FOR THE people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan, the prospect of a war which may escalate into a nuclear conflict is terrifying. George Bush and Tony Blair claim to be horrified but the US and Britain are the world’s largest arms dealers. In 2001 when the Kashmir crisis last threatened a war, British arms exports to India and Pakistan – worth £64 million and £6 million respectively – went ahead. In the past year Blair’s government has authorised the sale of billions of pounds worth of military hardware.
Stop this trade in death | War threatens workers and poor… | …but enriches the merchants of death | Floods and famine | Kashmir: A history of conflict
GC JAGADISH of New Socialist Alternative (CWI, India) examines the prospects for regional war and puts forward a socialist programme for the Left to stop the conflict. CWI online
War clouds hang over India and Pakistan
Only the workers and poor can stop this conflict
INDIA’S RULING elite is making full-scale preparations for war. Troops have been mobilised and the navy has moved five warships from the coast of Andhra Pradesh to the Western coast.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee speaking to the soldiers in the forward post of Kupwara, Jammu and Kashmir sector, has exorted the Jawans (soldiers) to ’be prepared for extreme sacrifices and make history with a decisive victory over the terrorism of Pakistan’.
In Pakistan, General Musharraf has met with his National Defence Council and issued a warning to India that he will meet any military challenge. Pakistan’s former ISI (Inter Services Intelligence agency) chief, Javed Ashraf Qazi, a cabinet minister, has stated: "If Pakistan is being destroyed through conventional means, we will destroy them [India] using the nuclear options…"
After the attack on the Indian army camp in Jammu and Kashmir – allegedly by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba separatist guerrillas, which killed 30 people – US president George Bush called Vajpayee five times in 48 hours to restrain the Indian administration.
The fear of Western powers that the present confrontational situation could escalate into an all-out war is underlined by the long list of European, British and US officials and representatives lining up for visits to the sub-continent.
Although the military build up is nothing new, (both countries were on the verge of war last December) it is the extreme language on both sides that has created fear among the people of Pakistan and India.
Nearly 70 villages on the Indian side of the border have been affected by the current low-scale war. Scores of people have fled from these villages to safety from the cross-border firing. An equal number of villages have been ravaged on the Pakistan side.
This sudden escalation of tensions between these two nuclear countries is a direct consequence of the very weakness of these regimes internally.
In India, the outcry against the sectarian Gujarat massacres (see The Socialist 8/3/02) – which exposed the ruling Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) culpability – has put the regime increasingly on the defensive.
Even prior to the Gujarat incidents the BJP’s electoral popularity was on the wane. Of the 22 State Assembly and one Union territory elections held since 1998, the BJP and its allies lost in all, except four. One of the very reasons for the BJP to beat the nationalist drum is because it was losing its traditional hard core Hindu votes. Although a rigged referendum has made Pakistan’s General Musharraf President for the next five years, he is holding on to power through the barrel of the gun. But it is only a matter of time before another internal military squabble will break out under the behest of unemployed former ISI chiefs backed by Islamic fundamentalists who are displeased with Musharraf’s support for the USA’s ’war on terrorism’.
For both Mush-arraf and the BJP a diversion from day-to-day domestic problems is a necessity, (though it may be far fetched to suggest that a war would be their option). Both regimes have played with such fire in the past but it is entirely a different ball game now, as both have stockpiled nuclear weapons.
The recent attack on the Indian army camp and the assassination of the ’moderate’ Kashmiri nationalist Abdul Gani Lone of Hurriat Conference has come in very handy for BJP and its allies to blame Pakistan and the ISI for what they call "cross-border terrorism". While the Indian administration is weighing its options, a full-scale war is unlikely given the nuclear angle and US imperialism’s pressure on them.
A commando ’Rambo’ style operation crossing the border is being suggested to save face in the situation. But such an adventure could escalate into a full-scale war.
