India and Pakistan:
Nuclear Danger in U.S.-Dominated South Asia

Revolutionary Worker #1134, January 13, 2002, posted at

For over 50 years, India and Pakistan have fought over Kashmir. Now, as the year 2002 begins, fighting over this disputed territory has the two nuclear-armed countries on the brink of war.

On December 13, a suicide bomber outside India's parliament detonated explosives strapped to his waist. Four other men stormed the building, firing assault rifles and hurling grenades, and were killed by Indian security forces.

India blamed the raid on Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba--two Pakistan-based groups fighting Indian occupation in Kashmir--and demanded that Pakistan's president General Pervez Musharraf close them down.

India already had hundreds of thousands of troops in Kashmir and skirmishes are not unusual at the Line of Control which separates India-controlled Kashmir from the area of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan. But after the attack on its parliament, India began sending tens of thousands of troops to take up positions along its 1,800-mile border with Pakistan. And Musharraf responded by also sending tens of thousands of soldiers to the border. This is the biggest build-up of military forces on the Pakistan/Indian border in decades--forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes near the border.

By New Year's Day India had much of its army--of over one million soldiers--at the border, along with fighter jets, artillery and tanks. It withdrew its envoy to Pakistan, closed the cross-border bus and train services, and banned Pakistan International Airlines from Indian airspace. Pakistan countered with similar moves. And government officials from Pakistan and India began trading daily barbs and threats.

Pakistan's Musharraf said, "If any war is thrust on Pakistan, the Pakistan Armed Forces and the 140 million people of Pakistan are fully prepared to face all consequences with all their might." Musharraf announced that Pakistan's troops were now in a "battle-ready position." And Pakistan's Foreign Minister warned that the dispute was growing "dangerously tense" and that any small act of provocation could snowball.

India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called a special all-party meeting to unite his government behind taking action against Pakistan, making it clear that India was not ruling out war. Vajpayee warned people living near the border to prepare for a war.

U.S. Godfather

With the war in Afghanistan, U.S. domination in South Asia has deepened--and is the backdrop for the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan.

After September 11, both India and Pakistan enlisted support for the U.S. so-called "war on terrorism." Pakistan, with its 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan, became crucial to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and Musharraf cravenly submitted to U.S. requests for military and logistic support, air bases and intelligence gathering. India, less crucial to the U.S. war coalition, worried that its relationship with the U.S. would suffer as a result of the strengthened U.S./Pakistan alliance-- and that 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. New Delhi started complaining that the "war on terrorism" wasn't targeting Islamic fundamentalist groups, backed by Pakistan, who have been waging war against India in Kashmir.

A week before the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan, a car bomb exploded in Srinagar, outside the state legislature building in India-controlled Kashmir, killing 38 people. India blamed Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack--one of the groups it says is behind the December 13 attack on its parliament.

After the Srinagar bombing, 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?" Trying to prevent an outbreak of war right in the middle of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell flew to India and Pakistan to try and ease tensions. Powell reassured Musharraf that in exchange for cooperation with the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. would protect Pakistan from charges of "terrorism in Kashmir." Powell then flew to India where he basically told the Indian government to cool things out.

Now, with the threat of a war between India and Pakistan even stronger, the United States is once again playing godfather to India and Pakistan. But this time around, the U.S. is focused on pressuring Musharraf to crack down on Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan--while counseling India to "give Pakistan time" to get rid of Pakistan-based "terrorists."

With the military build-up on the India/Pakistan border, Bush said he feared the growing conflict could unravel the U.S.-led "coalition against terrorism." The U.S. also worried that Pakistan would start redeploying its troops--taking soldiers away from the U.S.-led efforts to capture Taliban forces crossing into Pakistan and sending them to the Indian border.

Bush declared Jaish-e-Mohammad a terrorist group and called India's Prime Minister Vajpayee to tell him the U.S. would cooperate with India in its "fight against terrorism." Bush also called Pakistan and, according to a White House spokesman, "urged President Musharraf to take additional strong and decisive measures to eliminate the extremists who seek to harm India, undermine Pakistan, provoke a war between India and Pakistan and destabilize the international coalition against terrorism.'' Within 48 hours, Colin Powell also made several phone calls to leaders in Pakistan and India.

Focused Rivalry in Kashmir

The creation of Pakistan, its border with India, and the dispute in Kashmir were the product of British colonialism and imperialism. During the Cold War, superpower rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union profoundly influenced developments in the region--with Pakistan becoming a servant of U.S. imperialism and India became subordinated to the Soviet Union. And today, the brutal strategic ambitions of U.S. imperialism continue to shape the economics and politics of India and Pakistan.

The intense rivalry between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has existed since 1947, when the end of formal colonial rule by British imperialism over the Indian subcontinent resulted in the partitioning of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state. Kashmir was supposed to be given the choice to join India or Pakistan, or remain independent. But tribal groups backed by Pakistan invaded the Kashmir Valley and India sent in troops. 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."

Since then, 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, 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 people of Kashmir have been waging a just struggle against Indian occupation and domination. 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. 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.

