India is playing a highly risky game of brinkmanship in Kashmir. Its recent deployment of forces along the line of control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and the extremely provocative rhetoric from Delhi have brought the region closer to a nuclear war than ever before.
Almost 40 years ago, the late Pakistani leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was then serving as Pakistan’s foreign minister, famously declared “even if Pakistanis have to eat grass we will make the bomb.” India and Pakistan have since fought two conventional wars and now have nuclear weapons poised to complete the short five-minute arc to the other’s national capital.
There is a history of war in South Asia. India and Pakistan fought in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999. There is good evidence that in no case was there the expectation of a war on the scale and of the kind that ensued. Rather, war followed misadventure, driven by profound errors of policy, political and military judgement, and public sentiment. Nuclear weapons do nothing to lessen such possibilities. There is even reason to believe they may make them worse in South Asia. One lesson of the 1999 Kargil war is that Pakistan saw its newly acquired nuclear weapons as a shield from behind which it could fuel and stoke the conflict in Kashmir, safe from any possible Indian retaliation. During this war, nuclear threats were made publicly by leaders on both sides. It took international intervention to stop the slide to a larger, more destructive war.
Following Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s speech on May 27th and the Indian government’s official response the following day, it is clear that while war clouds have temporarily receded they have most certainly not been lifted. India will wait to see “results,” i.e. what steps the Pakistan government will take to end the ability of terrorists to strike from across the border into Indian territory, including Jammu and Kashmir. One must distinguish here between two claims. Any attribution that the Musharraf government is directly behind the December 13 attack on Parliament and now the May 14 attack in Kaluchak, Jammu, is not substantiated by evidence and is, politically speaking, utterly implausible. The Musharraf government is not so foolish or naïve as to impose even further pressure on itself in circumstances when his own regime is fighting for internal survival, or to want to shift attention away from the state-sponsored anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat and the world’s criticism of the Indian government on that score.
It was a speech foretold. After being compelled to make the “Friend-or-foe” choice after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf in his policy address on January 12th set about redefining the role of religion in Pakistani society and its domestic and external politics, with a special reference to Kashmir and terrorism. Islam, he said, has been misused and the Pakistani people exploited in its name. The general condemned acts of terrorism and in particular September 11, October 1, and December 13–the last two dates are of suicide attacks in Srinagar the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir) and on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi.
The Tuesday tragedy in the U.S. is already having a profound impact on Pakistan. The apocalypse in the U.S. has forced upon the Pakistani ruling elite its day of reckoning sooner than it had anticipated. The Pakistan military, which is also running the government here since October 1999, now has to choose clearly and unequivocally between a direct confrontation with the militant religious groups–and there are dozens of them–and the wrath of a wounded and angry America.
Kashmir and Kerala, perhaps the two most scenic of the Indian states, are at the northern and southern ends of the country, respectively. During his New Year holiday in Kerala, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee wrote some “musings” on Kashmir, almost as if he were “thinking aloud.” He wrote that he was determined to address seriously the Kashmir problem, which he identified as one of the bitter legacies of the partition of the subcontinent, while also recognizing both the internal and external dimensions of the issue.