Sri Narendra points outside his office to the baking midday
streets of Delhi - cows meander, children beg, and men sleep on cots
inches from the slow-motion anarchy of the city's traffic: "Do we
look like we are preparing for war?" India's minister of information
asks. "I hope not."
Abroad, reports might suggest a mounting crisis - heavier-than-
usual shelling on either side of the disputed northwest border of
Kashmir, between India and Pakistan, and accounts of massacres of
civilians, including women and children, by terrorists from outside
Here, the situation is seen as business as usual.
Pakistan wants mediation
Behind the escalation of violence and rhetoric, a variety of
diplomats say, is that a bid by Pakistan to use new tensions created
by last spring's nuclear tests to "internationalize" the bitter, 50-
year-old conflict over Kashmir. Pakistan has long wanted a third
party to mediate its claim on the stunning Himalayan valley, a former
mecca for tourists - to make the mainly Muslim Indian state a world
cause, like Cyprus or Northern Ireland.
So far the bid is not working. Leading powers like the United
States, Russia, and China are not willing to play a third-party role
on Kashmir. One high-level US State Department official says there
is "not one iota of interest anywhere in that."
At the same time, observers warn of an unintentional deepening of
the crisis between the two acrimonious nuclear neighbors. Both
governments are relatively unstable, and much of their recent
belligerent rhetoric on Kashmir seems designed to whip up domestic
Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif last week suggested the subcontinent
is "on the brink" of war. Newly elected Hindu nationalist leaders in
India early linked Kashmir to India's nuclear tests, and last week
spoke of "crushing out all resistance."
"The raison d'etre of Pakistan is now Kashmir," says a senior
Western diplomat here. "They see this as their historical moment.
They want to prove that bilateral talks won't work, and so they are
likely to keep things hot in Kashmir for at least eight weeks, or
until the snows come. India is doing little to calm things down."
No imminent war
Despite the saber-rattling over Kashmir, there is deeply held
popular understanding in both Pakistan and India that real warfare is
out of the question.
"People here are sick and tired of Kashmir," says a retired art
historian, finishing his fish and chips. "This is just PR by
Pakistan. No one takes it seriously. We don't even discuss it
Still, given the bitterness of the issue, and the fact that the
economically shattered government of Pakistan has staked so much
political capital on the Kashmir claim, the most optimistic outcome
expected by diplomats in the next few months is a lowering of the
levels of rhetoric and terrorism on both sides of the border.
The less optimistic scenario is that the two sides will produce
even greater levels of conflict in an attempt to appear strong and in
control, with any number of negative dynamics emerging as a result.
"If a party will test a nuclear weapon to keep itself in power,
the idea of provoking a border conflict might seem a minor issue,"
says one Western official. He was speaking of the nationalist Bhara-
tiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government elected in India last
spring, which tested five nuclear weapons days after coming to power,
and after assuring American diplomats that no tests were in the