Nuclear Tension Oer the Kashmir
Jennifer McMillan
War & Peace: Confrontation: Yugoslavia, Kashmir, Cyprus, Algeria

India and Pakistan were once one country.  Ever since Britain's partition of the Indian Empire more than fifty years ago, they have been arch rivals.  Their animosity has its root in religion, India being mostly Hindu and Pakistan largely Muslim, and relations between the two countries have deteriorated due to a dispute over the territory of Kashmir since the 1970's.  This animosity has now escalated into a dangerous arms race.

When India gained its independence from Britain on August 15, 1947, the Indian Empire was partitioned into Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan.  With the partition came massive rioting and population flows as Muslims and Hindus found themselves on the wrong sides of the border.  Around half a million people died in extensive violence and communal rioting.  The death toll was highest in the Sikh-occupied Punjab, which was split in two.  The most problematic region was the mostly Muslim territory of Kashmir.  It was expected to go to Pakistan, but after weeks of rioting its Hindu leader ceded the territory to India in return for military aid.

In 1949, India and Pakistan signed a cease-fire.  The western third of Kashmir, Azad Kashmir, fell to Pakistan, while the rest stayed under Indian control.  The two sides agreed to hold a UNsupervised plebiscite to determine the state's future with both sides withdrawing their troops, first Pakistan followed by India.  Although the cease-fire held, neither troop withdrawal nor the plebiscite took place.  The territory became subject to low-level hostilities and the focus of tension between the two countries.  Full-scale fighting erupted in September, 1965, when India alleged that terrorists which had been trained and supplied by Pakistan were operating in the India-controlled Kashmir.  War again broke out in 1971.  To this day, the conflict has still not been resolved.


Over the years, the national opinion of all sections of India has been that the Kashmir is a test of New Delhi's resolve to preserve India intact.  The disputed territory, which has caused two wars between India and Pakistan since 1947, entered a new phase after December 1989 with a display of civil disobedience showing popular support for various separatist groups.  Religious and political sensitivity in the Kashmir led to uncertainty as India and Pakistan judged the territory issue on the basis of geopolitical relationships in the South Asian region.  In doing so, they ignored what should have been their top priority, the people of Kashmir.  Whether it be hostile or peaceful intention, the issue of Kashmir's self-determination is an interest to India and Pakistan which may result in either a nuclear war or in peaceful compromise.


The mass uprising against the Indian government in 1989 caused 600,000 of their troops to be moved into the Kashmir state.  This resulted in a ratio of one soldier for every six Kashmiris, which is the highest militarized zone in the world.  It was frustration that made Kashmiris take up arms against the Indian government; since 1989 there have been over 16,000 deaths, and as a result the Kashmir issue is the "oldest unresolved issue for the United Nations" (Farooq).  Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who spoke at Stanford University October 22, 1998, is a leading member of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference which was formed to fight for Kashmiri independence.  Farooq argued that the leader of the Kashmir acted without the consent of his people when deciding to join India and that India pledged to allow Kashmir to decide its own fate.  He said that a plebiscite has not occurred; as a result "the story of the people of Kashmir has been a story of pain and suffering for fifty years." The United Nations agrees that the Kashmiri people need to resolve their own fate and had ordered India to follow through on their promise to the people of Kashmir.  At this time, though, India has still not allowed the Kashmiri people to choose for themselves their fate as a nation.  Farooq does not understand why the conflict seems only to be that of either Pakistan or India acquiring Kashmir.  "Are we a commodity," Farooq questions.  "We (Kashmiris) are a nation.  We are 13 million people." Farooq went on to say that "the Kashmir is an issue of identity, the identity of a nation.  My people will have no identity until they are allowed to choose their own fate."

The heated conflict between Pakistan and India regarding the Kashmir has recently come to the attention of the world.  The United Nations had always held that Kashmir should be allowed the right to a plebiscite, but there was no impending reason which would make the United Nations force India to give the Kashmiris this right.  In the past year, however, certain happenings have given the rest of the world reason to worry over the outcome of the Kashmir issue.  On May 11, 1998, a statement was issued by the Indian government announcing they had successfully carried out three underground nuclear tests at the Pokhran range.  Two days later, after carrying out two more underground sub-kiloton tests, the Indian government declared themselves a nuclear state.  Days after India tested nuclear weapons, Pakistan followed suit with its own nuclear tests in order to prove they too possessed nuclear capability.

