Post-Iraq War Reverberations Threaten Peace in the Subcontinent

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While the United States and Britain were busy with the preparation and execution of the war on Iraqi, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government kept the heat on in the subcontinent. Most significantly, New Delhi has attempted to universally apply the doctrine of "pre-emption" as put forward by Washington on the eve of the Iraq war. In March and April Indian leaders, including Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha and Defense Minister George Fernandez, indulged in a barrage of military threats against Pakistan. Fernandez said India could "wipe Pakistan out of existence," while Sinha determined Pakistan to be a fit case for a "preemptive" strike.

India, of course, knows that the analogy does not hold. It also knows that taking to arms against another nuclear power (Pakistan) over alleged cross-border violations around a disputed territory (Kashmir) can only spell disaster for the subcontinent, and perhaps the whole world.

Taking note of the vitriolic statements being issued by Indian leaders, U.S. secretary of State Colin Powell was quick to point out that there was "no parallel" between Kashmir and Iraq. Richard Haas, State Department director for policy planning, warned India that attacking Pakistan is "simply not wise." As quoted in the April 18 Washington Post, Haas further said: "You don't have the years of effort in the security Council or anywhere else where diplomacy has been exhausted."

U.S. Deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly is scheduled to visit India and Pakistan to initiate a dialogue between the two countries in an effort to reduce tensions. While Pakistan always has welcomed third-party intervention or mediation, India has resisted it. Washington, for its own reasons, has been hesitant to offer direct mediation between India and Pakistan. This has emboldened New Delhi not to agree to a negotiated solution of the long-standing Kashmir dispute. A biannual CIA report submitted to Congress, however, accused India of helping Libya develop missile technology. Reacting sharply to the CIA report, Indian Defense Minister Fernandez, deflecting the charge, lashed out at Washington: "It has been proven what America has been saying about WMD [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq was not right," he was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India April 12. "What has happened in Iraq is not acceptable..."

Advocating a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute and decrying the belligerent rhetoric of government leaders, Indian journalist Taveel Singh wrote in the April 13 Indian Express: "This [pre-emptive strike talk] will be music to the ears of local hawks, fanatics and general loonies but will do nothing to bring peace to the subcontinent."

Veteran Indian author and journalist Kushwant Singh in his latest book, End of India (read end of secular India), attributes the present malaise to the rise of extremist Hindu nationalism in the country under the BJP. "India is going to the dogs and, unless a miracle saves us, the country will break up," observed Singh in the April 17 Washington Post. "It will not be Pakistan or any other foreign power that will destroy us," he warned. "We will commit hara-kiri."

Under severe pressure from Washington, and with an eye on the upcoming Indian elections, Vajpayee-who had rejected any talk of meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf-told a Kashmiri audience on April 18 that he was now willing to talk peace with Islamabad. While Pakistan has welcomed Vajpayee's overture, no one is willing to place any bets on it. In fact, Bal Thackeray, head of the militant Hindu extremist group Shiv Sena, immediately questioned Vajpayee's statement. "The changing stance of BJP will not help the party in the coming elections," he warned. …