Commentary – By Praful Bidwai
NEW DELHI, Sep (IPS) – South Asian nuclear rivals India and Pakistan
have again crossed swords and revived their barely-suppressed mutual
hostility through verbal duels between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
and President Gen Pervez Musharraf.
The only difference is that, this time around, the duelling venue is the
United Nations in New York and events on the sidelines of the General
Assembly session, which both leaders have addressed in recent days.
The two states have also moved closer toward deploying their nuclear
weapons and missiles. This highlights the heightened danger from any new
confrontation that may begin between India and Pakistan.
Barely five months ago, Vajpayee held out ”the hand of friendship” to
Pakistan from Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley. He invited Pakistan to walk
the path of peace and reconciliation. Musharraf and other Pakistani leaders
responded warmly to the offer, the first after their 10 months-long
confrontation – consisting of the deployment of one million soldiers
between them — ended 11 months ago.
However, this Wednesday, Musharraf at the United Nations tore into
India’s position on Kashmir and attacked New Delhi for its ”brutal
suppression of the Kashmiris’ demand for self-determination and freedom
from Indian occupation” while urging the United Nations and the major
powers to intervene to resolve the ”dangerous” dispute.
In a tat-for-tat reply the next day, Vajpayee assailed Pakistan for
supporting and using ”cross-border terrorism” as ”a tool of blackmail”.
He also accused Musharraf of having made ”a public admission for the
first time that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism in Ã Kashmir. After
claiming that there is an indigenous struggle in Kashmir, he has offered to
encourage a general cessation of violence Ã in return for ‘reciprocal
obligations and restraints’.”
Musharraf demanded, without naming India, that ”states which occupy and
suppress other peoples, and defy the resolutions of the (Security) Council,
have no credentials to aspire for (its) permanent membership”.
Indian leaders dismissed these remarks as ”rubbish” and the result of
Pakistan’s ”annual itch” on Kashmir.
Vajpayee countered: ”Most U.N. members today recognise the need for an
enlarged and restructured Security Council, with more developing countries
as Ã members”. This vocalised India’s aspiration for a permanent Security
How has this degeneration into mutually hostile rhetoric come about?
Broadly, it has involved three processes playing themselves out over the
past five months.
First, India and Pakistan have consciously tried to throttle growing and
exuberant people-to-people or civil society contacts between their two
countries. Ever since the Lahore-Delhi bus route, suspended in January last
year, was recently resumed, there have been a large number of visits of
friendly citizens’ delegations, businessmen, schoolchildren’s groups, and
journalists’ organisations as well as parliamentarians’ conferences.
These were many steps ahead of the extremely slow-paced, reluctant and
very guarded official-level exchanges.
Now both countries, especially Pakistan, have clamped down on such
visits through the simple expedient of denying visas to each other’s
citizens. The worst cases of such denial are the cancellation of a jurists’
and lawyers’ delegation, and a high-powered visit by Indian businessmen.
Secondly, the two governments have quibbled over the sequence and
content of the steps to be taken for normalising bilateral relations. They
restored ambassador-level contacts and restarted the bus service. But they
failed to reach an agreement on the resumption of severed air and rail
links or trade.
India made the restoration of rail links conditional upon the resumption
of flights between the two countries’ cities as well as free passage
through their airspace.
Pakistan, in turn, insisted that air links could not be resumed unless
India assured it that it would not unilaterally suspend overflights, as it
did last year, and earlier, in the 1971 Bangladesh war. The talks held late
But the third, and most important, process involved a bloody-minded
refusal by both establishments to make sincere attempts to remove mutual
misunderstanding, build confidence and take such unconditional steps as
they could without compromising their positions.
It is as if both had vowed to ensure that the tentative peace initiative
begun in mid-April would collapse. They increasingly made self-fulfilling
prophesies of doom and laid down conditions that were destined not to be
Thus, India has over the past few weeks hardened its insistence that
there could be no meaningful dialogue with Pakistan until ”cross-border
terrorism” is completely ended.
Pakistan in turn has questioned India’s willingness to discuss the
Kashmir issue and hinted that terrorist activity across the border would
not stop until India’s repression in Kashmir ends.
Islamabad claims that the separatist militancy in Kashmir is fully
indigenous and that it only lends it ”moral and political support”. But
its general credibility on this issue is low. Islamabad made an identical
claim in respect of the Taliban too, although it virtually created it,
trained it and infiltrated it into Afghanistan in the early 1990s.
There is pretty strong evidence that Islamabad’s secret service cut off
support to Kashmiri militants some months ago. But India claims that this
was revived in recent weeks. There is no independent verification of this.
Underlying the failure to negotiate reconciliation and normalisation is
deep-seated resentment and suspicion on both sides, compounded by domestic
India is ruled by its most right-wing government in 56 years, led by a
strongly Islamophobic party, which often equates terrorism with Pakistan
and Islam. In Pakistan, Musharraf faces a tough Islamist opposition that
accuses him of having sold out on Kashmir.
Amid the mounting India-Pakistan rivalry come intensified preparations
in both countries to further build their missile programmes and
fissile-material stockpiles and to proceed toward the deployment of
On Sep. 1, India’s newly formed Nuclear Control Authority held its
first-ever meeting and reviewed the arrangements in place for the
”strategic forces programme”. It took ”a number of decisions on further
development of the programme”, which will ”consolidate India’s nuclear
Exactly two days later, in a tit-for-tat response, Pakistan too held a
meeting of its National Control Authority. This decided to make
”qualitative upgrades” in the nuclear programme.
Since then, the Indian defence ministry has confined that it is to
”operationalise” the nuclear-capable intermediate-range Agni missile and
that it has sanctioned the raising of two missile groups.
Independent international experts believe that Pakistan is currently
more advanced than India so far as the deployment-readiness of missiles goes.
Both countries now have short and medium-range missiles capable of
carrying nuclear warheads and reaching each other’s cities in less than 10
minutes. There are no worthwhile crisis-prevention and -risis-diffusion or
confidence-building measures in place between India and Pakistan. They are
suspicious of each other’s nuclear doctrines and have not hesitated to
resort to nuclear blackmail.
During the Kargil war of 1999, they exchanged nuclear threats no fewer
than 13 times. More recently, in their 10 month-long eyeball-to-eyeball
confrontation, they came perilously close at least twice to actual combat.
India threatened conventional surgical strikes and a ”limited war”.
Pakistan warned that any war would escalate to the nuclear plane.
With Kashmir as the flashpoint, the threat of Nuclear Armageddon now
looms larger over South Asia. (END/IPS/
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