Behind the Front; Nuclear Deterrance Indo-Pak Style
May, 1998. India and then, Pakistan, tested nuclear devices of questionable ferocity to launch themselves as nuclear power States. Both countries made diplomatic bids to join the discriminatory nuclear bargain currently being flogged to the world as a test ban treaty (CTBT). The Prime Minister of India traveled to Pakistan where the two leaders adopted the 'Lahore Declaration' by which they pledged to reduce tension in the region. Realists chortled: this seemed to prove the point that nuclear bombs produce peace!
Then, this May, some shepherds alerted Indian border security troops about the presence of either Pakistanis or mehmen mujahideen (foreign fighters of God) on the previously held Indian forward posts in the Kargil region of Kashmir. During the winter of 1998-99, just as the Prime Ministers met, intruders took hold of over ten kilometers of strategic Indian-held territory north of Kashmir's capital, Srinagar. The situation was poised for war. The Indian defense minister, George Fernandes, in his brash adventurist style, declared that it would only take two days to expel the intruders. It took over a month (and fighting still continues in pockets) at an immense cost of life and value.
Why did this happen? Yes, it is about the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but no, the problem is not ageless. The current crisis has less to do with the accession of Kashmir to India in 1948 and more to do with the events that began in the early 1980s as well as the nuclear standoff. The death of Kashmir's leader, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah on 8 September 1982 put into disarray a tenuous balance of force produced by the skill of the Sheikh and the relatively careful governance from Delhi. Since then, there have been four phases to the present history of Kashmir: (1) the political venality both of Indira Gandhi's Congress and of Farooq Abdullah's National Conference (1983-88). (2) The upsurge of young Kashmiris for 'azaadi' (freedom) from both India and Pakistan manifested in the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (1988-91). (3) Pakistan's usurpation of the revolt through the offices of the Hizbul Mujahideen and other pro-Pakistan organizations (1991-93). (4) A proxy war fought by Pakistan through its trained foreign, mainly Afghan, mercenaries and the Indian forces. Despite this complex of problems, both India and Pakistan defused two serious crises in 1987 and 1990. 1999 was to be different.
A few days after the nuclear tests, the Home Minister of India's semi-fascist Hindu Right government, Mr. L. K. Advani warned Pakistan's semi-feudal corrupt regime to 'roll back its anti-India policy, especially with regard to Kashmir.' General Pervez Musharraf (Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan with ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamicist group) noted that 'after our nuclear tests, Pakistan is talking to India on an equal basis. We are not talking to India from a weak position.' India holds a large conventional weapons advantage over Pakistan, a condition nullified by the nuclear tests. Previously, the balance prevented veterans of the Afghan wars (well trained by the CIA) and other mujahideen (with Pakistani support) from too great adventures in the Kashmir valley. Now, with Pakistan strengthened, the mujahideen received the green light to act. Pakistan's hope was to bring international attention to Kashmir from this adventure. It did, a feat for which the imperialist forces are happy despite their mild (and only public, I surmise) chastisement of Pakistan. The door for US involvement (Balkans style) into South Asia has been opened.
The Right Wing in India conducted its nuclear tests with the hope that it would afford a Reagan-style solution to the Indo-Pak Cold War. Yes, the nuclear tests have put the same kind of economic pressures on India-Pakistan as felt by the USSR-US. For the Right, jingoism in any form is valuable, whether the conflict was self-inflicted or not. For the Left, the situation is complex. Pakistan is no savior for Kashmir: in what it occupies, Azad Kashmir or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, any move for regional autonomy is, in the words of Aijaz Ahmad, 'crushed with great impunity.' In Jammu and Kashmir (India), what the Pakistani's called Maqbooza or Occupied Kashmir, the people are granted all manner of constitutional powers, but they are bereft of independent leadership and they suffer the yoke of a military's presence. By all accounts, few people want to be independent, a Balkanized solution that may be appealing on face value, but which is economically suicidal for the region. The people of Ladakh (who are part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir) demonstrated their desire to be part of a secular Indian union in the sacrifice shown by the Ladakh Scouts (frontline troops who died in large numbers in Kargil this June).
To be part of a <secular> Indian union. Not one led by the semi-fascist Hindu Right whose politics are indigenous in tone, but neo-liberal in practice. Neither one led by the semi-feudal, corrupt Pakistani Right whose opportunist turn to a non-dialectical Islam is dyspeptic both to the secularists and to many Islamists. The US, meanwhile, is happy with the instability. Its 'counsel' is now sought by the Pakistanis (a historical ally) and by the Indians (who used to be 'neutral');, as well as by the Kashmiri militants (visited by then US Ambassador Frank Wisner, now Enron executive). When the British made Faisal the King of Iraq in 1930, a British Foreign Office memorandum noted that 'what is wanted is a King who will be content to reign but not govern.' This is the attitude of the US, from Kosovo to Kashmir.
Nuclear instability, then, is the root cause of the recent death of hundreds of Indians, Pakistanis and foreign mujahideen. The recalcitrance of the bourgeois-landlord regimes in the subcontinent to seek peace across the fragile border is now strengthened. Without the fall of the Right in South Asia, it is unlikely that there will be a lasting peace for the people of such places as Drass and Kargil. For the US Left, there is only one point of entry into this debate: we need to combat the wiles of US imperialism and expose the quiet, measured mask of 'peace' worn by the spokespersons of the State Department. When they talk piously of Kashmir, remind them of their betrayal of the Kurds and of the Iraqi Shiites. When they talk about nuclearism in South Asia, tell them about their own expanding arsenal. Let's not join them in their epidemic of bad faith.
Vijay Prashad Assistant Professor, International Studies 214 McCook, Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 06106. 860-297-2518.