The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

India-Pakistan:
Six Months of a "Phony War" Filled with Danger for the Population

Jul 1, 2002

India and Pakistan have now been at war for six months. It could be called a "phony war" since, for the past six months, the two sides have been trading verbal abuse without either side ready to launch an offensive on the ground for the time being, at least, but this could change.

War it is, however. Over a million soldiers are stationed on both sides of the two countries' 2000-mile long common border. Both sides have been ready to launch an offensive for a long time already. A few weeks ago, military chiefs in both countries were even heard evaluating with equal cynicism the likely casualties should this war turn into a nuclear conflict. Their conclusion was that the estimated total casualties of between 6 and 12 million was "tolerable" given the size of the populations concerned. This just goes to show how little the leaders of these countries care about the lives of their own people!

In the border zone, hundreds of thousands of farmers have already fled their villages. Those who were not driven out by artillery fire from the other side were forced out of their houses and lands by the army of their own side so that mines could be planted to slow down a possible invasion. As always in similar circumstances, the general staffs thought about piling up unlimited supplies of shells and other lethal weapons, but they did not bother to prepare anything to aid the survival of the huge flood of men, women and children who were bound to become refugees as a result of their military exercises. On both sides, makeshift refugee camps have been mushrooming, but they are short of everything, particularly food and drinking water.

So, even before military operations have really started, the poor masses are already paying the price for this war and not just in the border areas, but everywhere else as well. Indeed, this state of war is generating a strongly chauvinist atmosphere: jingoism, "sacrifices" which are demanded from the population in the name of "national unity," emergency measures both in terms of budget cuts and restrictions on democratic rights, and so on.

An Offshoot of Bush's Crusade

This Indo-Pakistani war originated as an offshoot of Bush's "war against terrorism."

The leaders of the Indian BJP (National Indian Party, a Hindu fundamentalist party) have been seeking a rapprochement with the U.S. ever since they came to power in 1998. Instead, with the U.S. war on Afghanistan, U.S. leaders strengthened their ties with Pakistan. No matter how much the Indian leaders disapproved, there was nothing they could do about it, given Washington's military priorities. But as soon as the Taliban regime began to crumble, with Pakistan losing some of its strategic importance for the U.S., the Indian government sought to regain the initiative. The terrorist attack against the Indian Union parliament, last December 13 which was blamed on a Muslim fundamentalist group based in Pakistan provided the BJP leaders with the pretext they were looking for. Jumping on board Bush's crusade against terrorism, they sought to put the Pakistani regime of General Musharraf on trial. Less than two weeks later all land connections between the two countries had been closed while 800,000 Indian soldiers were posted along Pakistan's border.

Today Musharraf's regime remains Bush's ally, helping with the U.S. offensive against bin Laden's network, but above all with the U.S. war in Afghanistan. (Although the media pay less and less attention to it, this war is still going on). Nonetheless, the Pakistani regime has now become a target of another "anti-terrorist" offensive, this time led by the Indian government which pretends that it has gained the favor of the U.S. And Washington has done nothing to discourage this, quite the contrary. Of course, the U.S. has never been very choosy about the allies it uses in its great power games. Bush isn't concerned by the fact that both the BJP and the Pakistani Muslim fundamentalists compete with each other in resorting to terrorist methods; no more than he cares about the support that the Pakistani military gave to fundamentalist terrorists provided that Musharraf's regime continues to support the U.S. war against Afghanistan. In fact, U.S. imperialism is happy to be able to play off the two rival regional powers, India and Pakistan, against each other. It's one of the tactics imperialism has always used to consolidate its domination, particularly in this part of the world.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan already involved significant dangers taking the risk, as it did, of triggering ethnic confrontations far beyond Afghanistan. But the dangers implicit in an Indo-Pakistani war are immensely greater, if only because, between them, these two countries contain one fifth of the planet's population.

The Indian subcontinent remains a powder keg. For more than half a century, this subcontinent has paid dearly for the poisoned legacy left by British colonialism, which had created a ditch of blood between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority in the period before independence and then organized the partition into India and Pakistan. The bloodshed and forced deportation of millions of people left an indelible scar for several generations in both countries. Today, reactionary forces on both sides whether in power in India or carrying on under the protection of the military dictatorship as in Pakistan are trying to revive and whip up hatred inherited from the past for their own political benefit. Condoning the brinkmanship carried on by the Indian and Pakistani governments, U.S. imperialism encourages these reactionary forces to drop all restraints, taking the risk of a bloody explosion which could go much further than just a border war.

