War clouds loom in South Asia

NEW DEHLI, India – The Indian subcontinent is again on the edge of a war. India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers, are at loggerheads. Heavy exchange of fire is going on at the border, where thousands of panic-stricken residents are fleeing from the Kashmir valley, abandoning their houses.

After the massacre of Indian soldiers’ families in Kashmir, May 14, allegedly by Pakistani-sponsored Kashmiri terrorists, the Indian government cut off all diplomatic relations with Pakistan. The right-wing-led government met and decided to combat Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir valley with arms, not other methods.

Most of the other major political parties, excluding the Left, are also backing up the national government for a full-scale war instead of diplomatic, economic or political solutions.

General Secretaries of both the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) met with Prime Minister Vajpayee, separately, and asked him to avoid armed conflict, stressing that “war is no solution,” whether it is a limited or a full-scale war. Both stressed diplomatic and economic measures to end terrorism, saying, “India should ask Washington to put greater pressure on Pakistan to shut down the terrorist camps on its soil and cut back economic aid.”

While publicly the Bush administration is urging Pakistan to cut support for the Kashmir terrorists and urging India not to move to war, the U.S. clearly has its own interest in a further destabilized region and a so-called independent Kashmir. With U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, another military base in Kashmir can be used to target Russia, China, India, Iran, Iraq and smaller countries of the region. U.S. military and economic interests are not in the interests of the people of Pakistan and India, including Kashmir.

Also, a war between India and Pakistan would benefit U.S. arms dealers. According to the reports from the inner circles of the Indian Defense Ministry, India is considering weapon imports from the U.S., to bridge the gaps in their defense arsenal.

Over one million soldiers from India and Pakistan have massed on the border, and tanks, warships and fighter jets are in action in the area.

Pakistan President Musharraf denies arming or funding the Kashmiri militants, saying it only provides them with “moral” support. Yet, as reported by many, the Pakistan military, along with the “notorious” Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have developed a vested interest of their own and, through repressive methods, uses Kashmir for its own undemocratic purposes.

The Kashmiri people have expressed their will to stay with the secular Indian Union, but Pakistan continues to undermine this on the basis of religion. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over this Himalayan province since independence from Britain in 1947.

The danger is heightened by the right-wing, Hindu-extremist nature of the leading party in the national government, the BJP, which has been hostile to the autonomy of Kashmir. The government has targeted the Muslim minority in India for repression, undermines Indian secularism and seeks U.S. support, undercutting the long-standing Indian foreign policy of non-alignment and independence.

Terrie Albano contributed to this story.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org