July 27th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

TRADE: Sugar industry study backs failed policies, not new solutions

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: SA Govt to ignore Drug Summit call for harm minimisation?

ICC: a clarification (letter)

It's a cruel world ... (letter)

Welfare equity? (letter)

Islam and Australia (letter)

COMMENT: After Cheryl Kernot - character is important in public life

ASIA: Hong Kong: deflation and Big Brother

BIOETHICS: It's fact - life begins at fertilisation

COMMENT: Liability insurance and the abortion industry

COMMENT: How to uphold Australian 'culture' - plagiarise

BOOKS: 'ALIVE: The True Story of the Andes Survivors', by Piers Paul Read

COVER STORY: Why the Kashmir conflict won't go nuclear

EDITORIAL: The maternity leave morass

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Telstra sale splits minor parties - but will it be enough?

Government should act to secure super savings

MEDICAL SCIENCE: Nerve cells used in spinal cord regeneration trial

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Empty vessels at the old corral / Short-termism

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COVER STORY: Why the Kashmir conflict won't go nuclear

by Dr Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, July 27, 2002

The Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir has been a flashpoint for hostility between India and Pakistan for more than half a century. The former princely state includes the Hindu-majority plains of Jammu, the mainly Muslim Kashmir Valley and the mainly Buddhist Ladakh area. About 12 million people live in Kashmir, of whom about 70 per cent are Muslims and the rest Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

After the subcontinent was partitioned in August 1947, the Hindu ruler of Kashmir, facing a pro-Pakistan revolt in parts of the state, acceded to secular India rather than to Islamic Pakistan. The two nations then started their first war over Kashmir, which lasted until December 1948, and ended with a UN-mediated ceasefire.

India controls 45 per cent of Kashmir, Pakistan about 35 per cent and China the rest. Indian and Pakistan-ruled areas are separated by a ceasefire line known as the Line of Control (LOC).


In 1965, Kashmir was the arena for a second Indo-Pakistani war that ended with a UN-mediated ceasefire.

The two countries again fought in Kashmir in December 1971, but that war was mainly over Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan.

India and Pakistan agreed to respect the Line of Control under the Shimla Agreement in 1972, "without prejudice to the recognised position of either side". This accord said "both sides further undertake to refrain from threat or the use of force in violation of this line".

The two countries came to the brink of a fourth war during a 10-week confrontation in 1999 (the Kargil conflict) along the Line of Control. Since 1990, the Kashmir Valley, which is under Indian control, has been the hub of a revolt by Muslim separatist militants who, India says, are trained and armed in Pakistan.

Pakistan denies this accusation, saying it only offers political and diplomatic support to what it calls a legitimate struggle for self-determination by the mostly Muslim people of Kashmir.

Now, the two countries are again close to war, if not nuclear conflict. At least 35,000 people have been killed in Kashmir. Separatists put the death toll at more than 80,000.

India claims the whole of Kashmir. Pakistan wants the predominantly Muslim Kashmiris to decide in a plebiscite whether to join Islamic Pakistan or secular but Hindu-majority India.

The Kashmiris want to reunite Kashmir as an independent state. Being mostly Muslims does not make them Pakistanis. Their separate identity is based on place, kinship and culture as much as on religion. This idea of an independent state has been rejected by both India and Pakistan.

In India's view, Kashmiris would become loyal citizens again if only Pakistan would stop interfering. It sees the insurgency as a proxy war, which would end as soon as Pakistan stopped giving militants arms and letting them infiltrate Kashmir across the Line of Control.

Most militants, India claims, are foreign zealots imported from other holy wars, such as that in Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to deny giving them anything other than moral and diplomatic support. It claims to have limited power to curb them.

The leaders of India and Pakistan since 1947, were desperate to acquire Kashmir to bolster their respective visions of nationhood. India's first Prime Minister, Jawahalal Nehru, who originally came from Kashmir, wanted to demonstrate that an Islamic population could coexist with the Hindu majority.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's "Father of the Nation", insisted that Pakistan would be incomplete without the Muslim enclave. After all, the sole raison d'etre of Pakistan's creation was the idea that religion was the basis of a nation state.

Moreover, Pakistan depends on rivers flowing out of Kashmir - the Jhelum, the Chenab, and the Indus - to irrigate fields and generate electricity.

Post September 11 witnessed the increase of violent attacks in Kashmir. There was firstly a suicide attack on the Kashmir Assembly.

This was followed by a similar attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13. There was yet another incident of killing innocent bus passengers and civilians in a cantonment in Kashmir.

The Indian Government took an aggressive posture and massed troops on the Indo-Pakistan border. Pakistan also responded by doing the same.