The Origins of the Kashmir Conflict

The present "phony war" should not conceal the other, very real war taking place in Kashmir, the region bordering both India and Pakistan, a war which plays an important role in the current conflict. The war in Kashmir has virtually never stopped since the 1947 partition of India, even though it has taken different forms, according to the situation.

Kashmir was one of the components of an artificial kingdom Britain put together in the middle of the 19th century in order to reward the Hindu Dogra dynasty for its loyalty to the British crown. For a whole century this dynasty imposed a ferocious dictatorship on the population of the whole region, with the main victims being ethnic and religious minorities. The Kashmiri population made up nearly half the kingdom's population; and they were ethnically homogeneous, with their own language, and overwhelmingly Muslim. The Kashmiris were without a doubt the main threat to the dynasty's rule and were thus the main target of the dynasty's repression. This helped to develop a certain national identity among the Kashmiri people.

At the time of Indian independence, the Kashmiri nationalists, although Muslims, did not identify with the Muslim League's aim to set up a "Muslim fatherland." The main Kashmiri organization, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's Muslim Conference, considered itself a secular organization. It soon changed its name to the National Conference, in order to distinguish itself from the Muslim League. It was in favor of Kashmir becoming part of India on the basis of a certain autonomy, so as to preserve its national identity. But above all the National Conference wanted the end of the Dogra dynasty, which was represented at the time by a corrupt despot, "knighted" by the British crown, "Sir" Harry Singh.

Independence year, 1947, started off in the Kashmir Valley with a tax boycott called by the National Conference. This was followed by a violent repression. At the same time, Harry Singh announced his decision to remain independent from both India and Pakistan, apparently supported and encouraged by Great Britain. Britain was looking to use Kashmir as an advance post in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Without a doubt, British leaders preferred that this strategic region remained under the control of a corrupt despot, one on whose loyalty they could count. London's game was spoiled, however, when the new Pakistani regime sent armed paramilitaries into Kashmir. Harry Singh was left with no option but to request India's help. In return he had to agree to a phased integration of his kingdom into the Indian Federation (which was finally completed in 1954.)

This was what triggered the first Indo-Pakistani war, which lasted from the end of 1947 until January 1949. Its outcome was the partition of Kashmir along what is today called the "Line of Control," which neither country has ever recognized as a legitimate border.

Repeated crossings of this line by both sides led to constant border incidents usually accompanied by artillery duels. In 1965, one such incident turned into open warfare when the Indian government sent Indian troops into Pakistan's Punjab province, in the guise of carrying out reprisals. The war lasted for three weeks but it did not change the situation in Kashmir. More recently, in 1999, the Pakistani army made another attempt to force India into accepting a fait accompli, occupying the Kargil heights on the Indian side of the Line of Control. Pakistan was forced into a humiliating retreat, imposed this time by the U.S.

Islam Dragged into the Conflict

In 1951, the Kashmiri National Conference won an overwhelming victory in the province's first ever general election. However, in the poisonous atmosphere created by Indo-Pakistani tensions, the Indian government would not accept the demands of Sheikh Abdullah and his partisans for autonomy. Abdullah and his closest supporters ended up spending most of the next two decades in jail; in their absence, the Indian authorities managed to turn the National Conference into a pliable instrument for carrying out their policies.

On paper, Kashmir retained a degree of autonomy which was enshrined in article 370 of the Indian constitution. But in reality, this autonomy was reduced to the ritual rubber-stamping of New Delhi's decisions by the Kashmiri parliament. Whenever Kashmiri politicians failed to show enough enthusiasm, the Indian authorities always managed to find others to replace them, willing to be bought with a little gold. While corruption was growing, conditions for the Kashmiri population were going from bad to worse. The Indian federal government did not see any point in making capital investment in a region which could be devastated at any time by a border conflict with Pakistan. Local politicians were much too busy lining their pockets to pay any attention to the state of public infrastructure or anything else.

All this brought the National Conference into disrepute, thereby opening the way to new political forces. By the early 1960s, traditional Muslim political parties, which were modeled on Pakistan's Muslim League, began to emerge, demanding in the name of religion the unification of Kashmir within Pakistan. These parties enjoyed the material and political support of the Pakistani government, and this convinced many clan leaders to drop out of the National Conference.