The position of national security and survival is present in the Indian and Pakistani viewpoints on nuclear weapons.  A potent force propelling the Indian and Pakistani weapons programs is nationalism.  This is evident from the national consensus in each country on nuclear policy.  Indian officials stated in The Indian Times that one main factor in the government's deciding whether to test a nuclear weapon was the promise it had made to the people during the last election process.  The majority of Indians wanted to deter not only Pakistan but China as well and thought that a test would help this deterrence.  The rapid technological advances by Pakistan in recent years are a symbol of nationalistic pride in a country which has overcome major political, technical, and industrial challenges, to mount a program with a team of dedicated scientists.  Pakistan and India are showing the world, as China did in the sixties, how a country with limited technical resources and a narrow industrial base can acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities by riding the wave of nationalism.


The Kashmir problem rose to the top of the United Nations' security agenda since the tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May.  The dispute over the Kashmir region is so acute that it evokes the specter of nuclear war in the subcontinent - a risk that became technically realistic in the late 1980's.  Pakistani debate on the nuclear doctrine seems to have followed the line of thinking associated with the evolution of nuclear strategy elsewhere; that is, to adopt the general principles of deterrence, the main adversary being India.  In an effort to discourage a nuclear arms race between the two countries, the United Nations and the United States administered economic sanctions against the two countries only to be lifted in the case of each state signing the NonProliferation Treaty.  This treaty states that all parties would be able to give information about nuclear energy to other nonnuclear nations, but a state cannot transfer any nuclear weaponry or technology to another non-nuclear state.  The Non-Proliferation Treaty recognizes five nuclear superpowers, the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China, and classifies forty-four other countries as those capable of nuclear power.  India and Pakistan are both on this list of forty-four.  Besides Korea, these two enemy states are the only of the forty-four which have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Neither nation sees itself signing the treaty in the near future unless changes have been made.


India refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty because the five nuclear superpowers are unwilling to commit to any timetable for the elimination of nuclear weapons.  Indian officials stated that in the late 1960's, when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated, the complete elimination of nuclear weapons was the declared goal.  Twenty-five years later, when the treaty came up for renewal, the world actually had more nuclear weapons, not less.  India opposes the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because they believe the treaty creates a permanent caste system among nations.  It is believed by both India and Pakistan that the nuclear weapon states are being allowed to get away with freezing in time a category of countries which have nuclear weapons, excluding those that do not have them.  India has suffered greatly from a caste system with unbridgeable barriers, and the idea of a similar system among nations is abhorrent to them.

Although India and Pakistan have not yet signed the NonProliferation Treaty, international pressure has forced many talks between the two countries in order to solve their differences.  Within days of both countries going nuclear, a doctrine emerged in order to calm the world's worries.  In this doctrine, it was agreed upon by both India and Pakistan that India will not use a first strike with their nuclear missiles.  After this was established, it was decided that Pakistan reserves the right to a first strike only if one of their cities is about to fall to Indian troops.  This doctrine is reasonable and safe: given Pakistani deterrence, Indians can stop dreaming about crossing over with massed tanks and besieging Lahore; given Indian depth and range, Pakistan can forget about getting away with a first strike.  Now they can return to their low intensity conflicts without the threat of escalation.  The real incentive to solve the Kashmir issue comes not from the threat of nuclear war but precisely because such open warfare is now ruled out as a solution.  At least this is what India and Pakistan are trying to make the world powers believe.

This doctrine has not eased the pressure like the two countries had hoped, in fact this same pressure has lead them to the negotiation table two times in the last month to discuss their options regarding the Kashmir region.  The international powers are hoping that these forced talks will solve the Kashmir issue without having the United Nations play a major role.

The first set of talks were held October 15th in the Pakistani capitol of Islamabad.  After three days of bilateral talks, there was no effort by either side to move from their entrenched positions on the Kashmir issue or retrospective prescriptions to promote peace and security in the region.  The meeting on the 16th of October, 1998 discussed issues of peace and security including confidence building measures to be taken by both countries.  Both sides underscored their commitment to reduce the risk of a conflict by building mutual confidence in the nuclear and conventional fields.  The meeting on October 17 discussed Kashmir, at which time the two sides reiterated their respective positions.

The Indian Times reported that "since the nuclear tests in the sub-continent, both governments are playing to an international audience; so for the moment the rhetoric has been toned down." Since these talks made no progress on the Kashmir issue, both governments want to convince the watching world that they have worked sincerely towards continuing the peace process.  India and Pakistan made a joint announcement that talks over the Kashmir would take place in February of next year.  The six other issues, which include the Siachen glacier dispute, a maritime dispute, and trade and economic cooperation would be discussed in a week-long meeting in New Delhi between November 5 and 13 of this year.  At this point in time, the outlook was good for solving the Kashmir issue relatively soon and peacefully.  There was still a cease-fire with regard to the troops in the Kashmir, and it seemed as though no fighting would occur in the Kashmir valley.