India said Pakistan has a connection with terrorists who attacked the Parliament, and it wants an end to all sorts of "cross-border terrorism". Pakistan denies any connection.

Under such grim circumstances, India deployed more than a million troops, backed by heavy artillery and a formidable array of air power, along the 2880 kilometre Line of Control. As India threatened war, Pakistan declared its readiness to retaliate.

India has declared a nuclear "no-first-use" policy, but Pakistan has indicated it is prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its territory. In other words, the message clearly indicates that if Pakistan's existence comes under threat, it is likely to use nuclear weapons. Neither nation has a well-developed nuclear doctrine; neither knows what would provoke a nuclear response from the other.

In a recent visit to Indian troops deployed a few kilometres from the Line of Control, Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, said:

"Our goal is victory. It is time to wage a decisive battle. India is forced to fight a war thrust on it and we will emerge victorious. Let there be no doubt about it: a challenge has been thrown to India, and we accept it."

In reply, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vowed to use "full force" if it were attacked by India. "If war is forced on Pakistan, the enemy will find us fully prepared," he said, adding that Pakistan's strategy was "basically one of deterrence".

This is potentially the most serious conflict the world could face at the moment. Alarmed by the rapid escalation in tensions, the United States has called for restraint on both sides. British Foreign Minister, Mr Jack Straw, recently visited India and Pakistan and held talks with the leaders of these countries. His mission was part of intense international efforts to calm tensions between India and Pakistan.

In this context, it is interesting to note that India continues to develop its nuclear arms program with foreign assistance, mainly from Russia. It relies on foreign assistance for key missile technologies, where it still lacks engineering or production expertise.

India also continues to modernise its armed forces through "advanced conventional weapons", mostly from Russia. New Delhi received its first two MiG21-93 fighter aircraft, and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd will now begin the licensed upgrading of 123 more aircraft.

Russia is the main supplier of technology and equipment to India. India concluded an $800 million contract with Russia for 310 T-90S main battle tanks, as well as a smaller contract for KA-31 helicopters. New Delhi is negotiating with Russia for nuclear submarines and an aircraft carrier. It also signed a $270 million contract with Israel for the Barak-1 missile defence systems.

Media response

The frightening military situation along the Line of Control, together with India's ongoing military modernisation program, has put the international community on alert. Under such grim circumstances, the Western media has been telling us for days that there are "real" fears of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

CNN and the BBC, along with most of the other world media, predicted that if nuclear war were to start, over 12 million Indians and Pakistanis would die; nearly as many would be injured and the radioactive fallout would bring in famine and disease and generations of cancer. There have been editorials, front-page stories and innumerable comment and opinion pieces on the situation.

The coverage of military details such as the exact numbers of warheads owned by each of the nations, the debate whether India has 60 warheads or more and whether Pakistan has other secret arsenals, has been widely discussed by the international media. This media blitzkrieg is enough to convince anyone that the threat of nuclear war is very real and imminent.

All this was exacerbated by the Embassies and High Commissions of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, along with the United Nations, urging their non-essential staff to leave the subcontinent. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade asked Australians to defer all travel to India and Pakistan, and for those in the subcontinent to leave those places as soon as possible.

Yet this scare appears misplaced, according to many Indians living in India, who seemed more interested in World Cup soccer than any possibility of nuclear attacks from Pakistan. "There is so much exciting football on television - why waste time over and over again on the same India-Pakistan drill?" they ask.

No one believes that Indian leaders would be stupid enough to let a nuclear war occur. India's Minister for Women and Children, Mrs Sumitra Mahajan, who was in Sydney recently, urged Indians in Australia to remain calm and not believe the nuclear war hype created by the Western media.

Nuclear conflict

There are some factors which could lead to a nuclear war. One of these is the use of nuclear weapons through "miscommunication or misperception", according to Ben Shappard, a defence analyst in London. In an interview with the American Broadcasting Corporation recently, Mr Sheppard said Pakistan's control structure was especially weak, creating the theoretical risk that army central command could circumvent the political leadership if it came to a nuclear launch.

As evidence, Mr Sheppard cited reports that Pakistan's army, during a previous border crisis in 1999 (Kargil), had prepared to fit nuclear warheads to missiles without the knowledge of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

However, one could dismiss the fears of accidental war by rejecting the often quoted assertion that "there are no strict control structures in operation". In fact, there are very good command and control structures in place in both India and Pakistan. So, the fears of an accidental war on that count are baseless.

In India, the civilian leadership is well aware of the awesome nature of the problem, and does not take it lightly. In Pakistan, nuclear weapons have always been under military command, and generals in the armies of the subcontinent are extremely capable men - indeed, no one rises to the rank of general in these countries without having the credentials for it.

