Kashmir in the Nuclear Age


For the last 10 years, the guerrilla war in Kashmir has been an attempt to change the status of the disputed state in a manner similar to the successful Afghan struggle in Afghanistan against the Soviets. But there are crucial differences in the two scenarios, the most important being that the two contestants in the conflict – India and Pakistan – have come to enjoy nuclear power status today. To say that this is a dangerous and unstable exercise is an understatement.

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was an intense 40-year competition, as each side tried to gain every advantage it could over the other. Eventually, the basic folly of communism doomed the Soviets to failure, but not after a prolonged period when the world had to live with the omnipresent risk of nuclear annihilation. What kept that risk from ever being realized? How did the US and the USSR manage their confrontation in such a way that neither side ever felt the need to press the trigger for their nuclear arsenals?

Essentially, both sides agreed to certain rules of the game that were designed to minimize the risk of an all-out war while allowing each party to engage in a cold war of high intensity. There was an implicit agreement never to raise the stakes of confrontation in areas of vital interest to the other side. The one time this was violated, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was the closest the world came to nuclear war. In general, neither side waged an assault on vital parts of the other. Secondly, there was a written agreement (the Helsinki Final Act signed in 1975) that committed both parties not to change the borders of European states by force. Many conservatives in America bitterly opposed this as a sellout of Eastern Europe, but in hindsight it was instrumental in allowing the communist system to decay peacefully.

Neither side attempted to interfere with the intelligence gathering of the other, particularly by satellite and other technical means. This meant that both the US and the USSR could clearly see what the other was doing. Troop movements, missile deployments, naval exercises, and air flights were all constantly monitored. This reassured both sides that they would not be caught by a surprise attack.

Finally, there was a functioning and secure hot line connecting the Kremlin and the White House. In times of crisis the top leadership of both parties could communicate effectively.

Right now, the nuclear relationship between India and Pakistan lacks all these features. But unlike Afghanistan, the Indians appear very unwilling to leave. They have committed 600,000 troops and security personnel to control the Kashmiri region. The guerrillas are outnumbered and ou-tarmed. The end result has been a bloody war with no end in sight and frightful civilian casualties. Although India has clearly dug its heels in Kashmir, its heavy-handed policies have resulted in Kashmir essentially becoming a colony rather than a province of the Indian union. The Kashmiri people are completely alienated from the Indian government and most likely would take independence if given the right to vote.

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