Hopes were still bright throughout the rest of October and into the first few days of November, 1998.  Talks were to take place on the fifth of November and it was believed that peace was finally in the air between the two countries.  But on November 3, just days before the scheduled peace talks, India announced that Pakistan had launched a heavy attack to capture one of the shoulders of a strategic pass in the northern part of the Siachen Glacier and that the attempt was foiled by Indian soldiers.  Both countries' defense secretaries were already scheduled to meet on the fifth in New Delhi to discuss a way out of the 14-year-old hostilities on the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield.

On November 5, Pakistani officials traveled to New Delhi to begin, once again, the peace talks between the two countries.  They began their negotiations over water sharing and use of the Jhelum River, which flows through Kashmir.  After heated discussion over this topic, the two countries came to a stalemate.  They decided to begin on the sixth with a whole new subject, the Siachen Glacier.  This was the first attempt in six years to end the war of attrition on this battlefield located over 20,000 feet above sea level.  This confrontation has become a huge financial burden and analysts say it costs the rivals two million dollars a day to maintain troops on the glacier.  Islamabad denied India's claims of skirmishes on the glacier and accused India of seeking to raise tensions in Kashmir another day of discussion and no compromises in sight.  Hope came on the 7th of November when President Clinton announced plans to lift sanctions imposed on the two countries since May.  Both sides welcomed the partial lifting of the sanctions which helped remove tension that surrounded the talks.

Expectations for a breakthrough were low after the first week of discussion.  When India and Pakistan began their last day of talks, they focused on ways to add zest to the economic and commercial cooperation between the two arch-rivals.  It had seemed in the first few days that each country had simply stated its own position and left it at that; since the issues were complex; no one expected conclusive results in one meeting.  The talks may have made more progress had it not been for the heavy Pakistani shelling reported in Kashmir on the last day of negotiations.  Once again, the two countries regressed back into blaming one another; Islamabad denied New Delhi's allegations that it sponsors the militancy in the region and said it only provides moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmir peoples, right to self determination.  The peace talks ended as a barren round with Pakistan accusing its arch-rival of adopting a negative attitude and showing lack of sincerity.  The only good thing that has come from these peace talks is the fact that they are taking place; the fact that there are issues on the agenda is proof that the talks are a major step in normalizing relations.  It would not be expected that two sets of talks could ease tensions which have divided the two countries for the past five decades.

The chance for peace between India and Pakistan will now have to rest on the upcoming negotiations over the Kashmir in February.  As for easing international pressure on the two states, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be visiting the United States to talk with President Clinton and discuss issues in the post-nuclear environment.  Sharif has promised his country, however, that he will not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty in his forthcoming visit to the United States, saying that his country cannot sign the treaty if they will have to recognize only five countries as nuclear powers.  His main goal with this excursion will be to gain the approval of the world community.  India also is trying to increase their favor in the international arena with a scheduled visit from President Clinton in 1999.  But until the Kashmir issue is resolved, there will always be international worry of a nuclear war between the two countries.


A possible resolution to the existing situation between India and Pakistan could be a forced action taken by the United Nations involving the United States Military.  Regardless of the importance placed on the Kashmir by India, the country would not realistically be able to withstand intervention by a stronger and more advanced United States Military.  Not only would national aid be completely cut off, but outside trade for India would be virtually eliminated.  Additionally, troops would be sent in by the United Nations in order to enforce the much awaited plebiscite in the Kashmir.  Despite India's recent contention that it could match up with any other country militarily, the unbiased truth is that the United Nations and the United States put together vastly overpower any army India could potentially assemble.  Of course, a logical prediction to such a forced resolution would be a small war, with the United States and the United Nations on one side and the Indian army on the other.  Almost assuredly the outcome would be a quick loss for India, even though it is such a large and populous country.


Most likely, the only way this delicate issue will finally be settled is if the Kashmir is allowed to vote on its own behalf.  With so much fighting going on within the Kashmir region, all of it coming as a result of the conflict between India and Pakistan, the Kashmir would surely vote for its own independence.  India would not accept this readily or right away, but the benefits of an independent Kashmir would eventually make themselves known and prove convincing.  If the Kashmir was independent of India, economic gains would be seen with increased tourism due to less fear of violence.  It is also possible that the Kashmir could serve as a sort of "buffer zone" between India and Pakistan, and that less fighting would occur as a result.  Trade would likely increase throughout the three regions, a situation beneficial to all involved.  Most importantly, however, there would be no more conflict over the Kashmir.  Perhaps neither India nor Pakistan would be wholly satisfied with the outcome, but that is what compromise often demands.

Even if these two resolutions are too much for India, Pakistan, and the rest of the world to put into practice, the next most logical idea would be to at least have a representative of the Kashmir region at the talks which go on between the two countries.  In voicing its own opinion, the Kashmir issue could at least end with a result that would appease all three parties.  As people continue to suffer through the death and heartache caused by the last fifty years, a peaceful resolution is long overdue and waits to be put into place.


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