Besides, contrary to popular belief, Indian and Pakistani military are in constant touch and exchange information regularly, including information about nuclear weapons. So, the fear in the West that things "could get out of hand" in the event of a conflict is misplaced. Besides, the subcontinent is inhabited by ancient civilisations, fully aware of the enormous responsibilities wrought by these weapons of mass destruction.

The causes of the underlying hostility between India and Pakistan are political, not military or nuclear. Military and nuclear preparations add to the existing political hostility. They can never be the methods or mechanisms for the resolution of such political tensions.

To put it in the form of an historical analogy - the Cold War arms race between two politically hostile countries, the US and the USSR, was not reversed because of nuclear weapons.

South Asia is the only region in the world that has had a continuous hot- cold war for fifty years. Only by first shifting the political foundations of this situation can we hope to decrease nuclear tensions, not the other way around.

Despite fears of a war, many observers believe, however, that a concerted Indian attack on Pakistan is unlikely. Any pre-emptive move by India would draw an international backlash that would damage both its standing and its efforts to paint Pakistan as the "aggressor" and to blame it for the continuing turmoil in Kashmir.

Furthermore, it would also strengthen the resolve of the Kashmiri militants while undermining any effort by Pakistan to curtail their lines of support in Pakistan. President Musharraf would find great difficulty in curbing religious extremism and control militants, because conflicts with India tend to unite Pakistanis. But there is also "politics" behind the war cry.

Domestic pressures

Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government is under mounting threat after losing a series of state elections to the opposition Congress Party, and is also under attack for its poor economic management. The BJP now relies more heavily on its core support base among fundamentalist and militant Hindus - some of the most strident advocates of a tough line on Kashmir and a show of force against Pakistan. There are repeated calls by BJP leaders to teach Pakistan a lesson. This means war with Pakistan.

The BJP wants to project itself as a true nationalist force. The probable aim behind this war cry is to exercise maximum pressure on Pakistan and take maximum concessions. Many observers believe that the BJP wants a war with Pakistan, but the BJP-led government does not want a war. It is quite understandable. Rhetoric and reality are two different things.

President Musharraf is also under pressure from fundamentalists angered by his backing for the US-led war in Afghanistan and his efforts already to crack down on extremists.

Recent violence and bombings, such as: kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; murders of French engineers at the Sheraton Hotel, Karachi; bombing of a church in a secure diplomatic outlet in Islamabad; and suicide bomb/car blast near the US Consulate in Karachi have pointed to Pakistan's own continuing vulnerability to terrorism.

Any sign of weakness in his response to India on Kashmir could further threaten Musharraf's position. In this context, it is fair to say that the US relies now on Pakistan's help in the "war on terrorism". That strengthens Pakistan's hand in its dealings with India.

Thus, the Kashmir problem is deeply rooted in the histories and national identities of India and Pakistan. The question is, will a war solve the issues relating to Kashmir and Indo-Pakistan relations?

A full-scale war could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and that would not settle the Kashmir issue but would certainly settle India and Pakistan because of the results of the catastrophe.

What would a war achieve? The only thing the Indians could do in a war would be to destroy the Pakistani state as it exists now. In order to preserve that state, the Pakistani military will use nuclear weapons; they have made that very clear. If we take them at their word, the war is not going to solve the Kashmir issue.

The road ahead

Easy solutions to this Kashmir problem are not to be expected. But there are at least two hopeful signs.

The first is the new and unique position of the United States in this confrontation. For fifty years, US relationships with India and Pakistan have been a seesaw - as one goes up, the other goes down. But over the past few years, India and the US have been getting on better than ever. And since September 11, US relations with Pakistan have blossomed too. So, for the first time, America's relationship with both sides is on the upswing at the same time, and this gives Washington real leverage.

For the first time in history, both India and Pakistan are US allies in the "war on terrorism". As a front-line state with Afghanistan, the US cannot abandon Pakistan. Millions of dollars have been pumped into Pakistan as a gift for its support of the US attacks on Afghanistan. There are US Special Forces in Pakistan still hunting for al Qaeda militants.

Mr Musharraf has already cracked down on madrassas (religious schools) and changed the country's election system. Washington hopes that Pakistan under Musharraf will not only help its war effort, but will also back away from being a centre of militant and political Islam.

Nor can America ignore India, the world's biggest democracy. There have been joint exercises between the US and Indian forces near Agra recently. The US has also indicated it will supply modern military wares to India.

And secondly, both countries have something to hope for. Mr Musharraf is pulling Pakistan back from the brink of state failure. India is aiming to be a major economic force and key global power. The time may have come for both to realise that they have bigger fish to catch than Kashmir.

  • Dr Sharif Shuja teaches at the University of Melbourne

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