The Trouble in Kashmir

...and U.S. domination in South Asia

Revolutionary Worker #1127, November 18, 2001, posted at

On October 1, a week before the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan, a car bomb exploded in Srinagar, outside the state legislature building in India-controlled Kashmir. According to news reports, several gunmen stole a government vehicle, packed it with explosives, and drove it through the security cordon surrounding the heavily guarded complex. As the bomb went off, men dressed in police uniforms rushed inside, firing weapons and setting off grenades. They barricaded themselves inside the building and were killed after a seven-hour battle with Indian soldiers and police. At least 75 were injured and 38 died, including members of the Indian security forces, legislature employees, and civilians.

India blamed Pakistan-backed Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas for the attack. Pakistan condemned the bombing and denied any involvement. And top Pakistani officials accused India of organizing the attack in order to get U.S. support for India in the war in Kashmir.

The media reported that the Islamic extremist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad, had claimed responsibility for the attack. Jaish-e-Mohammad has ties to the Taliban and is said to be backed by Pakistan--a key player in the U.S. war in Afghanistan. So in the U.S., amidst all the headlines about "America's war on terrorism," the October 1 bombing in Kashmir wasn't huge news. But this incident highlighted the complicated and dangerous situation the U.S. faces in its need to enlist Pakistan in its coalition in the so-called "war against terrorism."

The Dispute in Kashmir

Kashmir lies on the northern borders of India and Pakistan and is officially known as Jammu and Kashmir. Most of the 12 million people here are peasant farmers; others work in small industries making shawls, rugs and carpets. Kashmir is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state--about 65% of the people are Muslims, 30% are Hindus, and the rest are Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and others. Muslims make up the majority in the Kashmir Valley. Hindus live mostly in the south and around the city of Jammu. To the east is the Ladakh region, where the majority of the people are Buddhists and of Tibetan origin.

After World War 2, formal colonial rule by British imperialism over the Indian subcontinent ended and Britain carried out a divide-and-conquer policy, deliberately exacerbating divisions and differences between various nationalities, and between the Hindu, Moslem and Sikh religious groups. This led to the partitioning of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state in 1947.

The states in the region that had not been under direct British colonial rule were supposed to be given the choice to join India or Pakistan, or remain independent. In Kashmir the people were living under the brutal Dogra rule of the Hindu Maharajah. After tribal groups backed by Pakistan invaded the Kashmir Valley, India sent in troops with the cooperation of the Maharajah. Fighting between Indian and Pakistani forces continued until a ceasefire was declared under the auspices of the United Nations in 1949, pending a "free and impartial election."

The comprador governments of India and Pakistan (collaborating with and serving imperialism) have each wanted to control Kashmir for their own expansionist interests. And for over 50 years now, there has been fighting in Kashmir between India and Pakistan--each claiming Kashmir as part of its territory. Two-thirds of Kashmir is controlled by India, with the rest of the state controlled by Pakistan. India controls the Kashmir Valley (where the majority are Muslims), Jammu and Ladak. The area referred to as 'Azad [Free] Kashmir' is ruled by a government with strong ties to Pakistan.

The India-controlled part of Kashmir is ruled by a puppet government and the people of Kashmir have been subjected to the brutal occupation of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops. To put down any form of resistance, Indian security forces routinely encircle and raid towns and whole villages. Tens of thousands of Kashmiri people have been killed, jailed and tortured. Some estimates say that as many as 50,000 have been killed by Indian troops in the last 10 years.

For over 50 years, the people of Kashmir have been waging a just struggle against Indian occupation and domination. By the mid-1990s a strong, militant movement standing for a secular independent Kashmir was the strongest force with a mass base in the Kashmir Valley. But by the end of the 1990s, dozens of other organizations had emerged in the fight against India, most of them Islamic fundamentalist, directly backed by Pakistan - and many of these forces were imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today, these pro-Pakistan forces--which are fighting for an oppressive Islamic rule over the people--make up the majority of guerrilla fighters in Kashmir. These Islamic groups do not represent the hopes of the Kashmiri people for real liberation. And for the people of Kashmir to be free they will have to break free from the domination of both the Indian and Pakistani ruling classes.

India-Pakistan Tension and Powell Damage Control

The day after the Srinagar bombing, India's Home Minister branded Pakistan "a terrorist country" and insisted, "If it [Pakistan] wants to prove its seriousness in this regard [fighting terrorism]... It should hand over Jaish-e-Mohammad leaders to India." This was meant to echo the U.S. demand for the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden. India also demanded that the U.S. should not just concentrate on Afghanistan, but take action against "all terrorist camps, outfits and countries who have been harboring terrorists." For the United States, this created a sticky political situation.