Different forces, including secular groups advocating independence from Pakistan and India, have fought in Kashmir. But by the end of the 1990s, most of the armed guerrilla groups fighting in Kashmir were Islamic fundamentalist, directly backed by Pakistan and many imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan. 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.

Pakistan's long history of ties to the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist forces fighting in Kashmir stems from its collaboration and service to U.S. imperialism. 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 including Osama bin Laden. 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. Over the last decade Madrassahs (religious schools) in Pakistan continued to provide many fighters in Kashmir, and the Pakistani government continued to support many of the Islamic fundamentalist groups fighting in Kashmir.

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 were Pakistani groups that have links to the Taliban and send fighters to Kashmir. Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group India blames for the October 1 Srinagar bombing and the attack on India's parliament, is also on the list.

Now as the "war on terrorism" targets these groups, Musharraf faces dangerous political repercussions.

Musharraf's compliance with the U.S. war in Afghanistan has already been hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where there are millions of Muslims, including supporters of the Taliban, and many within the Pakistani military are Islamic fundamentalists.

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. And Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, has been a big supporter of groups fighting India in Kashmir.

Now, as Taliban forces in Afghanistan are being hunted down by the U.S., many of them are crossing the border into Pakistan--and could end up joining Islamic fundamentalist forces fighting in Kashmir.

India's prime minister complained that "Pakistan is not arresting any of the Pakistani Al Qaeda or Taliban members when they leave Afghanistan and the U.S. is also not insisting that they be handed over. Basically, terrorists are being transferred from west to east."

Escalating Threats and Maneuvers

Under intense U.S. pressure, Pakistan officials have taken some moves against the two groups India accuses of the parliament attack. The head of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was arrested, the group's assets frozen. Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammadi, was also arrested. And Pakistan says that altogether, in recent weeks, it has arrested over 300 people associated with Islamic fundamentalist groups. At the same time, Pakistani officials insist this crackdown has nothing to do with India--that is it part of a larger campaign that started long before the Parliament bombing.

Pakistan officials insist they will continue to give "moral and political support to "the Kashmiri freedom struggle.'' But Musharraf ordered the country's military intelligence agency (ISI) to cut off backing for Islamic militant groups fighting in Kashmir. Pakistan now says it will only give support to groups in Kashmir with local roots that don't have links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida.

But India's Prime Minister has dismissed these moves by Pakistan as only "cosmetic" and has continued to send even more troops to the border. India's defense officials say its navy is on "high alert" ready for deployment in international waters off Pakistan's coast. They are "minutes away" from striking at Karachi harbor, through which more than 90% of Pakistan's trade, especially its oil supplies, passes.

Indian forces in the border region are estimated to be about 400,000. Pakistan is reported to have deployed about 100,000 troops to the Kashmir border. And there are reports that Pakistan has already begun to pull back Pakistani troops deployed to search for Osama bin Laden on the Afghanistan border and that it also might claim back at least one of the three air bases it had handed over for use by American troops.

Robert Oakley, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, told CNN, "They [Pakistan] will certainly fight the Indians if provoked. There's no question about that. They're already diverting attention and perhaps some resources from the fight against al Qaida and the Taliban on Pakistan's western border. So the U.S. has a very big interest in this."

In the first week of January, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was reportedly on the phone almost daily with leaders of India and Pakistan. And Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, continues to act as a U.S. craven servant--meeting with Bush about the India/ Pakistan crisis and then flying to meet with Musharraf and Vajpayee. Blair said, "There is a reason why President Bush and I have been speaking regularly over the holiday period. That is because it is a very serious issue with potentially far- reaching consequences if the tensions get out of hand."

On January 10, General Musharraf left Pakistan to go to Kathmandu, Nepal for a meeting of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation. India's Prime Minister Vajpayee was also on his way to the conference.

India offered to suspend its ban on Pakistani flights over Indian air space and allow Musharraf to fly from Pakistan to Kathmandu. But Musharraf declined the offer--and instead flew first to China to met with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji. China is a key ally of Pakistan and is said to be a key supplier of military arms and nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan. Musharraf had visited China only 10 days before for official talks. A Pakistan Major-General told news reporters, "China stood by Pakistan and still stands by Pakistan... and will support Pakistan in all eventualities.''

Even as Musharraf and Vajpayee were on their way to Kathmandu, fighting continued to escalate in Kashmir and along the border between India and Pakistan. As the new year began, a grenade exploded in Srinagar, Kashmir, wounding 20 people, including five policemen.

News reports speculated that India and Pakistan would hold separate talks while in Kathmandu, aimed at easing escalating threats of war. But by Sunday, January 6, as the SAARC meeting wound down, this didn't look likely, and India and Pakistan continued to trade threats of war.

The current crisis between India and Pakistan, carrying the threat of nuclear war, is stamped with a long history of U.S. domination in South Asia--and ongoing maneuvers by U.S. imperialism to intensify its hegemony.

The U.S. says its war in Afghanistan will bring stability to the region. But the U.S. "war on terrorism" and the deepening of U.S. domination has stoked the flames of regional rivalries and will only bring about more death and suffering for the masses of people.

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