Magazine article The American Prospect

Back to Brinksmanship: How India and Pakistan Arrived at a Nuclear Standoff

Magazine article The American Prospect

Back to Brinksmanship: How India and Pakistan Arrived at a Nuclear Standoff

Article excerpt

INDIA AND PAKISTAN STAND ONCE AGAIN ON THE BRINK of war. The moment is a precarious one and the stakes are high, not just for the region but potentially for the world. The United States has burgeoning interests in the subcontinent since the war in Afghanistan, and renewed Indo-Pakistani conflict could divert needed resources from the effort to stamp out terrorism. Incautious statements from both Indian and Pakistani leaders have also raised fears that a nuclear exchange may be in the offing. The consequences would be far-reaching and devastating. Nonetheless, only three years after their last confrontation prompted frantic U.S. diplomatic overtures and direct personal intervention by President Bill Clinton, these two nuclear-armed adversaries have, since the beginning of this year, been staring each other down across their shared border.

The trigger for the current crisis was an incident last December, when operatives of two Pakistan-based insurgent groups attacked the Indian parliament. Security guards managed to keep the terrorists away from legislators, but in the shootout that followed, six Indians were killed along with the five attackers. Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, condemned the attack, but his principal military spokesman suggested that India had assaulted its own parliament in an effort to implicate Pakistan. Under intense pressure from India and the United States, Musharraf banned the two groups responsible for the attacks and promised to squelch the activities of other terrorists operating from inside Pakistan. He refused, however, to hand over 20 individuals whom the Indian government accuses of involvement in a range of terrorist activities on Indian soil. In the intervening months, it turns out, Musharraf has also failed to end his country's support for terrorism in Kashmir, even while he has supported the U.S. effort to root out al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters along his western border with Afghanistan.

Indeed, although he initially cracked down on several of Pakistan's militant Islamic organizations, Musharraf looked the other way when the groups' members resumed activities under new names. In response, India has adopted a strategy of coercive diplomacy, massing close to half a million troops along the India-Pakistan border and the so-called Line of Control that divides the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. India's leaders have made clear that for New Delhi to reverse the military buildup, the infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan into India must end.

Indo-Pakistani relations have a long and troubled history, of which the current crisis is merely the latest chapter. Since both independent states emerged from the detritus of the British empire in 1947, they have fought four wars (1947-48, 1965,1971, and 1999). Their most intractable conflict is the one over Kashmir, the mostly Muslim state whose Hindu ruler chose to join his lands to India in 1947. Pakistan contested that arrangement and invaded the territory, touching off the first Indo-Pakistani war. By the end, Pakistan controlled about one-third of Kashmir. The status of the state has remained unresolved ever since.

The Indo-Pakistani conflict lay mostly dormant for several decades. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Indian government sought to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris by investing in education, mass media, and social welfare. Yet at the same time, the authorities engaged in considerable political chicanery, as they attempted to prevent a secessionist elite from taking power through the electoral process. By 1989, these policies, combined with fundamental social changes within Indian-controlled Kashmir, had helped spark an ethno-religious insurgency in the fabled Kashmir Valley.

Pakistan's political and military leadership saw a vital opportunity in Kashmir's brimming reservoir of discontent with Indian misrule. Over the next several years, Pakistan's military intelligence organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, provided Kashmiri rebels with military training, logistical support, and physical sanctuaries. …

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