Pakistan-India Conflict Now Has Nuclear Threat

Article excerpt

High near the top of the world in the Himalayas, India and Pakistan are at each other's throats again. With clockwork timing, as spring makes fighting in the high terrain possible and political instability shakes both countries, the rockets, shelling and shooting resume.

This time the script is the same, but the stakes are much higher.

India has sent in its air force to evict separatist guerrillas who have infiltrated the border state of Kashmir. Pakistan says it has downed two planes, and the guerrillas have downed a helicopter. The air strikes have claimed many dozens of lives.

But the greater peril may be that this is the first major escalation of the long-standing border conflict since both countries became openly nuclear powers: Last May, they conducted tit-for-tat tests of atomic and hydrogen bombs. During the past year, both have tested missiles that can reach all of each other's major cities.

The United States, other western countries and China and Russia have called for restraint.

Although their relationship regularly has its ups and downs and they have strong cultural links, India and Pakistan have fought two previous wars over Kashmir, which is strategically located where India, Pakistan and China intersect. It is the only majority Muslim state in predominantly Hindu India.

India and Pakistan both claim the state as their own. Some Kashmiris want it to be their own, sovereign state.

About 25,000 people have died in the conflict this decade. India accuses Pakistan of arming an insurgency movement. Pakistan denies it.

The conflict has raged at times in extraordinarily inhospitable conditions. For 15 years, the nations have fought over the Siachen glacier, at 18,000 feet the highest battlefield in the world. Shivering soldiers huddle in igloos and exchange intermittent fire over a place where no one can live. More soldiers die as a result of cold, the lack of oxygen and steep falls than from enemy bullets.

It's hard for even the most diehard hawks not to see the absurdity of such a conflict, yet it is characteristic of relations between the two countries. …