between the military and the mullahs, and between Kashmir and terrorist violence.
True, Musharraf emphasized the importance of resolving the Kashmir dispute - a sore point with India - and ruled out extraditing Pakistani nationals involved in "terrorism" (who will be dealt with domestically). But he said he would consider an extradition request in regard to non-nationals found in Kashmir. He also offered a dialogue on Kashmir.
India is skeptical of Mush-arraf's concessions only partly because of past experience. Pakistan has all along claimed it has no military relationship with the militants active in Kashmir, when in reality it has trained and armed them. There are two weightier reasons for India's cold reception to Mush-arraf's speech. Firstly, India resents its exclusion from the inner circle of the post-September 11 "anti-terrorist" coalition put together by the U.S., to which Pakistan has been central. India vies with Pakistan to become America's "strategic partner" and "most-allied ally" in South Asia.
The second reason is domestic - related to the politics of India's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). For the BJP, the "anti-terrorism" slogan conveniently diverts attention from its political failures and human rights abuses in Kashmir. It is a way to garner Hindu-nationalist votes.
India and Pakistan stand at a crossroads. Vajpayee must choose between short-term, uncertain domestic gains or abiding peace and reconciliation with Pakistan. The first means continued vassal-like dependence on Washington, which is now building military bases in Pakistan. The second could open up rich new possibilities for a peaceful South Asia, which could return to long-neglected social agendas like fighting poverty and illiteracy.
The U.S. too must decide if it will set a negative, militaristic example for South Asia and exploit the India-Pakistan rivalry or, alternatively, play a modest, useful role by counselling restraint and de-escalation and encouraging a dialogue on Kashmir.
Source: In These Times, January 18, 2002. Online at http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/26/06/news1.shtml