Kashmir conflict remains dangerous

“India will retaliate if Pakistan is not ready to stop cross-border terrorism.”– Indian Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee

“ “We will not bow to any Indian pressure and will continue our support to Kashmiri freedom fighters.” .”– Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf

NEW DELHI, India – These are the statements of the two heads of the Indian sub-continent, spekaing in Kazhakistan, where they were attending a high-level conference on security in South Asia. Even though the war has not started officially, soldiers and villagers residing near the border areas of India and Pakistan are being killed.

Departure terminals in the two countries’ international airports are overflowing, as most countries have called back their ambassadors from Pakistan and non-essential diplomatic staff from their embassies in India.

The territory of Kashmir was a hotbed even before India and Pakistan won their independence from British colonial rule in August 1947. Under the British partition plan, the “Indian Independence Act,” Kashmir was free to accede to India or Pakistan. The then-Kashmiri ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, chose independence. When the Pakistan army, with the help of different tribal groups, tried to capture Kashmir forcibly, Singh sought help from India. The government helped him with an army and money. In return, Singh agreed to join the Indian union, conditionally. The Constitution of India provides special status (autonomy) to Kashmir.

But Pakistan did not pull back from the territory that they had occupied. This area is known in India as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and in Pakistan as Azadi Kashmir.

Islamabad says Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan, because the region is mostly Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought three wars on this issue, without any results.

Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the Kashmir valley started in 1989 and has continued since. Groups like Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) want an independent Kashmir, others like Lashkar-e-Toiba want to merge with Pakistan.

There are a number of terrorist organizations operating from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. All these groups are funded and trained by InterServices Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and some of them are linked with organizations like Al Qaeda. Pakistani military organizations, even in the period of democracy, advocated terrorist activities in Kashmir.

Rulers of India and Pakistan have always used Kashmir to mask their internal conflicts. State-sponsored terrorism in Gujarat uncovered the real face of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Vajpayee-led government in India. The government also has undercut the Constitution and the special status of Kashmir, further complicating things.

This current situation helps Musharraf continue his rule and quiet potential rivals. Musharraf’s decision to back the U.S. in Afghanistan created protests from some military as well as religious circles.

Military spending is not in the interest of Pakistani or Indian people. Every year, India and Pakistan increase their defense expenditures. The last national budget of India imposed a national security surcharge on the people. India already spends 3.3 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while Pakistan spends 4.4 percent of their GDP on defense.

India is spending $700,000 a day to maintain its armed personnel on the Siachin Glacier, the highest military point in the world, where the temperature is –60 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile half of the population in India goes to bed with empty stomachs.

Pakistan’s defense budget of $4 billion is three times that of India on a per capita basis. However, its army and navy are half the size of India’s and its air force is one-third. Considering the real economic situations of both countries, this is an extravagance.

The U.S. is playing a destabilizing role in the subcontinent. Both the Indian and Pakistani governments are shamelessly pandering to the American government and corporate interests. But these interests create a jumble of contradictions. American multinational corporations like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and many others have a huge market share in India. War is not good for them and they will put pressure on the Bush administration to intervene. Yet, at the same time the American arms lobby is using this situation to make profits.

Washington wants to utilize Pakistan’s influence in areas of Afghanistan, much of which is based on religious fanaticism, terrorism and anti-communism. So imperialism wants them, but not on the Indian border, at this time.

The U.S. sees a potential military base either in Pakistan or Kashmir, but a nuclear war would not allow for that. And it certainly won’t allow for oil and energy shipments to the markets of South Asia.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org