The Parliamentary opposition to the BJP in India is hopelessly ineffectual. Sonia Gandhi’s Congress has switched from ’anti-BJP’ mode to ’national unity against Pakistan-aggression’ jingoistic mode. The Left, ie the two ’communist’ parties CPI(M) and the CPI, have advised the government to urge the US to act against Musharraf and terrorist groups. So much for their anti-imperialism!
Though this opportunity may be useful for the BJP to solve its sullied image problems in the short term, if the war is on, it will be a disaster, as the Hindu communal forces emboldened by recent events will attack the Muslim minority accusing them of ’extra-territorial loyalty’ and of being ’Pakistani agents’.
Even a small scale war or war-like operation will bring the entire sub-continent to the precipice of nuclear holocaust. Only the working class and youth of these countries can stop the war-mongering regimes of India and Pakistan.
The CWI in the region will be actively participate along with other Left forces in anti-war protests and movements.
The New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) says:
- No to war.
- Yes to class unity.
- Stop the internal war on Muslims and other minorities in India.
- Fight against the designs of India and Pakistan and the US to sideline the democratic demands of the Kashmiri people for an independent state.
- Stop the nuclear arms race.
- Reverse the huge defence expenditure.
- For the creation of socially productive civilian jobs, employment and education. Oppose the so-called ’war on terrorism’ by the US.
According to the Daily Mirror, at least a third of this arms trade goes to nations where there’s the "risk of provoking or prolonging conflict". From the arms sellers’ viewpoint, it’s a sales opportunity. But it’s murderous for the countries involved. In one year British arms dealers sold £6.5 million worth of machine gun parts to Sierra Leone, an African state torn apart by war. They sold Israel £12.5 million worth of combat aircraft, helicopters, tanks and rifles and also sold millions in arms to Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the Middle Eastern cockpit.
Now foreign secretary Jack Straw says that he won’t block BAe Systems’ sale of Hawk jets to India. Once again, there are no plans for an arms embargo, despite new threats of war.
New Labour no longer talks of an "ethical foreign policy". What drives the government’s foreign policy is what is good for British arms manufacturers’ profits.
Unfortunately union leaders like Ken Jackson of engineering union Amicus say we should carry on selling weapons as it keeps armaments jobs in existence.
This is wrong as well as heartless. How many jobs have these ’defence’ industries destroyed? How about using the arms merchants’ resources to produce what people need throughout the world. Instead of producing bombs, guns and military hardware, why not make machines to detect landmines?
Why not build agricultural machinery, medical equipment or even pre-fabricated blocks for emergency housing which is needed in most areas of the world?
We don’t just plead with the arms companies to beat their swords into ploughshares. We fight to take them – and other big companies, banks and finance houses – into public ownership under democratic workers’ control and management. Then we can use their vast wealth and resources for the public good, not to destroy the world with weapons of annihilation.
INDIA AND Pakistan keep ratcheting up the prospect of war over Kashmir. Last weekend, Pakistan’s military elite test-fired its ’Ghaznavi’ missiles, capable of delivering nuclear warheads hundreds of miles.
India’s Prime Minister AB Vajpayee responded by demanding that Pakistan rein in its ’Jehadi’ guerrillas operating in Indian occupied Kashmir before its "patience ran out".
Both belligerent powers have massed troops along their common border and the Line of Control (LoC – the ceasefire line in Kashmir). And with India and Pakistan brimming with nuclear weapons, an all-out war would kill millions on both sides.
Artillery shelling along the LoC has killed and injured many Indian and Pakistani civilians, destroying villages and forcing thousands to flee their homes.
The ruling classes of India and Pakistan are increasing their expenditure on armaments and maintaining huge armies, yet millions are denied access to healthcare, education and employment. The cost of one jet aircraft could provide clean water for 1.5 million people for life.
This obscene squandering of resources amongst some of the world’s poorest people is a result of territorial and regional power ambitions of India’s and Pakistan’s ruling classes. This struggle for regional political influence has been made more volatile by the fall out from the US-led war in nearby Afghanistan.
