Asian Sub-continent on the Brink of Catastrophe

By a Kashmiri socialist (29/05/02)

An eyewitness account from a socialist in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir

KASHMIR, INDIA and Pakistan stand on the edge of a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Two unstable regimes with nuclear weapons threaten to bring destruction to millions of people already suffering from poverty, disease and mass unemployment. Both the Pakistani and Indian regimes are whipping up nationalism and chauvinism in order to create war hysteria.

Neither regime cares for the interests of the working class and peasantry of the region. Since coming to power, the Pakistani military dictatorship under Musharraf has introduced vicious anti-working class, neo-liberal policies. The Vajpayee government pursues similar attacks. Musharraf is using the threat of war to shore up his weakened regime. His policies have nothing to do with winning genuine ‘liberation’ for the Kashmiri people from Indian occupation. The Vajpayee coalition government is also unstable and is attempting to use the threat of war to strengthen its strategic and political interests in the region.

Workers and peasants must mobilise against war

There is an urgent need to mobilise a mass movement of workers and peasants in Kashmir, India and Pakistan against war. Such a movement, armed with a socialist programme to overthrow capitalism and landlordism is, in the long term, the only guarantee against the possibility of a potential nuclear conflict. Since last weekend, CWI supporters and members of the left organisation, the Jammu and Kashmir National Awami Party (JKNAP), held a demonstration of 150 young people against the war in Hajeera, Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (PoK). This village is within shelling distance of the Line Of Control (LoC). Two days after the demonstration shelling from the Indian army killed six villagers.

As I write this report, information has come in that in the Poonch sector shelling has caused widespread devastation. I have just spoken to a father of a three year old – a refugee from Poonch – who said that shelling started in the villages of Mandole, Thar, Butel, Serah, TatriNote, and Tattapani, this morning (Tuesday), around 4.45am, and lasted till 6.45am, during which over 500 shells were fired. Around 30-32,000 people have been displaced. Three women were injured, three houses destroyed, and three buffaloes were killed. Housing rent has rocketed again. It is much the the same terrible situation in Nakyaal sector, and surrounding villages, where shelling continues all day.

The president of JKNAP, Anwar Khan, said that around fifty shells fell on the PoK side of LoC, ten of them near his house. The situation in hospitals as far as facilities are concerned is that even before the conflict they were in a dire state, with lack of basic medical facilities. I spoke to a woman who had suffered leg injuries. She told me that because of the pressure on beds she was moved from a bed with a fan (vital in the searing heat) to one that had no ventilation. Her son complained to the hospital authorities but with no success. Her son was a student from Khuratta, 30 km from Kotli. Indian shells fell on a degree college in Khuratta, and all educational institutions have been closed. This was the first time the town was fired upon since the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Unknown numbers of people have fled the area.

The mood on the ground is one of fear, but a greater anti-war mood exists in the urban areas, which need to be organised. According to the national Pakistani newspaper, Dawn (24 May 2002), “India resorting to some limited strike in Azad Kashmir (PoK) on the assumption that hostilities in the event will remain confined to the disputed territory…[has brought forward the assumption] of limited war, which, given the ground realities, could turn into [a] nuclear exchange, which has led to [a] ‘Armageddon’ scenario, with millions being killed”.

One million troops amassed

The five month long stand-off between the two regional nuclear powers, arising from the 13 December 2001 attack on the national Indian parliament in New Delhi, has led to the amassing of nearly one million soldiers on the international borders between India and Pakistan, and on the dividing LOC in occupied Kashmir. The almost continuous shelling across the LOC – vastly underreported by the western press – has led to the displacement of over 100,000 people on both sides of the LoC.

The region has witnessed the largest military build-up of armed forces since the last Indo-Pak war of 1971.The present standoff between the two nuclear rivals occurred after a 14 May attack on an Indian army camp in Jammu, the winter capital of IOK. Over thirty people were killed and several injured. This assault took place the day Christina Rocca, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, was due to meet Vajpayee to discuss ways of reducing the escalating military tensions between Indian and Pakistan.

The Hindu nationalist BJP government expelled Pakistan’s ambassador to India following another attack on 19 May. The Indian government then deployed five missile carrying nuclear warships in the Arabian Sea on 21 May. Vajpayee, while addressing Indian troops during a three-day visit to IoK on 22 May, increased his warmongering rhetoric and called for a “decisive fight” and “sacrifices for the victory”. He also announced a package of $1.3 billion for the IoK ‘government’, which is led by the nationalist Farooq Abdullah. Vajpayee’s visit coincided with a three-day strike, which was particularly solid in Srinigar. During the first day of Vajpayee’s visit, Abdul Gani Lone, a “moderate” leader of the Peoples’ Conference (a component part of the APHC (All Parties Hyuirriat Conference), a grouping of 23 political organisations with a pro-Pakistan stand), was assassinated during a public rally. Since then the number of casualties around the LoC has climbed rapidly.