With its 1,400-mile-long border with Afghanistan, Pakistan is key to the U.S. war in Afghanistan. But Pakistan has a long history of ties to the Taliban, the current focus of the U.S. "war on terrorism." During the 1980s, the CIA used Pakistan's military and intelligence agency (the ISI) to build and support the Islamic forces fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This was instrumental to the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan. (See RW #1120 and #1122.) And after the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan many of the CIA/ISI-trained fighters ended up in Kashmir. Madrassahs (religious schools) in Pakistan still provide many fighters in Kashmir and the Pakistani government continues to support many of the Islamic fundamentalist groups fighting in Kashmir.

Two weeks after the incident in Srinagar, U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell left for India and Pakistan. Bush administration officials stated that the trip was aimed at defusing tension between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

Powell first went to Islamabad to visit Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf. The U.S. wanted to reassure Pakistan that in exchange for its subservience and cooperation with the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. would protect Pakistan from charges of backing "terrorism in Kashmir."

But India argued: "If the U.S. can go after terrorists in Afghanistan, why shouldn't we be allowed to go after Pakistan-backed terrorists in Kashmir?" This was an open threat by India against Pakistan. But according to U.S. officials, Powell reassured Pakistan that as part of the U.S. coalition behind the bombing of Afghanistan, it would not come under attack from India. And Powell praised Musharraf for providing the U.S. with access to air space and intelligence and logistical support. Meanwhile, huge protests erupted throughout Pakistan to protest Powell's visit, the bombing of Afghanistan, and Musharraf's craven submissiveness to the United States.

Next Powell went to New Delhi to talk with India's foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

New Delhi has offered unconditional support to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, but India is not as crucial as Pakistan to the U.S. war coalition. Now, India is worried that its relationship with the U.S. will suffer as a result of the strengthening of the new U.S./Pakistan alliance. And this could have repercussions in the balance of power in the region and in the decades-long rivalry between India and Pakistan--which is most intense in Kashmir.

India's ruling class is upset that the U.S. isn't taking action against Kashmiri armed groups--despite the fact that U.S. officials admit there are links between these groups and Osama bin Laden. After the bombing in Srinagar, India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, wrote to Bush saying India did not want to create problems in the campaign against Afghanistan but that Pakistan should understand there was a "limit to India's patience."

India demanded that the Pakistani government shut down Jaish-e-Mohammad offices and asked the U.S. to outlaw the group and freeze its assets, as was done with other terrorist groups after Sept. 11. India also renewed shelling against guerrillas in Kashmir in what it called "punitive action" against "cross-border terrorism."

Powell told Singh, "We are going after terrorism in a comprehensive way, not just in the present instance of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but terrorism as it affects nations around the world, to include the kind of terrorism that affects India." But when reporters asked Powell if the U.S. was ready to go after terrorist camps and training centers in Pakistan, the response was evasive. Powell reiterated that the U.S. is targeting the "Al Qaeda network in its various manifestations"--but refused to say anything about whether or not this includes Pakistani-backed groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir.

At a press conference Singh sounded like a jilted lover when he told reporters, "Pakistan is part of the problem. Attempts now by the United States of America to employ Pakistan as part of the solution, well, good luck, try it out."

India is also calling attention to the fact that weapons that the U.S./CIA funneled through Pakistan to the Taliban to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, are now in the caches of Islamic fighters in Kashmir. Now India is worried that U.S. aid to Pakistan could once again end up as weapons aimed at India. Singh said, "What ostensibly, purportedly, is military assistance to Pakistan for a specific purpose, a pattern with which we are entirely familiar, finds its way for the barrels to turn themselves towards India."

The U.S. fears that its war in Afghanistan will result in a dangerous new level of fighting in Kashmir, which could unravel the U.S./Pakistan alliance--and in the worst-case scenario, involve the use of nuclear weapons which both Pakistan and India possess. This was behind the warning from Powell to Singh that "differences between India and Pakistan must not be resolved through violence."

India has at least 250,000 army, paramilitary and police personnel operating in Kashmir and the U.S. has been pressuring India to pull back and, despite increasing guerrilla attacks, not stage commando operations, air raids or missile attacks on militant training camps in Pakistan or the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.

Shaky Ground for Musharraf

Islamic fundamentalist groups in Pakistan were among the organizations the U.S. named after September 11 in its list of 27 banned "terrorist groups." Included among these was Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, a Pakistani group that has links to the Taliban in Afghanistan and sends fighters to Kashmir. Also on the list is the All Party Hurriyat Alliance, which includes the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, one of the main groups fighting the Indian occupation of Kashmir. Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group blamed for the October 1 bombing is also on the list.

After the U.S. named Harkat-ul-Mujaheddin and froze its financial assets, Pakistan closed the organization's offices. But Musharraf knows that further action against such Kashmiri groups could set off not only protests in the streets, but rebellion within the government and military.