The toppling of the Pakistani-backed Taliban regime, apart from dispersing Jehadi guerrilla fighters throughout the region, has made General Musharraf and his clique even more hungry for influence over the two-thirds of Kashmir occupied by India.
The rehabilitation of the Musharraf military dictatorship by the US and the Western powers in return for the use of Pakistan’s military facilities to hunt Al Qa’ida forces has also made India extremely envious of this preferential status.
That is why India has gone on a diplomatic offensive to identify Pakistan as the sponsors of Kashmiri ’terrorists’. George Bush’s pronouncement that Musharraf wasn’t doing enough to de-activate these Jehadi guerrillas shows that India is winning the propaganda war.
Meanwhile the people of Kashmir suffer under the oppressive rule of both Pakistan and India, being denied the right to self-determination for more than 50 years.
The current conflict between India and Pakistan and the subjugation of Kashmir shows that imperialism and rule by the regional capitalist powers can only bring about war, poverty and deny people their democratic rights. Only a mass movement of workers and the urban and rural poor throughout the sub-continent behind the banner of international socialism can end this cycle of death and destruction.
TONY BLAIR and foreign secretary Jack Straw have flatly denied press reports that the British government had blocked the sale of 66 Hawk jets worth £1 billion by BAe systems to India.
Despite the looming threat of war between India and Pakistan Straw says that there are "no plans for an [arms] embargo"… "decisions are made on a case by case basis."
Yet earlier Straw had warned that "the build-up of military forces in Kashmir could all too easily spiral out of control into a conventional and then a nuclear conflict of a kind we have never seen before".
If impending nuclear war isn’t a case for banning arms sales then what is? In 1997 New Labour allowed the sale of Hawk jets to Indonesia – whose government was then suppressing the people of East Timor – on the grounds that the government was legally obliged to fulfil a previously negotiated order. What is Tony Blair’s excuse now?
THE CONFLICT over Kashmir could be exacerbated by the question of water. The Indus provides water for irrigation in Pakistan. But it rises in the Himalayas, in India occupied Kashmir and flowing mostly through Kashmir and into Pakistan.
The New Scientist reports that "India could cut Pakistan’s water supply by diverting water from the Western to the Eastern tributaries." And it reports that a breakdown in the treaty could lead to widespread famine. Moreover, if India opened the sluice gates it could "generate devastating floods." India has failed to set up the annual water treaty meeting with Pakistan this year and threatens to pull out of the treaty altogether.
India gains independence after strikes, mutinies and hunger strikes forced British imperialism out of the subcontinent. But divisions between Hindus and Muslims, a legacy of British imperialism’s divide and rule tactics, led to the partition into India and Pakistan and numerous skirmishes over disputed areas.
Kashmir, then ruled by a maharajah (prince) was invaded by Pakistan and then India. War lasted until 1949 when the "line of control" – the border between Indian-occupied (IOK) and Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (POK) – was established. Pakistan gains one-third of Kashmir.
India’s war with China leaves China in control of part of Kashmir claimed by India. 1965. War after new border exchanges in Kashmir and Punjab.
India and Pakistan’s war over the secession of Bangladesh (the former East Pakistan) sees heavy fighting in Kashmir, ended by new ceasefire and new line of control.
Troops fire on independence protesters in IOK which came under direct rule from the Delhi government. India and Pakistan come close to a nuclear "exchange" over Kashmir.
The Kargil mountain war. Tensions escalated over the long disputed ’line of control’ as crisis-racked nationalist governments in India and Pakistan – both now nuclear powers – came to the brink of all-out war again.
A devastating suicide bombing outside the state legislature in Srinigar followed by an attack on the Indian parliament in December by Kashmiri separatists, in which 13 were killed including the attackers, led to Pakistan and India again going onto a war footing and triggering a mass exodus from villages along the line of control.