by Eric Margolis
RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN -- India and Pakistan are engaged in an
increasingly dangerous confrontation over the divided Himalayan
mountain state of Kashmir which they have disputed for the past 53
years. For the first time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the
armed forces of two nuclear-armed powers are clashing directly.
This week, Indian troops crossed the Line of Contro1 (LOC) that
divides Kashmir and slaughtered 14 Muslim villagers, beheading
some of the victims. Pakistani troops killed seven Indian
soldiers. Inside the two-thirds of Kashmir controlled by India,
Muslim guerrillas fighting for independence killed ten Hindu
civilians and Indian troops. As the decade-old rebellion by
Kashmir's 80% Muslim majority against often brutal Indian rule
grows, 10-20 people are dying daily in Kashmir. Indian and
Pakistani artillery trade heavy fire along the entire LOC and are
on high alert. According to CIA, the Kashmir LOC is the world's
most dangerous border and the likeliest place for a nuclear war to
India just announced a staggering 38% increase in its defense
budget. In Delhi, PM Atal Vajpayee threatened Pakistan with
nuclear attack if Islamabad dared use its own strategic arsenal
and proclaimed there would be no further negotiations with
Pakistan until it handed its third of Kashmir over to India.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Abdus Sattar, says he has never heard
such threats from India, calling Vajpayee "shrill" and irrational.
Hindu extremists may be driving government policy, Sattar
suggests. India is violently frustrated and enraged over Kashmir
and ready to lash out.
Here in Rawalpindi, the former headquarters of the British Indian
Army on the wild northwest frontier, I met with Lt. Gen. Muhammed
Aziz Khan, chief of the general staff of Pakistan's 587,000 armed
forces. Though guarded and soft spoken, Aziz Khan is tough, highly
intelligent and fiercely determined. He is one of the three
strongmen of the new military regime, along with his superior,
Chief Executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and the redoubtable Lt.
Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, Director General of Inter-Service Intelligence.
I asked Gen. Aziz if India's 700,000 regular and paramilitary
troops now crammed into Kashmir - including three overstrength
corps, 250 warplanes, and 300 heavy - were not poised to attack
Pakistani Kashmir. "India has the capability to undertake tactical
action," replied Aziz. "On the Kashmir front they outnumber us
five to one. But our troops are prepared to fight at a moments
Regarding the strategic arms race between Pakistan and seven-times
larger India, whose population just reached 1 billion, Aziz says
his nation can still keep up with India's growing military power.
"But, if the relative strategic balance keeps shifting against us,
I am concerned."
India has embarked on a massive arms buildup, including new
aircraft from Russia and France, an aircraft carrier and a nuclear
submarine, ballistic and cruise missiles, space warfare systems,
and a large nuclear arsenal developed with covert aid from Israel
The US Congress cut off all military and financial aid to Pakistan
a decade ago to pressure Islamabad to give up its nuclear program,
which Israel's friends on Capitol Hill saw as a possible threat to
the Jewish state - though Pakistan has never shared any of its
nuclear technology. Meanwhile, Washington winked at India's far
larger, older nuclear program, which was seen as a useful counter
Ironically, due to the US embargo, Pakistan has had to rely
increasingly on its nuclear forces to offset India's growing
superiority in men and material. India is now trying to spend
Pakistan, which is almost bankrupt, into the ground by developing
new high-tech weapons systems, such as anti-missile defenses and
Pakistan's tough new military leaders refuse to be cowed. Gen.
Aziz is said to be the main planner for Pakistan’s incursion
across the LOC last spring. In May, Pakistani special forces and
Kashmiri guerrillas crossed the LOC and seized commanding
positions atop the towering mountains above the Indian-held city
of Kargil. Pakistan staged the operation to internationalize the
Kashmir issue, which was fading into obscurity at a time when
brutal Indian repression was threatening to extinguish the
Two months of fierce combat ensued, costing India 400 lives and a
huge amount of money. The fighting ended when Pakistan's then
prime minister, the inept and despotic Nawaz Sharif, was ordered
to Washington for a humiliating public dressing down by President
Clinton. Nawaz, who had approved the operation, denied prior
knowledge and blamed it all on his generals. He then tried to
split the army and dismiss its professional leadership. The
military struck back, deposing Nawaz, to great public delight, and
named Gen. Musharraf as Pakistan's new leader.
Pakistan is now waging a war of nerves against India, convinced
the rebellion in Kashmir, discreetly supported by ISI, and growing
regional rebellions inside India in Assam and the eastern hill
states will eventually force India to withdraw. India is
retaliating by upping military pressure against Pakistan and using
its intelligence agency, RAW, to stage bombings and sabotage
designed to destabilize Pakistan. At the same time, the 800,000
Indians living in the US have formed a powerful lobby that has
teamed up with the influential Israel lobby to militate against
Pakistan and get it branded a "terrorist state."
President Clinton, who is due to shortly visit the subcontinent,
may skip Pakistan because of charges it backs "terrorists" in
Kashmir, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and was involved in the
hijacking of an Indian airliner. Pakistan considers Kashmiri
insurgents "freedom fighters," not terrorists. Islamabad has
little influence over the fiercely independent Taliban, nor was it
involved in the recent hijacking. Little matter. Any state or
person accused these days of being involved in "Islamic terrorism"
is guilty until proven innocent.
But, as usual, Clinton is driven primarily by domestic politics,
and may bow to lobby pressure by avoiding Pakistan or merely
making a "refueling" stop. This would be a grave mistake. Only the
United States has the diplomatic clout to prevent the drift to war
now underway between India and Pakistan, who have already fought
three wars since 1947. American diplomatic intervention is
urgently required, as is outside mediation of the explosive
Clinton's failure to visit Pakistan, and increasing US hostility
to old ally Pakistan could be taken by Delhi as a green light to
launch an offensive against Pakistani Kashmir. The huge number of
Indian troops being maintained in constricted Kashmir, where they
have no operational room, suggests a sort of counter-Kargil
offensive is in the works. India is seething with revenge for
being humiliated last spring by Pakistan. An Indian attack would
not cross the international border between the two foes, but
penetrate only into Pakistani Kashmir. By seizing parts of
Pakistani Kashmir - possible the Lipa or Nilum valleys or Kotli -
India would restore face, weaken Pakistan, and undermine the
military leadership in Islamabad.
Wars too often begin because of miscalculation or over-estimation
of one's power. This is precisely the case between India and
Pakistan. Neither wants a general war, but both believe they can
keep up the war of nerves and limited military operations under
security of their nuclear umbrellas.
This week India gave its commanders the right of hot pursuit of
Kashmiri militants across the LOC. CIA analysts have long said
that just such an event may trigger a large battle that risks
escalating into a full-sca1e war that might end with a nuclear
exchange. According to Rand Corp, a nuclear conflict between India
and Pakistan would kill 2 million people at once, and 100 million
subsequently as well as polluting the entire globe.
If ever real diplomacy was needed, it is now.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and
broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 2000 Eric Margolis - All Rights