Kashmir: A paradise or gateway to nuclear hell?

By Ameen Izzadeen
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)
Years of hard work and painstaking diplomacy towards normalisation of ties between South Asia’s nuclear neighbours and rivals could disappear within a flash of gunfire if neither country exercises restraint.
The current crisis erupted following clashes this week across the Line of Control (LOC) in the Kashmir region – a flashpoint for the past 60 years. The clashes took place as Pakistan’s cricket team was winding up its Indian tour, after renewing what is referred to as cricket diplomacy. But the news from the Kashmir front indicated that the just dawned New Year is no better than violence-ridden previous years for the people of Kashmir. It appears that whoever was behind the crisis has hit diplomacy for a six. The ball has landed in the crowds. If they hand over the ball, the match — the diplomatic dialogue –can resume. The ball is figuratively now in the hands of the people of the two countries. If the people of the two countries do not push for peace, then the umpires or the international community should step in and resume the game with a new ball.
Cricket parlance apart, as India and Pakistan accuse each other of ratcheting up tension along the LOC, the two countries are also well aware that neither country could afford a full-scale military confrontation which could end up in a nuclear catastrophe.
The present crisis arose when Pakistan on January 6 – the day on which the third one-day international between India and Pakistan was being played in New Delhi – claimed Indian soldiers killed a Pakistani soldier during a raid on a Pakistani military post in the Haji Pir sector of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. An Indian army spokesman said it had only responded to a “ceasefire violation” but did not cross the LOC.
Two days later, India accused Pakistan of launching a border attack and killing two Indian soldiers. It also charged that one of the soldiers had been beheaded and described the attack as “barbaric”. Pakistan rejected the charge and called for a UN probe while India summoned Pakistan’s high commissioner to lodge its strongest protest.
India’s new Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid warned of a proportionate response and said the attack was an “attempt to derail the dialogue” between the two countries. The Indian media have gone hyper, calling it a “Kargil-type stunt” — a reference to the fourth major military confrontation between the two countries when Pakistani forces breached the Line of Control in 1999, a year after the two countries publicly demonstrated their nuclear capabilities.
With the Indian media arousing nationalistic fervour, Manmohan Singh’s besieged government has found a lifeline in anti-Pakistan feelings to regain its popularity which has taken a beating over various issues ranging from acute corruption to failure to protect women from rapists. In the past, leaders in both India and Pakistan have whipped up public emotions to prop up support for their faltering governments by escalating tension in the disputed region of Kashmir, one-third of which is administered by Pakistan.
While India denies that its soldiers killed a Pakistani soldier on January 6 and Pakistan dismisses Indian claims of an attack on January 8, the question as to who threw the first stone remains as irrelevant as it was 60 years ago when hundreds of thousands of people were killed during the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. What is relevant is the root cause. Both countries must put aside their prejudices and domestic political compulsions and solve the thorny issues that stonewall moves towards normalisation of relations. It is no secret that Kashmir is the most pressing problem or the most politically and emotionally charged problem that stands in the way of normalisation of relations.
Kashmir was an independent state during the British rule of the subcontinent. When partition talks were being held, leaders of the Pakistan movement insisted that the Muslim majority Kashmir which was ruled by the Hindu king, Hari Singh, should be part of Pakistan. But Hari Singh decided to stay independent. India’s last viceroy Louis Mountbatten made several attempts to convince Hari Singh to join Pakistan, warning him that his indecision could threaten peace in the long run. Mountbatten even visited Hari Singh and stayed overnight expecting a favourable decision. But the king faked a stomach ache and sent a message to the viceroy saying he was unable to meet him. This stomach ache is a headache today for the two countries.
In 1947, tribal warriors from Pakistan invaded Kashmir and sparked the first of the many military confrontations between the two countries. Hari Singh in a hurried move signed a document ceding Kashmir to India. Following the United Nations intervention, a ceasefire came into effect and later a UN Security Council resolution called for a plebiscite in Kashmir for the people of Kashmir to decide whether they should join India or Pakistan. India has resisted calls to implement this resolution. Instead, it passed a constitutional amendment declaring Kashmir to be a part of India, thus aggravating the crisis.
