by Eric Margolis
For the first time since the Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962, two
nuclear-armed powers, India and Pakistan, are in a direct military
confrontation that could lead to a massive conventional war - and even to
full-scale nuclear conflict.
The armed forces of both old foes are on high alert and deploying to forward
positions. India and Pakistan say their nuclear-armed missiles are ready to
When War at the Top of the World, my book on Afghanistan and the Kashmir
conflict first came out in 1999 (2000 in the U.S., U.K., and India), people
asked, "Who cares about that region?" I sought to explain, usually in vain,
that this little-known part of the globe was about to erupt. A nuclear war
between India and Pakistan, according to CIA studies, would kill two million
people immediately, and injure 100 million. Equally apocalyptic, a nuclear
exchange between India and Pakistan, and attacks on one another's nuclear
power reactors, would send a cloud of radioactive dust around the planet.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the divided mountain state of
Kashmir, the majority of whose 11 million inhabitants are Muslims. For the
past 12 years, a score of Muslim insurgent groups have waged a fierce
guerrilla war against some 600,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitary troops in
Indian Kashmir. India calls the Muslim insurgents "Pakistani-supported
terrorists," a position lately adopted by the United States. Pakistan calls
them legitimate "freedom fighters" battling for the independence of Kashmir.
India rejects UN demands for a plebiscite to determine Kashmir's future.
The Kashmir insurgency has been an extremely dirty war. Some 50,000 have
died, mainly civilians. Indian forces have resorted to brutal reprisals,
arson, torture, murder of suspects, and gang rape of Muslim women. Kashmir
insurgents have slaughtered Hindus, causing 250,000 to flee the Jammu region,
and assassinated many state officials. Indian forces disguised as Kashmiri
mujahedeen have even attacked Sikhs in an effort to turn them against
India has long threatened to attack Pakistan, which it accuses of arming and
supporting the Kashmiri mujahedeen. In fact, Pakistani intelligence, ISI, has
quietly backed some - but not all - of the militant groups, as well as Sikh
separatists and Christian insurgents in India's eastern hill states. India,
in turn, stirs up sectarian violence inside Pakistan.
THE LAST STRAW
For India, the last straw came just before Christmas, when as yet
unidentified militants attacked India's parliament building in New Delhi.
This assault followed attacks against Delhi's trademark Red Fort and against
the Kashmir parliament in Srinagar. India accused two new Pakistan-based
Kashmiri insurgent groups - Lashkar-e-Toyiba and Jash-e-Mohammed - of staging
the attacks with Pakistani backing. Interestingly, according to my
information, neither of these extreme groups are run by Pakistani
intelligence. But Pakistan was plunged into confrontation with an outraged
The attack on parliament in Delhi was an intolerable outrage. India's
cautious prime minister, Atal Vajpayee, is under intense pressure to strike
Pakistan - or at least the bases of insurgents in the Pakistani portion of
divided Kashmir. Hindu fundamentalists, led by Home Minister L.K. Advani and
Defence Minister George Fernandes, are beating the war drums. Even India's
usually conservative generals are itching to teach Pakistan a lesson.
Pakistan is issuing its own threats and massing troops. The confrontation
with India is a boon for Pakistan's military strongman, Gen. Pervez
Musharraf, diverting public anger over Pakistan's recent debacle in
Afghanistan and its unpopular new role as an American base. Unfortunately for
Pakistan, Musharraf retired or sidelined the army's best generals under U.S.
pressure just before the confrontation with India.
India is moving troops, armour and aircraft to forward attack positions along
its 1,000-mile border with Pakistan. India's three powerful armour-heavy
"strike corps" are poised to sever Pakistan's vulnerable waist in the
Bahawalpur-Rahimyar Khan sectors. India's increasingly potent navy is ready
to blockade Karachi, Pakistan's main port and entry point for oil.
India's 1.2-million man armed forces, with 3,400 tanks and 738 combat
aircraft, outnumber and outgun Pakistan's 620,000 troops, 2,300 tanks and 353
warplanes. India's arsenal is mostly modern Russian equipment, while
Pakistan's is obsolescent. Equally important, Pakistan's limited industrial
base allows only a short war, while India's much larger economy can sustain a
The U.S. is leading frantic diplomatic efforts to prevent war. But passions
are running very high. The most likely war scenario: Indian commando and air
attacks on insurgent bases in Pakistani Kashmir which could escalate to
full-scale war. Pakistan probably cannot halt a massive Indian invasion
without using tactical nuclear weapons. This, in turn, could trigger nuclear
strikes against military and civilian targets. I hope both nations will pull
back from the brink, but a false report, or another raid, could set off a
huge, devastating war with unimaginable consequences.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of War at
the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet
which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]
[Of the nine million people in the Indian-controlled Kashmir Valley, 95 per cent
are Muslim and most want independence, although a few want to belong to
Pakistan, which controls a third of Kashmir.--Sandra Jordan, "Heavenly
Kashmir is still mired in hell as a dirty war gets dirtier," The Observer,
April 4, 2004]
[Through . . . background diplomacy, both countries have
concluded that in order to make progress they would have to move beyond their
publicly stated positions. They have also agreed that any solution needs to be
realistic and acceptable to the Kashmiri people. This is a significant departure
from the past. . . .
In 1998 Farooq Kathwari, a Kashmiri Muslim and CEO and president of Ethan
Allen, put together the Kashmir Study Group, composed of leaders from Congress
and academia, and scholars from India and Pakistan, to study the conflict for
possible solutions. It envisions regional autonomy for the main five regions of
Kashmir with an overall authority to look after tourism, economic development,
and the environment. The main Kashmiri resistance groups in Indian Kashmir have
reportedly agreed to such an arrangement.--S. Amjad Hussain, "Can India, Pakistan agree on Kashmir?," Toledo Blade, March 12,
Copyright © 2001 Eric Margolis - All Rights