by Eric Margolis
Last week, as peace talks in embattled Kashmir collapsed and the killing
resumed, `The New York Times' broke a front-page story in which it revealed
that US intelligence had concluded `that the likelihood of a war between
India and Pakistan that could erupt into a nuclear conflict had increased
This alarming National Intelligence Estimate, the combined product of all
US intelligence agencies, was made last summer soon after Pakistani
regulars and Kashmiri rebels occupied towering heights above Kargil in the
Indian portion of the Himalayan mountain state of Kashmir, which is divided
between India, Pakistan, and China.
Readers of this column may recall I reported last July that Pakistan and
India were heading towards a possible nuclear war -the same finding as US
intelligence. Military sources on the subcontinent had also told me India
was three days away from launching a full-scale offensive against Pakistan.
Given India's 2:1 superiority in men and 3:1 in artillery, armor, and
warplanes, Pakistan may have been forced to use tactical nuclear weapons to
stop a massive Indian onslaught.
My new book on Kashmir and the Indo-Pakistani conflict, `War at the Top of
the World,' which appeared last fall, fully detailed the dangers of nuclear
war between India and Pakistan, a conflict that could kill millions and
pollute the globe with radioactive dust.
At the time, few people seemed aware of the explosive, 53-year old struggle
for `far-away' Kashmir - even after President Clinton and CIA called it
`the world's most dangerous border.'
Last month, Hezbul Mujihadin, the largest group of Islamic insurgents
fighting for independence of the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir, called a
cease-fire in the bitter conflict that has killed up to 70,000 people since
it erupted in 1989, and asked for talks with India. Other Kashmiri rebels
groups bitterly opposed the talks.
The surprise offer clearly wrong-footed India's PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
who first spoke of `unconditional' talks, but then rejected Hezbul's
demands that Pakistan be included, and backtracked to India's usual
position: Kashmir is and will remain an integral, non-negotiable part of
India and entirely a domestic matter. India would negotiate only on the
basis that Kashmir must be part of India.
Other Islamic insurgent groups sought to undermine the tentative talks, in
one case by attacking Hindu pilgrims, an act of pure terrorism. Over 100
civilians died in this attack and ensuing cross-fire between rebels and
poorly disciplined Indian paramilitary police. Rebel attacks against Indian
security forces surged, with at least ten more people dying in a bombing
last Thursday, and a score more this week. Hezbul ended its cease-fire and
India claims all Kashmiri insurgents are `Islamic terrorists' and `Afghan
mercenaries,' agents of Pakistani `cross-border terrorism.' Delhi's
simplistic view has been adopted by the Clinton Administration, which has
tilted strongly towards India under urging from American partisans of
Israel. India and Israel are currently forging a `strategic and nuclear
alliance.' Israeli military advisors are aiding Indian counter-insurgency
forces in Kashmir while Israeli scientists are providing India's
fast-expanding nuclear program with materials, technical expertise, and
Russia, which is waging its own war against Islamic freedom fighters in
Chechnya, recently joined India and China in a new alliance to oppose
Islamic independence movements in Kashmir, Afghanistan, western
China(formerly Eastern Turkestan), and Central Asia. The Clinton
Administration and Russia are quietly cooperating to fight religious and
democratic Islamic movements seeking to overthrow Central Asia's
Moscow-backed, post-Soviet dictatorships.
Contrary to Indian claims, the insurgents are mostly Kashmiri Muslims, not
outsiders, as I have found on my visits to the region. Contrary to
Pakistan's denials, its crack intelligence service, ISI, does discreetly
aid some rebel groups with arms and bases. Pakistanis regard Kashmiri
guerillas as freedom fighters. India's intelligence agency, RAW, abets
bombings inside Pakistan aimed at destabilizing that shaky, near-bankrupt
What is clear amidst all this intrigue is that a majority of Indian-ruled
Kashmir's people, who are over 80% Muslim, want to be rid of brutal,
corrupt Indian rule, and seek either independence or union with Pakistan.
India's 600,000 troops in Kashmir have failed to crush the `intifada' in
spite of wide-scale use of torture, gang rapes, and mass reprisals.
Numerous human rights organizations - including Indian ones- have
condemned Delhi for its brutality in Kashmir and, as well, against Sikh
insurgents in Punjab. It should also be noted that when Pakistan
controlled East Pakistan, today Bangladesh, it's garrison troops behaved
with similar brutality to Bengali independence-seekers.
The collapse of peace talks in Kashmir means India and Pakistan are again
locked in their exceptionally dangerous confrontation over Kashmir, along
whose cease-fire line their forces battle almost daily. This is the first
time two nuclear powers have directly clashed since the 1962 Cuban missile
crisis. Both Pakistan and India are playing a dangerous game of nuclear
chicken over Kashmir that would lead to war through design or accident.
It's up to the outside world to press India and Pakistan - and China - into
settling the explosive Kashmir issue. In 1947-49, the United Nations
resolved that Kashmiris be allowed to vote on their future. This was never
been done. India, Pakistan and China annexed strategic parts of Kashmir
without ever consulting the inhabitants of this once-independent state.
Tragically, Kashmir has become the Jerusalem of South Asia, a focus of
competing religious, nationalist, and historical passions that arouses
fierce emotions, thwarts compromise, and poisons relations between
brother-nations, India and Pakistan. Kashmir may also become the trigger
that detonates a nuclear war.
Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of the just released War at
the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet
which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Eric Margolis - All Rights