The Kashmiri issue imploded in 1987 in what was called the Kashmiri Intifada or uprising. Since then, more than 70,000 people have died in the conflict. Though in recent years the violence has abated, the causes of the insurgency remain. Kashmir remains today one of the highly militarised regions in the world with more than half a million Indian security forces fighting the separatists, amidst charges of widespread human rights violations including, torture, arbitrary killings, rape and involuntary disappearances.Kashmir map
A report released last month by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir says: “Cases … reveal that there is a policy not to genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human rights violations. On the contrary, alleged perpetrators of crimes are awarded, rewarded and promoted.”
In the aftermath of the recent Delhi rape, activist and Booker-prize winning author Arundhati Roy once again earned the wrath of the both the nationalists and ultranationalists when she accused the Indian armed forces and police of using rape as a weapon against people in Kashmir and other troubled areas such as Manipur.
Roy in a bold statement two years ago said that Kashmir was never a part of India. She refused to backtrack in the face of protests and warnings from the Home Ministry that she would face sedition charges, the maximum punishment for which is life imprisonment. In a subsequent speech made at the Asia Society in New York, the firebrand human rights activist decried the silence of the international community over what she called the “brutal Indian occupation of Kashmir”.
“Why the international community doesn’t see that when you have two nuclear-armed states, like Pakistan and India, there couldn’t be a better thing than a buffer state like Kashmir between them, instead of it being a conflict that is going to spark a nuclear war,” she said, voicing her support for the independence of Kashmir..
A majority of Kashmiris want either union with Pakistan or independence. They do not want to be a part of India.
However, India, which takes great pride in being the world’s largest democracy, refuses to heed the voice of the people. No government in New Delhi can let go of Kashmir, for fear of losing its political power. The furthest an Indian government could go is to formalise the status quo along the ceasefire line, giving legal effect to the division of Kashmir.
Many are the peace talks that the two countries have launched only to dash the hopes of the Kashmiri people for freedom as the talks burst like soap bubbles amidst charges and countercharges over terrorist attacks sponsored by each other.
India and Pakistan resumed the peace dialogue in February last year after the process had been suspended following the 2008 Mumbai attack by militants with alleged links to Pakistan. As part of a confidence-building measure, the two countries last month signed an agreement to ease visa restrictions for some citizens.
India has successfully kept the Kashmiri crisis out of the international spotlight with the use of aggressive diplomacy. Barack Obama, for instance, had called for a solution to the Kashmiri crisis. But that was during the campaign for the 2008 presidential race. Once in office, he has not spoken a word about Kashmir in view of the economic importance of India as a market for US products. Besides, President Obama carried on along the hawkish path of his predecessor, George W. Bush. India has made the maximum out of the US war on terror, forcing Washington to apply pressure on Pakistan to declare several Kashmiri groups fighting for independence from India as terrorist outfits.
Obama must speak out. His failure to do so could one day see a major nuclear confrontation in the region. Who can rule out the possibility of Hindu fanatics heading the government in New Delhi or Muslim fanatics the government in Islamabad? According to a classified Pentagon study, a nuclear war between these countries could result in at least 12 million deaths. Both India and Pakistan possess dozens of nuclear warheads and missiles and aircraft capable of delivering them.
International intervention has become imperative not only in view of the nuclear weapons but also in the context of the growing cold war between China and the United States and the tense situation in the South China Sea and the East China Sea over several disputed islands. In this new cold war, Pakistan, which is likely to be abandoned by the US after the 2014 US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, finds itself in alliance with China. US defence architects, meanwhile, are promoting India as a bulwark to check China’s rising power. In these circumstances, Kashmir, hailed as a paradise on earth, could turn into a gateway to hell.

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kashmir: A paradise or gateway to nuclear hell?

  1. That was a thought-provoking, insightful article, Ameen.
    It appears that if US, if by any chance, intervenes, it would prove to be a fatal blow to Kashmir, for US will join hands with India discarding the actual Kashmiri emotions and try to mute Pakistan.
    Your article made its point very clear and gave me access to historical facts such as Hari Singh faking a stomach ache and such, which we’re not aware of. Thank you.
    I love this article.

  2. Reblogged this on The Squirrel Talks and commented:
    This is one of the finest, insightful articles I’ve ever come across, regarding Indo-Pak relations.

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