Jan 7, 2002
Today both India and Pakistan are mobilizing troops along their 1,800 mile common border. The armies on each side have exchanged artillery and mortal fire. They have mobilized missiles, jet planes, artillery and tanks, have built bunkers and laid land mines. Both sides have nuclear weapons, which as the commentators point out, raises the stakes of any war here enormously.
This military mobilization follows the December 13 suicide terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which left 11 Indians and five of the attackers dead. India blamed the attack on Islamic terrorist groups based in Pakistan, which have been engaged in fights in recent years in Kashmir, an area of India bordering Pakistan that is mostly Muslim and which Pakistan claims. Twice before India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir, so the possibility of a war remains real.
But the question is not simply the history which runs between India and Pakistan. The current threat of war comes as a consequence of U.S. policies in the region and specifically of the US. involvement of Pakistan in the war on Afghanistan. The military ruler of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was pressured to allow the U.S. to use military bases in Pakistan from which to bomb Afghanistan and to use the Pakistani army to capture Taliban and Al Qaeda soldiers fleeing into Pakistan. This meant Musharraf has had to crack down on Muslim fundamentalist groups inside Pakistan, which have not only been a prop to his own government, but even part of the armed forces staff. The Pakistani government has long supported the terrorist groups operating inside of Kashmir and making violent attacks on India. Now India is using the pretext of Bush’s war on terrorism to demand that Pakistan arrest and turn over to India the terrorists operating in Pakistan. If that doesn’t happen, the Indian government says it will have to use the option that the United States has relied on in the war on terrorism, military intervention.
The roots of the dispute over Kashmir go back to the years when the former British colony of India was fighting for its independence. Britain fomented fighting between different ethnic groups and between Hindu and Muslim. The British established the “partition” of the colony, creating a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan. At partition about a million people were massacred as Hindus living in Pakistan fled to India, and Muslims living in India fled to Pakistan.
In recent years the rulers of both India and Pakistan have increasingly relied on religious fundamentalism to maintain themselves in power. The main political party in the government of India today is a Hindu nationalist party, which won for itself mass support by supporting the hundreds of Hindu fanatics who tore down a major Muslim mosque. In Pakistan the military rulers both finance and rely on Muslim fundamentalist parties which they hope to use to prop up their support. The religious fundamentalist parties in both countries are able to build a mass base by offering schools and hospitals when the government fails to provide them, and by offering the mass of their followers religious fanaticism tied to nationalism, which only leads to constant wars and conflicts with the workers and peasants of different beliefs.
Since 1947 the U.S. has sold arms at various times to both countries. It armed the Pakistani military dictators as a counter to China, and armed India because it too had conflicts with China. The nuclear arms of both countries were possible only because U.S. and European corporations sold them reactors and crucial technology.
Today the U.S. government is putting considerable pressure on the Pakistani regime to crack down on terrorist groups operating in its country and to avoid a war with India. At the same time it is trying to throw a few sops to Pakistan’s regime.
This may be enough to prevent a war – at least for the time being. But the dangers of war in the region, which could become a massive conflagration, are nonetheless very real.
If and when war does break out it can only be a consequence of the policies carried out – right now and in the past – by the various big powers, with the U.S. leading the pack.