1 - 7 July 1999
Issue No. 436
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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War of nervesBy Gamal Nkrumah
More than just Pakistan's military assets found themselves in the line of fire last week. Western powers, and even China -- a traditional Pakistani ally and a powerful neighbour to both countries -- reacted strongly to the escalation of hostilities, signalling that they see Islamist militants as a greater danger to peace in the western Himalayas than India's compromising of democracy in Kashmir.
This week, the Indian authorities took that compromise one stage further by arresting Ahmad Shah, chairman of the Jammu-Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, along with several of his collegues, as they defied an Indian government ban on marches in the state. According to the French news agency AFP, Shah led a group of protestors who chanted, "Kashmiris have the right to decide their own fate," and "Give us the vote". Shah's arrest followed a similar incident a few days earlier when Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation bringing together two dozen separatist groups, was arrested for leading a procession to mark the Prophet's birthday. As an emergency measure, Indian authorities also closed the airport in Srinagar, the state capital, to all civilian flights.
No matter how much energy the Indian authorities put into organising elections in Kashmir and appeasing the Muslim majority population, circumstances beyond their control seem determined to upset their plans -- mainly in the separatists' favour.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has ruled out, for the time being, launching air strikes against Pakistani targets or pursuing the infiltrators inside Pakistani territory, vowing instead to respect the sanctity of the Line of Control. Nevertheless, India has launched unprecedented air strikes of a different sort, targeting separatist forces within Kashmir. Yet despite the violence of this move, it has failed to stem the flow of infiltrators, or dislodge the guerillas from their mountain strongholds.
The armies of India and Pakistan have been exchanging mortar and heavy artillery fire for the past seven weeks. Skirmishes along the 720-kilometre Line of Control have long been routine business in Kashmir, and the two countries have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947. Two of these wars were fought over Kashmir, while the third ended in the secession of the former East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.
No one expects a detailed blueprint for rapprochement to emerge from either Islamabad or New Delhi any time soon. In spite of the flurry of diplomatic activity, India insists that it has received assurances at the highest level that Washington has no intention of mediating between the two brothers-in-war. To put it bluntly, the powers that be have sanctioned the manner in which India is proceeding -- doing the wrong thing, though for the right reason. China, like most other world powers, is most concerned about Pakistan "exporting fundamentalism", and has taken up the matter directly with Islamabad.
The key player in delivering peace in Kashmir is the United States. Washington first dispatched the Commander-in-Chief of US Central Command, Gen. Anthony Zinni, to hold talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, before sending Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gibson Lanpher to India to appraise New Delhi of the upshot of Zinni's discussions.
The Line of Control has become a euphemism for the international recognition of the de facto partitioning of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. This is a situation with which India is quite happy. Pakistan, however, isn't happy at all, though ostensibly it is interested only in "a just and final settlement of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with United Nations resolutions."
The death and injury toll of Indian troops in the battlefields of Kashmir is mounting and the Indian authorities are increasingly worried about the political consequences. An estimated 350 Indian troops were killed in the seven-week conflict. Meanwhile, the infiltrators are still crossing the Line of Control into Indian territory(photo: AFP)
But it seems that Western powers are now pushing for the two protagonists to accept the partitioning of Kashmir along the Line of Control. This is gross injustice in Pakistani eyes, and yet another glaring example of Western readiness to sacrifice Muslim interests on the altar of international political expediency.
While the G-8 at their Cologne Summit had called for the Line of Control to be respected by both parties, Islamabad returned to issuing barely-veiled threats. "The confrontation in Kargil was symtomatic of the problems that have bedeviled Pakistan-Indian relations over Kashmir," said one recent official statement. "Unless a peaceful solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is reached in the shortest possible time, situations such as Kargil will continue to erupt, threatening peace and endangering the stability of the region."
Islamabad has gone even further, warning that India is auditioning for the role of Hitler in a new era of fascism, genocide and war. Washington made it clear that it does not buy such talk, however, and Gen. Zinni told his Pakistani hosts in no uncertain terms that the US expects them to rein in the armed Islamist intruders who continue crossing over into Indian-controlled territory.
With a population of almost one billion people, and a Gross Domestic Product of $385 billion, India is South Asia's undisputed giant. Pakistan, with barely 140 million people and a comparable GDP per capita, is in a far more vulnerable position - and one that is made worse by Islamabad's image as a bastion of militant Islam. Sharif is received with warm handshakes in Washington and the capitals of oil-rich Gulf states, but his hosts still keep a tight hold on their purse strings, as his regime is widely regarded as being in cahoots with Afghanistan's much-loathed Taliban government.
Militarily, Pakistan is no match for India either -- neither in terms of men under arms or the sophistication of its equipment. Yet Pakistan -- or Pakistani-backed infiltrators -- have inflicted a heavy toll on the Indian army, killing no less than 350 Indian troops since the fighting erupted seven weeks ago.
Nevertheless, in the end, the crucial deciding factor in the present conflict may not be which side is the stronger, but which is able to position itself best in relation to growing American hegemony over the new world order.