After Nuclear Tests, It's Hotter in Paradise Concerns over Nuclear Escalation Focus on Kashmir in the Himalayas, Where Pakistan, India Have Claims
Cameron W. Barr, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
No place could contrast more with the thought of nuclear conflict.
A land of fertile valleys, mountain lakes, and bustling towns, where fruitsellers pile carts high with cherries and boys play cricket, Kashmir ought to be the preserve of poets, lovers, and gentle souls.
Tranquil on the surface, this corner of South Asia is the source of a 50-year-old territorial dispute between the world's two newest avowed nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. In quieter days a paradise for tourists, Kashmir is now a hot spot for strategists. "If the world community and especially the United Nations do not take notice of this grave situation, then the next time India and Pakistan clash there will be a nuclear war," warns Syed Ahmed Shah Geelani, an Islamic political leader in Srinagar, the capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir Province. Still, the prospect of war seems remote, although assessments depend on perspective and agenda. India, waging a successful campaign of attrition against insurgents and separatists, wants the world to think that the situation here is calm. "You can't lower your guard," says Girish Saxena, the governor of the province. But he says his main task is to "consolidate normalcy." Mr. Geelani and other separatists in the province, who oppose Indian rule, want outsiders to think that the two countries are nearing crisis, their leaders' fingers on the button. They and the Pakistanis say that international intervention would work against India in any attempt to resolve this complex and lengthy dispute. Governor Saxena's is an odd sort of normalcy. At the home of one of Saxena's officials, Amitabh Mattoo greets guests in the spacious, flower-fringed house where he grew up. Alongside beds of roses and yellow irises are sentry boxes with soldiers peering over the wall at the street outside. Mr. Mattoo's father, the government official, barely escaped kidnapping by militants a few years ago. "There is this peace," says Mattoo the younger, who happens to be a political scientist who studies his home region. "But discontent seems to be as high as it was before." While the security situation has improved since a few years ago, the ingredients of lingering unrest remain: a government that maintains order through force, insurgents who have outside support, and a populace growing more estranged from its rulers. Mostly Muslim since the 14th century, the province has grown more so as Hindus and those of other faiths have fled. India's government, meanwhile, has grown more Hindu with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Its leaders, one of whom is prime minister in a coalition government, have practiced a brand of politics that identifies Hinduism, India's dominant religion, with nationalism. …