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Waiting for war
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 05 - 2002

Amid much speculation about imminent war between rival nuclear powers India and Pakistan, a flurry of diplomatic activity is aiming at averting conflict, writes Iffat Malik from Islamabad
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The question of whether India and Pakistan are about to have their fourth full-scale war has been hanging over the subcontinent for weeks. It has gained urgency in recent days with belligerent signals emanating from both countries. But as yet it is still impossible to predict how the current crisis will play out.
Tension in the subcontinent has been on an upward curve since militants attacked the Indian parliament last 13 December. That assault led to the mobilisation of huge numbers of forces along the international border and Line of Control (LOC) dividing the Indian and Pakistani halves of Kashmir.
The recent attack on an army camp at Kulchanak near Jammu in Indian Kashmir, in which more than 30 people died, has raised the possibility that these mobilised forces could actually engage each other in combat.
The Indian government's initial reaction to the Kulchanak killings was to urge caution: not to act in haste but rather to consider all its options and only then take action. But the result of its deliberations appears to be a decision to go to war. Prime Minister Vajpayee paid a rare visit to Indian Kashmir last week to condole with the victims of the Jammu attack and give a morale boost to Indian forces in the state. The message he gave them was ominous: "Your goal should be victory. It's time to fight a decisive battle." His words were backed up by action: soon afterwards an Indian Navy spokesman announced that India was moving five warships from its eastern fleet to "strengthen the western sector".
On 23 May Indian Water Resources Minister Bijoya Chakroborty warned that India could scrap the 42-year-old Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan. That treaty is virtually the only example of long-term cooperation between the two countries. Should India scrap it, the consequences for Pakistan would be disastrous. Chakroborty spelt them out: "There will be drought in Pakistan and the people of that country will have to beg for every drop of water."
Should the treaty be scrapped, war would become certain. India is accusing Pakistan of failing to fulfil its pledge to stop militant incursions into Indian Kashmir. The Indian government claims it has run out of patience with Pakistan and is prepared to take whatever action necessary -- no matter how damaging to itself -- to halt the militancy once and for all.
Most analysts interpret that as, at minimum, a threat to attack alleged militant training camps in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and, at worst, to wage full-scale war against Pakistan.
For its part, Pakistan strongly rejects Indian allegations that it supports terrorism. The Musharraf government has condemned both the attack on the Lok Sabha and that in Jammu. It accuses India of massive human rights violations in Indian Kashmir, which it says are fuelling an indigenous Kashmiri separatist movement. After the Lok Sabha attack last December, President Pervez Musharraf made a speech in which he banned five militant groups. This time round, however, the Pakistani response to Indian pressure is more belligerent.
Musharraf did make it clear that he would not allow Pakistan to be used as a base for terrorists, but the predominant message coming out of Islamabad is that Pakistan is ready for war. In an interview on the BBC's Hardtalk programme, Musharraf said: "If we are attacked, we'll certainly defend all the way with all our might. We certainly would defend every inch of Pakistan." Pakistani Vice-Chief of Army Staff General Yusuf Khan went further: "We will not only defend but also attack when the time comes and carry the war into the enemy territory."
As with the Indians, these hard words were backed up by action. On 25 May Pakistan carried out the first of a planned four days of tests on a number of locally-built ballistic missiles, some capable of carrying nuclear weapons. A spokesman claimed the tests were routine, but in the prevailing circumstances they were clearly intended to act as a warning to India and a morale booster at home. And in a move that will definitely alarm America, Pakistan moved some of its troops from the eastern border with Afghanistan -- where they were hunting for Al-Qa'eda and Taliban fighters -- to the front with India.
As the likelihood of war increases, analysts are increasingly turning their minds to how this could be waged. The general consensus is that India would not launch an attack across the international border, but would confine itself to the LOC. The Pakistani response would also initially be confined across the LOC. But few analysts believe that, once war breaks out, it will remain limited: very soon it will spread to the international border. Furthermore most believe the massive conventional imbalance between Indian and Pakistani forces would cause the latter to reach for the nuclear button.
New Delhi has a declared policy of no nuclear first use, but Islamabad -- which has no such policy -- has certainly not been ruling out a nuclear first strike.