Musharraf condemned the Srinagar attack, but continues to call the guerrillas fighting in Kashmir "freedom fighters." And while Musharraf is unashamedly cooperating and submitting to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, he does not want the Pakistani-backed fighters in Kashmir to be targeted by the U.S. "war on terrorism." In fact when Musharraf publicly explained why he decided to cooperate with the U.S. he stated that he was doing so to protect Pakistan's vital interests--including "the Kashmir cause." Musharraf is hoping for a trade-off: that Pakistan will help the U.S. go after the Taliban in Afghanistan--partly in return for shielding its anti-Indian campaign in Kashmir.

But Musharraf is standing on shaky ground. Even without India calling for the U.S. to target "terrorists in Kashmir," it is no secret that Pakistan has all kinds of links to Taliban forces and other extreme Islamic armed groups not only in Kashmir, but in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the U.S. "war on terrorism" drags on and widens its scope, it will become even more difficult for Musharraf to keep these groups from becoming a target. But Musharraf cannot denounce these groups and withdraw support without dangerous political repercussions.

Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999, as the general of the Pakistani army--where the war in Kashmir is considered a "line in the sand" in Pakistan's rivalry with India. Musharraf ousted Narwaz Sharif, who had caved in to a U.S. demand that Pakistan rein in guerrilla fighters in Kashmir. And Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, was originally formed to collect information in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

The struggle in Kashmir has remained a major factor determining politics in Pakistan. And the strength of the military's influence and power in Pakistan is, in large part, because the fight in Kashmir has been made into such a major national cause. Now, Musharraf's cooperation with the U.S. war in Afghanistan is massively unpopular in Pakistan and, ironically, he could face a fate similar to Sharif if he is forced by the U.S. to try and put a leash on the fighters in Kashmir.

Balance of Power and U.S. Domination

During the Cold War, India and Pakistan were both drawn into the imperialist contention between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The U.S. and other Western powers had their hands in India, especially through the privately owned sectors of the economy. But the Soviets had a major influence in India's government and in the state-owned sectors of the capitalist economy. And by the early 1970s India and the Soviet Union were strategic allies, signing a "20 Year Friendship Agreement" which called for joint security in the event of any military attack.

Meanwhile, the U.S. saw Pakistan as an important ally in the balance of power in the region. Pakistan provided an important location for establishing air bases and intelligence gathering facilities for countering the Soviets. And its proximity to the Persian Gulf also made it useful as a shield for protecting U.S. interests in the Middle East oil fields. In May 1954, the U.S. and Pakistan signed the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement, formally confirming Pakistan's alignment with the West. And Pakistan was invited to join U.S. sponsored defense pacts like the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), and began receiving weapons from the U.S.

U.S. domination over Pakistan reached new heights after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Pakistan served as the rear base and supply route for the CIA-led war in neighboring Afghanistan against Soviet occupying forces. And Pakistan's regime received huge amounts of U.S. aid and military assistance for its role in fighting the Soviets. For the next 10 years the U.S. used Pakistan as the main conduit to conduct a U.S./CIA-funded and -led war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. In return, the U.S. gave Pakistan a huge amount of military and economic aid. The CIA and Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, trained tens of thousands of Muslims from around the world to fight in Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden.

After Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989, thousands of Islamic fighters remained in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's ISI became their primary sponsor. Pakistan looked to the Islamic militants it had built up during the war as a base of support to counter India and secure its power in the region--as well as to provide fighters for the war in Kashmir.

With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, U.S. financial and military aid to Pakistan dwindled. And at the same time the U.S. began developing stronger economic and political ties with India. This shift in policy affected the U.S. policy toward the struggle in Kashmir. For example, in 1999, the U.S. demanded that Pakistan withdraw hundreds of armed militants from India-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan's covert support for the militant groups fighting against India in Kashmir had never been a secret. But in the past, the U.S. had avoided criticizing Pakistan for its role in Kashmir.

Now, the needs of the U.S. empire require another shift on Kashmir because the U.S. needs Pakistan's support in the war on Afghanistan.

Musharraf's compliance and subservience to the U.S. has made him hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where there are millions of Muslims, including supporters of the Taliban. Many within the Pakistani military are Islamic fundamentalists. Throughout Pakistan there is mass opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan. And any move by Musharraf to concede the struggle in Kashmir would be opposed by significant sections of the military and government. All this makes Musharraf's hold on power extremely shaky.

One bourgeois publication on U.S. intelligence warned that Pakistan's overt support for the U.S war in Afghanistan could be disastrous for the U.S.: "Musharraf came to power with the support of Pakistan's military. He is extremely vulnerable if the army, or at least a significant element of it, turns against him. If he were to be ousted during an anti-Western, pro-Taliban uprising organized by an alliance between Kashmiri militants and nationalist military officers, then the prospect of a full-scale regional conflagration might become very real."

The U.S. has a long history of imperialist domination in Pakistan and the surrounding region. And its bloody war in Afghanistan is bound to fuel the hatred of millions. The U.S. is bullying and maneuvering to enlist the support of brutal dictators like Musharraf. But such a treacherous alliance is full of danger--including the tinderbox in Kashmir.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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