Richard H. Curtiss is executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan is perhaps the most dangerous place in the world. Both India and Pakistan have their own political reasons for continuing the fighting. An example of what can happen next, however, is illustrated by the disaster of the USS Vincennes.
As that American missile ship was patroling in international waters during the Iran-Iraq war, a brief battle suddenly erupted after two Iranian torpedo boats fired at the Vincennes. One of the two Iranian ships was sunk.
Just after that engagement ended, an Iran Airways commercial passenger jet was descending into Dubai from Iran. In the confusion the American missile ship's crew mistakenly decided that the Iranian plane was about to attack them, and fired two missiles. The Iranian plane was blown out of the sky.
What began as a minor mistake that was left uncorrected turned into one of history's biggest aviation disasters--and one from which the repercussions never have completely settled.
Such disasters, on a monumental scale, punctuate the modern history of the Indian subcontinent. After the failure of a number of efforts to keep India intact, partition took place in 1947 with the withdrawal of the country's British colonizers. This was followed by one of the bloodiest massacres in history. As refugees fought to get away either from India or Pakistan, thousands of people on both sides of the new artificial border were killed.
When the partition was completed most Muslims ended up either in West Pakistan or, all the way across India, in an even larger segment then called East Pakistan. The so-called princely states were divided between India and Pakistan. At the last minute, however, one anomaly arose.
Although the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh, was an Indian, most of his subjects were Muslims. War was averted when India and Pakistan agreed to a plebiscite to decide the fate of Kashmir. There were delays in implementing this decision, however, and increasingly it became clear that the Indians wanted to keep that portion which contained Jamu and Kashmir.
Despite numerous United Nations resolutions the dispute remained unsettled. Pakistan argued that Kashmir should become a part of Pakistan because the majority of its inhabitants were Muslims. The Indians claimed, without proof, that Kashmiris wanted to remain a part of India.
This writer recalls that, when he made his first trip to Indonesia in 1951, there was a third solution to the problem. That was to make Kashmir into a separate political entity. It seemed to be one way to end the impasse, along with ironclad guarantees that both Indians and Pakistanis would have equal rights of citizenship.
In 1965 India and Pakistan once again went to war. This resulted in a new agreement in 1972 which was to deal with the still-unresolved Kashmir problem. …