It was also during this period that a new nationalist movement, which was to gain a significant level of influence among the youth, was formed: the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Although it was permeated by religion, which it used as a kind of national banner, the JKLF stood for a "Free Greater Kashmir," which would be independent from both India and Pakistan, and whose geographic legitimacy was based on the borders of the 15th century Kashmiri kingdom. Despite this, the JKLF claimed to be a modernist organization, in favor of a secular democracy, even social-democratic; and it called on international institutions such as the U.N. to resolve the Kashmiri conflict.

By the end of the 1970s, however, the situation in Kashmir changed dramatically, as a result of the rapid growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, supported by the then Pakistani dictator, General Zia, and aided by U.S. dollars sent to finance the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation. Undoubtedly inspired by the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the Pakistani secret services channeled their help and weapons to those Kashmiri fundamentalist groups willing to launch an armed struggle. The first armed operations carried out in Kashmir by these groups resulted in violent and indiscriminate repression by the Indian government and the suspension of Kashmir's local democratic institutions. This, in turn, led to a brutal radicalization among the Kashmiri youth. Even the JKLF had no option but to declare itself for armed struggle for fear of losing influence.

This failed to save the JKLF or to stop the rising tide of fundamentalism. All the more so, since, at the end of the 1980s, many Kashmiri youth who had joined the Afghan resistance returned home and joined the growing ranks of the fundamentalist guerillas. Soon after this, other activists arrived in Kashmir experienced Pakistani or Afghan fundamentalists who became the military instructors of the Kashmiri guerilla groups. It was during this period, that Hizbul Mujahedeen, the armed wing of the fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami, absorbed all the existing fundamentalist guerillas, by resorting to all kinds of intrigues and murders.

A Lever for the Pakistani Army

Starting in 1989, a brutal escalation took place in Kashmir an escalation of terrorism by the fundamentalists and an escalation of repression by the Indian army. Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris belonging to minorities (Hindus, Sikhs and even Shiite Muslims) fled Kashmir in order to escape from the fundamentalist terror. At the same time the Indian contingent stationed in Kashmir was increased to 500,000 men, both regular troops and auxiliaries, including the sinister Special Task Force, a militia recruited among the local mafia to carry out the dirtiest tasks for the Indian army. In addition to being subjected to the terrorism of the fundamentalists, the Kashmiri population was now subjected to the state terrorism of the Indian government.

Eight years later, a delegation from the Indian Peoples Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights that visited Srinagar, Kashmir's capital, sent back this description of the town: "The appearance of the city as well as the villages around it is that of war ravaged places. Predominance of the security forces patrolling with guns, bunkers all over. Army occupation of civilian areas has become a prominent and almost permanent feature of Kashmir. It looks like a big prison. Overall fear psychosis prevails in every strata of society, especially among women and children. Anybody can get interrogated any time of the day and night. Even old and very young are not spared. During such interrogations they are physically, mentally and sexually abused."

This terrorist spiral has reached such a point that even some of the Kashmiri fundamentalists have began to worry about its consequences. There was a split in Hizbul Mujahedeen, in May this year. For once, those who were expelled for advocating a cease-fire are still alive, for the time being, at least. This probably means that they have a large enough following to be feared by the Hizbul leadership. Not all the advocates of a cease-fire have been as lucky as that. For example, also in May, Abdul Khali Lone, one of the leaders of the All-Parties Hurryiat Conference, which brings together most of the Kashmiri opposition parties, was executed by gunmen for having publicly denounced the role played by "foreign terrorists" in Kashmir.

Faced with tendencies in favor of a compromise among the armed Kashmiri opposition, the Pakistani military has increasingly relied mainly on Pakistani terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Army of Believers) to carry out terrorist operations both in Kashmir and in India. In recent months, those groups have been reinforced by Afghan fighters who fled Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban. To the point that today, these Pakistani groups have become strong enough to impose their control over the armed Kashmiri groups. In the areas along the Line of Control, which play a vital role in the supply of weapons coming from Pakistan, they have succeeded in supplanting the Hizbul Mujahedeen.

In fact, the Pakistani army is waging a full-blown terrorist war against India and also against Kashmir via the Pakistani fundamentalist groups it controls and arms. As for the brutal and indiscriminate repression that the Indian army is carrying out against the Kashmiri population it is nothing less that state terrorism against a whole population.

