by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
"14 June 1999. 0540hrs -- Kashmiri independence fighters, hotly pursued by Indian troops, slip across the Line of Control into the Pakistani portion of the strife-torn mountain state . . .
Pakistani troops give the Islamic militants covering fire. Indian forces along the mountainous border return fire. An Indian general, invoking the right of hot pursuit, sends a brigade into Pakistani territory to follow the Kashmiri mujihadin. Heavy Pakistani enfilading fire pins down the Indians. To extricate them, an Indian corps commander orders a division forward. It, too, is pinned down, suffering severe losses.
To relieve pressure on the trapped units, an Indian armored strike corps attacks the strategic Pakistani road junction at Sialkot, just south of Kashmir. A Pakistani armored division drives on Pathankot to cut off India's main road into the Vale of Kashmir.
Opposing forces exchange heavy fire along the 1,000-mile Indo-Pakistani border from the Arabian Sea to Tibet. Both sides mobilize reserves. They launch air and missile attacks on one another's forward air bases and supply depots.
Pakistani air defense radars report a wave of Indian missiles heading for Pakistan's nuclear complex, and main air and missile bases in northern Punjab. Pakistan's prime minister has 2 minutes to either launch his nuclear-armed aircraft and missiles - or loose them.
Almost fainting from the pressure, he orders launch. The reports, it turns out, were false. Too late. India launches a nuclear riposte. Most major cities in northern India, and all Pakistan's cities, are incinerated. Two million people die immediately; 100 million within weeks. A vast cloud of deadly radioactive dust begins to circle the globe: it will eventually cause millions of deaths in North America."
Fiction- yes, so far. But the border between old foes India and Pakistan remains the world's most dangerous place - and, with Korea's DMZ - the likeliest flashpoint for a nuclear war. Fighting between Indian and Pakistani troops on the Kashmir LOC has flared over recent months, right up to the Siachen Glacier on the Tibet border, where this writer went into battle with Pakistani commandos, at a near airless 22,000 ft, against elite Indian mountain troops.
This week, senior Indian and Pakistani officials met in New Delhi for talks aimed at defusing tensions between the two great Asian nations. As always, talks failed to get beyond the 51-year old Kashmir dispute, the world's oldest ongoing international problem.
When British India was partitioned in 1947, the people of the princely state of Kashmir, of whom 80% were Muslim, were to vote whether to join India or Pakistan.
Kashmir's Hindu Maharajah cancelled the referendum,opted to join India, and jailed Muslim leaders; 200,000 Muslims were massacred in the Poonch region. Pakistan sent a force of wild Pathan tribesmen into Kashmir. India airlifted tough Sikhs up to the capital. Srinagar. When fighting ended in January, 1949, India controlled two-thirds of Kashmir, Pakistan one third.
That year, the UN called for a supervised plebiscite to determine Kashmir's future. India refused. Subsequently, India and Pakistan fought two inconclusive wars over the beautiful mountain state.
Muslim Kashmiris long chaffed under Indian rule. In 1989, a spontaneous rebellion erupted against India's often brutal, corrupt, inefficient misrule. Scores of small guerrilla groups took to the hills, or fought in Kashmir's cities and towns.
The Kashmiri `intifada,' which continues today, has taken some 60,000 lives, mostly Muslim civilians. India has 600,000 soldiers and paramilitary troops battling independence forces in Kashmir. In spite of this huge garrison - one Indian soldier for every 22 Kashmiris - the revolt continues at reduced intensity. Indian security forces are constantly accused by human rights groups of crimes against humanity: mass reprisals, gang rapes, murders, widespread torture, arson and religious humiliation designed to break the will of Muslims.
India accuses Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, of sustaining the intifada from bases in Azad Kashmir. Pakistan accuses India's intelligence agency, RAW, of inciting communal violence in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, and in Punjab. Both charges are true.
India frequently threatens to attack mujihadin bases in Azad Kashmir. Alarmingly, the chauvinist Hindu BJP party that dominates India's coalition government has sought to intimidate Pakistan over Kashmir by flexing its newly demonstrated nuclear power. India is estimated to have some 100 operational nuclear weapons, Pakistan about 30.
India's strategy is to keep Kashmir an internal issue, crush resistance groups, and turn the Line of Control into a permanent international border. Pakistan has always sought to internationalize the issue, mobilize backing for the never-implemented UN plebiscite, and unite Kashmir to Pakistan. Islamabad has occasionally jailed Kashmiri nationalists who want total independence for their state - which would include much of what is today Pakistan's northern territories.
Pakistan and India are incapable of bilaterally resolving Kashmir. The acute threat of war over Kashmir between two nuclear powers- whose weapons are on hair-trigger alert - demands urgent international intervention over Kashmir, an issue that now affects the security and well-being of the entire planet.
A UN-supervised vote on Kashmir's future is the logical solution. Convincing New Delhi and Islamabad to accept the will of 13 million Kashmiris, however, will be excruciatingly difficult. Still, the world powers must force a settlement of this potential globe-threatening conflict before hot pursuit in Kashmir escalates to nuclear war.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
Eric Margolis, "
Pakistan and India: A Step Back From Nuclear War," ericmargolis.com,
August 15, 2005