According to the official media on both sides of the LOC, fifty people have been killed in PoK and around sixteen in IoK, along with the displacement of at least 80,000 refugees. In PoK there has been no official confirmation of the deaths and the displacement of thousands of families that occurred after very heavy artillery duels, including heavy mortar and machine gun fire, on both sides of the LoC.

The PoK government is run by the right wing Muslim Conference (MC), which is a staunch supporter of ‘accession to Pakistan’. The president, Sardar Anwar Khan, is a serving Major General in the Pakistani army. Sikhandar Hayat, the prime minister of PoK, has been marginalised by the military thus exposing the infighting within the ruling elite.

The main leader of the MC, Sardar Abdul Qayuum Khan, the head of the ‘Kashmir Committee’, is currently on trip to the US, to attend a gathering organised by the ‘Kashmir Study Group’, a US government sponsored think tank. The Group published a paper in February 2000, a supposed blue-print for the settlement of the Kashmir issue, which was backed by Kashmiri capitalists in the US and Bill Clinton’s so-called ‘peace -plan’ which subsequently collapsed in the face of the Kargil conflict. Today, the artillery duel between the two nuclear powers has increased to a higher level than seen during December 2001 and early January 2002, when US Secretary of state, Colin Powell, intervened to defuse military tensions.

International diplomatic pressure

The testing of three missiles and Musharraf’s speech on Monday further fuelled war hysteria. On the diplomatic level pressure is being exerted to ‘de-escalate’ the situation, and Musharraf is being cajoled by US imperialism in particular, and the EU and Russia, to show ‘ concrete’ results. There has also been a down grading of diplomatic staff, after a terrorist attack against a church in Islamabad, and later in Karachi the killing of eleven French citizens who were working with the Pakistan navy on a submarine project. This attack has been described as, “Pakistan’s September 11th”. A few days ago, German diplomatic staff numbers were curtailed drastically.

The aftermath of the BJP’s defeat in the Indian state elections, particularly in Uttra Pradash, has led to a fuelling of communalism in Gujrat state. This has claimed thousands of innocent lives, the majority being Muslims, and has raised once again the horrors of the 1947 partition of the sub continent – the British imperialist policy of divide and rule, which led to mass migration of millions and killings on an unprecedented level. The masses face chronic and deep social, and economic problems with poverty, hunger, and disease. They lack basic needs, like clean drinking water and sanitation facilitates.

The ruling classes in both India and Pakistan have escalated the five-month-old standoff, for which workers and the poor people are paying for in billions of dollars, as a means of diverting the attention of the masses from the chronic situation that exists.

After S11, US imperialism and other Western capitalist powers are jockeying for their own interests in the region. But having two unstable nuclear powers on the edge of war is a nightmare for US imperialism. It is attempting to play one regime off against another and to balance between the two. An example of this policy can be seen by the US conducting joint military exercises with the Indian armed forces, for the first time since the end of the Cold War. This indicates US attempts to gain a foothold in the region to control regional military powers. The visits of the EU commissioner, Chris Patten, and now also Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary, and the coming visit of Richard Armtiage, Colin Powell’s deputy, are attempts to ‘defuse’ the situation. But on the ground every passing day has witnessed clashes between the two nuclear rivals, with the nightmare of the possibility of the first nuclear war of the 21st Century. This means the awesome prospect of the total destruction of millions of people looms over the heads of the workers, peasants and poor masses of Asia.

Capitalism has failed

The military escalation goes to demonstrate the complete failure of capitalism to solve the national question in Kashmir. The only logical and practical way forward is the forcible overthrow of capitalism and feudalism by youth, workers, peasants and the poor of all the countries of this region, including Kashmir, Pakistan and India. It means linking the struggle for an independent, democratic, socialist Kashmir with the struggle for a voluntary federation of south Asian socialist states.

CWI supporters in Kashmir are campaigning around the following demands:

· No to war!

· No to sectarianism!

· No to terrorism!

· For all refugees in PoK to be re-housed and given Rs1000 per months grant!

· For all displaced students to be provided with free education!

· For a mass movement by Kashmiri, Indian and Pakistan trade unions against the war!

· Build links between workers and youth from all backgrounds, as part of the struggle for a socialist federation of South East Asian states!