IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

India, Pakistan avoid war, for now

Regional press commentary reflects skepticism that Pakistan and India will not eventually go to war. By’s Kari Huus.
Hundreds of Kashmiri demonstrators march Tuesday in Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to protest India's rule of the rest of Kashmir.
Hundreds of Kashmiri demonstrators march Tuesday in Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to protest India's rule of the rest of Kashmir.
/ Source:

With the first signs of a stand-down between India and Pakistan this week, the world began to breathe more easily. The sense was that war - which could have escalated into a nuclear exchange between the rivals - had been averted. But regional press commentary was far less optimistic. The core problem — the fate of Kashmir — had not been addressed, many pointed out. And they said that while extremists on both sides may have fallen silent for the moment, they are unlikely to remain so.

Nearly a dozen guerrilla groups are fighting for the predominantly Muslim Kashmir region, which is divided between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control. Some are fighting for its complete independence, while others want it to be ruled entirely by with Pakistan. These groups, which Pakistan is accused of funding, are believed responsible for many terrorist attacks over the years, including a December attack on India’s parliament. It was this incident that sparked the most recent build-up to the brink of war.

Pakistani President Musharraf has called on these groups to halt cross-border infiltration and attacks — though he denies charges of state sponsorship — and India has responded by lifting a recently-imposed ban on Pakistani flights over Indian territory and recalling warships patrolling off Pakistani waters.

But the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online reported Monday that Pakistani military intelligence saw little reason to hope for peace.

“Militant groups fighting in Kashmir have no intention of giving up their struggle for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people in Indian-administered Kashmir, and until they lay down their arms there cannot possibly be peace in the region,” it said citing these sources.

A large number of Kashmiri separatist fighters crossed the border into India prior to Musharraf’s vow to prevent it, the sources said. Moreover, the report said, India’s recent arrest of a high-profile Kashmiri separatist would only inflame passions.” A war between India and Pakistan is inevitable, sooner or later,” according to sources cited by the article.

Outlook India: "Terror on hold"
This week’s cover story in the New Delhi-based magazine Outlook India argues that “the respite could at best be temporary. For, most militant outfits say they will hold their fire till they find new alternatives to wage jihad, or wait till the situation becomes conducive to their operations again.”

Militants interviewed by the magazine feared Musharraf would pull a policy U-turn, withdrawing Islamabad’s traditional support for pro-Kashmir militants. “But were Pakistan to ditch them, as it did the Taliban, these leaders say they would be compelled to widen their struggle in Kashmir to include (Pakistan-administered Kashmir) as well.” In an interview with Syed Salahuddin, Hizbul Mujahedeen, commander and chairman of the United Jehad Council, says: “Every house in occupied Kashmir has become a trench and every child, youth and elderly person is in the battlefield to fight against Indian troops.”

In Dawn, an English-language daily published in Karachi, Pakistan, commentator Zubeida Mustafa argues that for very practical reasons, Musharraf should do a U-turn against the militant groups.

Washington has “shifted the emphasis to the need for tackling terrorism with full force rather than looking for its underlying causes in a particular case,” he writes. In short, the United States is not worrying about Kashmir’s frustrations, but focused on averting terrorist acts and war.

“It is time for some rethinking in Islamabad. General Musharraf’s over-dependence on religious groups for bolstering his position in domestic politics and in the context of his Kashmir policy will not pay him any dividends in the long run. The militant groups spawned by (Pakistani intelligence services) may no longer be subject to the law or discipline of the state. A U-turn is needed in these two areas.”

Musharraf’s dilemma invites comparisons to that of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. It is unclear how much control he has over militants behind attacks on Indians, but India and the United States demand that he control them as a prerequisite for talks.

Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus Achin Vanik, a journalist and visiting professor at New Delhi’s National Muslim University, argues that because Musharraf is not in full control, “there is simply no guarantee that another terrorist attack will not take place.” In fact, there is strong incentive for an attack, he says. “Islamic fundamentalist groups who are out to destabilize the Musharraf government, strike at the U.S. presence in Pakistan and to keep the Kashmir issue boiling would like nothing better than to provoke a war between India and Pakistan, which they believe can help them on all three counts.”

Vanik says the fanaticism on the Muslim side is matched by that of Hindu hard-liners surrounding Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Those militants have been behind India’s strong rhetoric and actions along the Line of Control in Kashmir. “Such has been the character of Indian brinkmanship ... that the likelihood of a limited military strike by India the next time around (U.S. presence or disapproval notwithstanding) is almost certain.”

A commentary in Asia Times further details the political pressures that could drive both sides to the brink of nuclear conflict.

Vajpayee, according to writer Marc Erikson, is playing an anti-Muslim card as a strategy to help his ruling party in upcoming elections, while Musharraf is also trying to bolster flagging support at home.

“What’s most astonishing is that both a reluctant Musharraf, fearful of further alienating his country’s large radical Islamic community, and a tongue-tied Vajpayee, stubbornly refusing to negotiate, appear to be blind to the likely evil designs of a third party. ... Al-Qaida wants Pakistan and India to go to war because Musharraf is on al-Qaida’s most-wanted list for his betrayal of the Taliban.”

Diplomatic angles
While U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visits India, the tensions appear to be easing. This visit, as well as diplomatic efforts by Russia, China and Arab countries, will continue in an effort to reel in the dangers.

The United States gets some credit for helping defuse the current crisis, but there’s plenty of frustration, too.

“What has been puzzling is the silence of the U.S. administration, U.S. academia and media about Washington’s responsibility in case of a nuclear threat conveyed by a small nuclear weapon state and the imperatives of U.S. national interests and national security,” writes K. Subrahmanyam in the generally conservativeTimes of India.

“This supine behavior on the part of the sole superpower does not reinforce credibility in its much proclaimed counter-proliferation strategy. This could only strengthen the opinion among some sections in Japan or Iran which are neighbors of potential rogue states that they would have to go in for their own nuclear deterrence.”

In a deeply cynical interview published by the India-based Web site, former Foreign Secretary S.K. Singh says that the pursuit of peace isn’t in the interest of India or Pakistan and that the visits by U.S. diplomats will most likely bomb.

“No one can be a peacebroker,” Singh says. “They all have their own interests at work here, be it Bush or (Tony) Blair. The U.S. only has changed its views in the last 15 years several times to suit itself so how can the people who sell us arms expect either of the two countries to settle for peace?”

But an editorial in the Hong Kong-based, U.S. owned magazine Far Eastern Economic Review argues that not only should the United States be involved in the diplomatic effort, it should go one large step further.

“Political resolution — whether it’s the Indian demand that the Line of Control be recognized as a permanent border or Pakistan’s insistence on a plebiscite or independence for the region — cannot be expected in the current climate of violence.

“It would be in Washington’s interest as well as those of India and Pakistan to naturally extend the war against terror into Kashmir. Find the terrorists and neutralize them.”

The editorial says Musharraf might have the political clout to join in. “Having cleverly handled Pakistan’s U-turn against the Taliban, it wouldn’t be impossible for Gen. Musharraf also to convince his countrymen that joint military action with the U.S. against militants is the necessary precondition to a political solution in Kashmir.”