As the likelihood of war -- and hence nuclear conflict -- increases, so too does international alarm. Chris Patten, European Union commissioner for external affairs, was the first of a series of anticipated international visitors to arrive in the subcontinent. His message to Pakistan to "turn off the terrorist tap" was not well received there, and hence his trip (which also took in talks with the Indian government in New Delhi) did little to ease tension. Due after him are the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also appealed to both sides for calm. And President Putin urged both leaders to attend a meeting in Almaty, Kyrgyzstan in early June "to prevent the further escalation of the conflict".
Most analysts believe the only outside hope of preventing conflict rests with the Americans. American forces operating in Pakistan, coupled with the nightmare prospect of a nuclear holocaust, are pressing reasons for Washington to urge New Delhi to hold back. At the same time, the undoubted influence that America has in Pakistan could be used to pressure the Musharraf government to take strong and visible action against militants in his country -- thereby appeasing New Delhi.
The Bush administration is talking to both sides to try and prevent war. But it is difficult to see how this is possible now that the push to war is so advanced, especially on the Indian side. More and more the question is not if, but when India and Pakistan will go to war?
Irksome Kashmir
THE CRUX of the current crisis between India and Pakistan is the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, divided since 1947 between the two countries, reports Iffat Malik. For the past 12 years, an armed separatist movement has been active in Indian Kashmir. Pakistan claims to be providing the movement only with moral, diplomatic and political support, but New Delhi accuses it of also giving arms and training to militants. It is that support that India hopes to cut off by applying military pressure on Pakistan.
For many years, India's response to the separatist movement -- other than to pressure Pakistan -- was to crush it internally by massive use of force. Indian security forces in the state have been given sweeping powers to counter the militants. The result has been thousands of civilian casualties and an increased resolve among Kashmiri Muslims to break away from India (though not necessarily to join Pakistan).
In recent months, however, the Indian government has carried out a slight change of strategy. Military force continues to be applied on a massive scale in the Kashmir valley (the epicentre of the separatist movement), but New Delhi is simultaneously seeking a political solution. Elections are to be held in Indian Kashmir in October and the government of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has promised that they will be free and fair (if so, a definite contrast from previous elections).
The BJP is hoping to capitalise on the war weariness among ordinary Kashmiris. Twelve years of conflict has taken a huge physical and financial toll. So far it has done nothing to push India towards accepting Kashmir's secession from the Indian Union and, in the post-11 September anti-violence global environment few believe that militancy will succeed in future.
Most Kashmiri leaders in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) -- the umbrella Kashmiri political body -- remain committed to separatism and to armed struggle. They reject Indian promises of fair elections and investment to develop the state. But a few APHC leaders have been responsive to Indian overtures and willing to try a new approach.
One of those was Abdul-Ghani Lone, a moderate Kashmiri leader who rejected not just the presence of foreign fighters in the Kashmiri struggle (something he thought did more damage than good to the cause), but also violence itself. He advocated a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem. In keeping with this, he was willing to engage in dialogue with New Delhi (anathema to many other APHC leaders) and perhaps even to participate in October's elections through proxy candidates.
On 21 May, Lone was assassinated by two masked gunmen as he ended his address to an audience of several thousand in Srinagar, gathered to commemorate the death of another Kashmiri leader. One of Lone's bodyguards was also killed and another one injured. The murder shocked Kashmiris. Thousands marched in his funeral procession to the Martyrs Graveyard in Srinagar.
No one has claimed responsibility for Lone's murder, but there has been no shortage of accusations. The Indian and Kashmiri governments, along with members of Lone's family, were quick to pin blame on Pakistan. "The ISI is behind this," said Lone's son, referring to Pakistan's military intelligence. Pakistan, in turn, blamed India.
The most likely perpetrators were hard-line members of the Kashmiri separatist movement, who saw Lone's willingness to talk with India as a betrayal of their cause. But the timing of the murder, just an hour before Vajpayee arrived in Jammu for a three-day visit and with all eyes on the escalating tension between India and Pakistan, could not have been worse.
Lone's murder will definitely set back hopes of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Indian Kashmir, and could increase the chances of war between India and Pakistan.


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