A Fragile Dictatorship

What are the objectives of the Pakistani army in the current Indo-Pakistani war? First of all, it's likely that if things depended only on the Pakistani military, it would have preferred to avoid the open war which has been unfolding over the last six months.

It is one thing for Musharraf to let his generals wage a covert war against India by manipulating terrorist groups in Kashmir and in India, in the hope that one day the Kashmiri powder keg will become so expensive for the Indian government that it will decide to get rid of the problem by pulling out altogether a retreat that Musharraf could then portray as a defeat inflicted on India by Pakistan. But it is quite another thing for the Pakistani army to engage in an open conflict with the Indian army, which is considerably larger and much better equipped. As things stand at present, the situation can only go against Musharraf. And he certainly is not being helped by Bush's demands that he clean house, ridding Pakistan of its terrorists even though Bush has probably no intention, at least not in the predictable future, to go further than verbal remonstrations.

However, the Indian government has not given Musharraf any choice. Facing this situation he didn't choose, Musharraf can't afford to be accused of weakness by his rivals either among the politicians or inside the army. Nor can he afford openly to defy Bush's instructions, for fear of losing his support and he needs Bush a lot more than Bush needs him.

When Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999, he enjoyed the tacit support of a whole section of the population which hoped that he was going to reverse the widespread corruption and catastrophic economic decay which characterized the previous regime. Those days are long since been forgotten.

Instead of ending corruption, General Musharraf only targeted a handful of individuals chosen from among his most determined political opponents. But what else could he have been expected to do, when the army itself is by far the main agent of corruption in the country?

The Pakistani army sits on a huge economic empire whose executive is none other than Musharraf himself, in his capacity as chief of staff. This empire is made of four "foundations" whose combined assets are valued at five billion dollars. The largest of the four, the Fauji Foundation, is the country's largest industrial conglomerate; its activities include food-processing, chemical plants and the production of construction material, among other things. The army is also the country's largest landowner, thanks to its takeover of land abandoned by its owners at the time of partition. In Punjab alone, a total of 600,000 people make a living out of toiling the army's land, and they have to pay the army by handing over half of their crop. Such a huge empire must allow quite a few generals to line their pockets. But it must also fund all sorts of dubious activities, such as the trafficking of weapons to fundamentalists in Kashmir. No wonder the army is not very active in the fight against corruption!

Neither has the economic situation improved despite the hopes of many people that Musharraf might do something in this realm. True, there have been changes in the economy over the past three years, a lot of changes in fact, but not for the better. During Musharraf's first two years, for instance, 90,000 public sector employees were thrown out of their jobs and 40 state-owned companies were privatized. All kinds of consumer taxes have been introduced while the price of gasoline was increased fourfold. Privatization resulted in huge price increases: 200% for water, 300% for refined sugar. All existing social benefits were terminated while wages remained frozen despite a 40% rate of inflation. In other words the majority of the population has every reason to want to make Musharraf pay for this drastic degradation in its standard of living.

As a result Musharraf has to resort to sordid cheating in order to pose as the "democrat" that Bush pretends he is. He certainly can't take the risk of allowing the population to express its discontent. This was illustrated by the referendum held on April 30, in which voters were asked to say whether they were in favor of giving Musharraf an additional five years as president. The supposed results were denounced as bad joke by virtually everyone in Pakistan: 97.7% were supposed to have voted "yes" for Musharraf, with a 70% turnout when no election in Pakistan had ever seen a turnout higher than 36%!

For the general elections, which are due to take place at the end of this year, Musharraf had to make some concessions, allowing political parties to put up candidates (which was not the case in last year's local elections). But, for the time being, these parties are still banned from intervening publicly in their own name and Musharraf was careful not to give any hint as to when they will be allowed to launch their election campaigns. It shows how insecure the regime feels about its future.

For the time being, the dictatorship is trying to make as much political capital as possible out of the India-Pakistani war, forcing the leaders of the main political parties to publicly express their solidarity with the regime in the name of Pakistan and Islam. But Musharraf remains vulnerable to attacks coming from his right that is from the fundamentalists, who have no reason to fear a military adventure which is most likely to benefit them. And this is one of the dangers in the current situation.

The BJP and the Anti-Muslim Pogroms

On the Indian side, the logic of the BJP leaders' internal policy is crystal clear. Their only preoccupation is to remain in power.

