Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Kashmir a nuclear flashpoint? Dr Qaisar Rashid

Kashmir a nuclear flashpoint? Dr Qaisar Rashid

Not only did any uprising in Kashmir become dependent on local actors rather than on foreign ones but also non-state actors diverted their attention towards India proper from across the international border

The tumultuous history of India and Pakistan does not let them settle in peace. Kashmir is still a disagreement between the two countries, which happen to be nuclear rivals in South Asia. Both India and Pakistan at least agree that the issue of Kashmir is yet to be solved. Unfortunately, the hatred, which has been bequeathed to the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent by the history of sharing the same land for centuries, between India and Pakistan is embodied in the issue of Kashmir.

The next is the accumulated hatred between the two claimants, India and Pakistan, on various issues including the division of the latter into two independent states in 1971, which rendered the issue of Kashmir festering, thereby consuming the lives of thousands of Kashmiris, besides the lives of the army men who fought for their countries against each other over the issue of Kashmir. It is hatred first and the issue of Kashmir later. If the Calcutta riots of 1946 — Hindu-Muslim riots for four days from August 16 to 19, 1946, called the Great Calcutta Killings or the Direct Action Day, which resulted in about 10,000 dead and about 15,000 wounded — had not happened, partition might not have been bloody and a substantial burden of the hatred might have been reduced. In that case, the issue of Kashmir — the unfinished agenda of the 1947 Partition Plan — would have been solved in the earlier days of its formation.

Since 1990, the issue of Kashmir seems to have been relegated to the hands of non-state actors. The uprising in Indian-held Kashmir in the early 1990s was a major manifestation of this fact. The attack on the Kashmir Assembly in Sri Nagar in October 2001, the attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi in December 2001, the attacks on the citizens of Mumbai in November 2008 and the attack on a police station in Gurdaspur in July 2015 are such incidents that multiplied manifold the existing hatred. It is apparent that non-state actors have made three attempts (in 2001, 2008 and 2015) on India’s mainland to make their attacks coincide with the anti-India protests taking place in Indian-held Kashmir. That was how non-state actors have tried to highlight the issue of Kashmir. Nevertheless, the attacks have affected the domestic politics of India more than they have served the purpose of Kashmir. In this background, the rise of right-wing India can be viewed and the insistence of India to top the agenda of bilateral India-Pakistan talks with the topic of terrorism and not with the issue of Kashmir can be understood. During this trajectory, the Kargil war of 1999 can be considered the last ditch effort of Pakistan to serve the cause of Kashmir through military means.

On the conclusion of the 2001-2002 (10 months’ long) military stand-off between India and Pakistan, the latter’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, through a public speech in January 2002, denounced terrorism, pledged not to support non-state actors as an instrument of state policy and banned militant groups. This step further reduced the possibility of infiltration of non-state actors from across the Line of Control (LoC), besides allowing India to fence the LoC, which was completed in September 2004. In its wake, not only did any uprising in Kashmir become dependent on local actors rather than on foreign ones but also non-state actors diverted their attention towards India proper from across the international border, as witnessed in the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and Gurdaspur attacks in 2015.

To make Kashmir a flashpoint of nuclear conflict is one thing and to fight a nuclear war capable of causing mass casualties on the mainland of India and Pakistan is altogether a different thing. Neither of the two contestants may be ready to pay such a huge cost, another component of which will be abandoning the nuclear weapons’ programme forever under international coercion, whether or not the issue of Kashmir is resolved.

Making Kashmir a nuclear flashpoint is more counterproductive than productive. The effort by Pakistan to do so in 1999 (i.e. the Kargil war) showed to the world the frustration felt by Pakistan over the lingering issue of Kashmir. Nevertheless, the same effort exhausted Pakistan’s opportunity to highlight the issue of Kashmir at the international level as a nuclear flashpoint.

That is, by overly using the nuclear strike threat as deterrence, Pakistan has no doubt saved its borders from any probable Indian aggression (by imposing peace in the region) but by so doing Pakistan has also weakened the cause of Kashmir. Pakistan’s effort to impose peace in the region has bedeviled Pakistan’s efforts to invite international attention towards the issue of Kashmir as a probable nuclear flash point. Since 1999, Pakistan has not made any direct effort to make the region nuclear war prone by repeating the Kargil-like conflict to highlight the issue of Kashmir.

Since 2000, from across the international border, non-state actors have tried twice to provoke India directly to challenge Pakistan in making the region a nuclear flash point. However, any such possibility was frustrated in both 2008 and 2015 when India exercised restraint. Hence, now the initiative to make or not make Kashmir a nuclear flashpoint rests with India, though the prerogative of provoking India still lies with non-state actors or with Pakistan.

Generally, the possibility for a Kargil-like or a Mumbai-style repeat performance is no longer available. The space to provoke India has shrunk. The possibility for a third party’s, such as the US, involvement is also little. On the one hand, India discourages the US from playing the role of a mediator while, on the other hand, the anti-US hatred in Pakistan dispirits the US from getting embroiled in the issue. Pakistan is left with the option to appeal to the United Nations to implement its resolutions on Kashmir.

The solution lies in addressing the issue of hatred first. The weight of this hatred can be reduced by allowing people to meet each other.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at qaisarrashid@yahoo.com

Daily Times   2 December 2015 

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