India and Pakistan: rhetoric, not war

After an exchange of light weapons fire along the border with Kashmir, a civilian has died and three more have been injured. This incident is one more in a growing escalation of tension which began on December 13th, when an attack on the Indian Parliament by a terrorist group left 12 dead and 17 wounded.

India accused Pakistan of fomenting terrorism by financially backing the Kashmiri separatists, a faction of which was responsible for the attack. Pakistan has always denied actively supporting these groups, claiming instead that it limits itself to giving political backing to fellow Moslems.

The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar, has called the Indian build-up of troops across the border “a threat to peace” and declares the situation “dangerously tense”. Meanwhile, the Indian prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee has refused to attend peace talks in Nepal. As Pakistan removes civilians from its side of the border, the international press gears up for yet another conflict, which would be the fourth between these two countries.

This is not going to happen. Pakistan’s armed forces are outnumbered by two to one in all departments by the Indians and while both countries have nuclear weapons, Pakistan would never deploy these against conventional forces. The Indians claim that it is Pakistan’s responsibility to see that the terrorist groups operating from bases inside Pakistani Kashmir are neutralised, while President Bush has called on Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf to take “decisive measures against extremists”.

Two days after President Musharraf declared that Pakistan would never start a war, his Foreign Minister confirms: “Pakistan is not looking for any war, neither local nor general, conventional or nuclear”, while India’s Prime Minister says “We must do everything to avoid conflict”.

Indian Kashmir has 9 million inhabitants, 60% of whom are Moslems. The population of Pakistani Kashmir is 3 million but Pakistan maintains that all of Kashmir should become a unified state because the majority of its citizens are Moslems. The Kashmiri separatists are in favour of a total annexation by Pakistan. Chinese Kashmir is situated in the north-east and south-east of the province. India claims this territory as being part of Indian Kashmir.

After the partition of the British Indian Territories in 1947, the British administration drew the frontiers of the new nations (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, West Pakistan, now Pakistan and India, according to the religious majorities living within the areas. In the former two cases, the majority of inhabitants are Moslems and in India, Hindus.

Kashmir has been the cause of three wars (1948/9; 1965 and 1971). 30,000 people have died as a consequence. After thirty years of uneasy peace, it does not seem likely that now, under pressure by Russia, China and the USA to reach agreement, there will be an all-out war between these two nuclear nations.


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