In the last all-India parliamentary election, in 1999, the BJP managed to use the Kargil incidents to prop up nationalist feelings in the electorate, primarily to its own advantage. Since then, however, its scores have gone down drastically in most state legislative elections, due to a succession of corruption scandals involving leading figures of the BJP and the Hindu hierarchy but above all, to the rapid deterioration of the economy which affects the large majority of the population. Thus, last year, the BJP managed to win only 11 of the 800 seats up for election in five state legislatures. True, the BJP had already been weak in these states. But the ruling coalition led by the BJP had a good deal of strength in those states, and most of the BJP's allies experienced catastrophic losses. What was even worse for the BJP were its losses in elections this year in several states which it had dominated. In Punjab, where the BJP was in power in alliance with a regionalist party, it lost 80% of its seats in the state legislature. The worst blow came in Uttar Pradesh, which alone has more than 10% of the Indian population. The BJP had held power on its own there, and yet it lost 50% of its seats. Almost at the same time, it was overthrown in one of its oldest urban strongholds, Delhi, where it lost three-quarters of its seats on the local council.

In order to stop this catastrophic downfall, the BJP is trying to rally public opinion around its image as champion of the Hindu identity. The Indo-Pakistani conflict allows the BJP to call for national unity against the Pakistani "enemy" and to agitate around the threat of "Muslim terrorism." But for the time being if we look at the electoral results this demagogy hasn't helped the BJP to regain support.

The BJP could easily resort to the old methods which it used so effectively in the early 1990s, at the beginning of its march to power giving free rein and encouragement to the anti-Muslim prejudices which exist among the population, even if this results in a bloodbath. For this, the Indo-Pakistani war can only serve as an additional catalyst.

In fact, this is exactly what the BJP has done during the past few months in the state of Gujarat, one of two states in which it still holds office. Between the end of February and the end of May, this state went through the largest and bloodiest wave of anti-Muslim pogroms since the early 1990s. Over 2,000 people were killed in these pogroms, with 150,000 left homeless after Muslim houses were systematically burnt down.

There were numerous investigations into these events, and they all come to the same conclusion. These pogroms were in no way spontaneous. They were prepared long in advance by the various satellite organizations of the BJP in particular the World Hindu Council (VHP) and the RSS militia possibly with the active cooperation, but at least the tacit support, of the BJP-controlled state authorities. A report published by the very official National Commission for Human Rights mentions unmistakable evidence: lists of addresses were handed out to the rioters with the instruction that those homes should be burnt down; truckloads of liquefied gas bottles were brought to meeting points ane then circulated among the rioters. Another report mentions a campaign of religious events organized by the VHP in many villages with a large Muslim minority, during which non-Muslims were repeatedly invited to expel those Muslims from their houses and villages who would not become Hindus. And it so happens that it was precisely in those villages visited by the VHP that the worst massacres of Muslims took place.

As to the state BJP leaders, not only did they do nothing to oppose the pogroms as they were happening, but they later went out their way to find excuses, if not justifications, for these cold-blooded murders. And while their state police and judiciary found the VHP and RSS officially blameless for the pogroms, they ordered the arrest of the Muslim mayor of Godhra, a small working class town where the first bloody confrontation took place, instantly used as a pretext by the Hindu fundamentalists to launch their pogroms. The mayor has been charged with being paid by the Pakistani secret services and he will be put on trial for "spying for the enemy"!

The line between the BJP's demagogy jingoistic, anti-terrorist but above all anti-Pakistani and the outright incitement of anti-Muslim pogroms by the RSS and VHP, is indeed very thin.

Disgusting By-Products of the Imperialist Order

Such are the forces operating behind the Indo-Pakistani war. It is hard to conceive of a more revolting assortment of reactionary forces, which are willing to shed the blood of the poor masses and to throw whole populations at each other's throats, for the sole purpose of allowing a handful of parasitic politicians and generals to cling to power.

And yet, it is by relying on these forces that Bush claims to wage his crusade against terrorism on behalf of the "free" world. This should surprise no one. Imperialism has always enforced its domination over the poor majority of the planet by relying on the most reactionary forces it could find. How many bloody dictatorships, in Africa or elsewhere, were kept in power by the money and weapons supplied by imperialism when they were not actually brought to power directly by imperialism.

In the case of the Indian subcontinent, historical monstrosities such as Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism or the mafia-like parasitic machinery of the Pakistani army, are nothing but abject by-products of half a century of imperialist domination coming after a century of colonial domination. We will never free this world of such murderous monstrosities without eliminating the instrument which created them the imperialist order itself.