The world is nearer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
The United States and the Soviet Union came close to a nuclear exchange, when Khrushchev based nuclear-armed missiles on Cuba. Fortunately, US imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy negotiated their way out of the crisis, despite pressure from the US military to launch a pre-emptive strike against Cuba.
They were both stable regimes, at that time, with a clear understanding of their interests and worked out military strategies. Today, India and Pakistan are very different. Both have unstable regimes of crisis. Musharraf is a shaky military dictator, while the Vajpayee government is led by the ultra-rightwing, Hindu-nationalist BJP.
Once again, Kashmir is the focus of the conflict. Kashmir has been disputed for 55 years, the result of British imperialism’s divide-and-rule partition of the subcontinent when it relinquished direct rule in 1947.
The Pakistan ruling class considered that, as a majority Muslim state, Kashmir should belong to Pakistan. The hereditary Maharaja of Kashmir, however, was a Hindu and opted for India.
Far from being concerned with the people of Kashmir, who have been denied democracy and self-determination, both India and Pakistan want to control the state to extend their territory, power and prestige.
Kashmir has already led to two wars, many crises, repeated military mobilisations, and continuous threats and counter-threats. But it would be a mistake to believe that the present crisis is just one more episode.
Ultimately, this is an expression of the deep crisis in both countries. The landlords and capitalists on both sides have been incapable of securing economic progress, democracy or social harmony. Many millions on both sides live in dire poverty, lacking basic health and education provision. Both countries are torn by national, ethnic, and religious conflict.
SPEAKING TO troops in Kashmir, the Indian premier, Vajpayee, said: “India is forced to fight a war thrust on it and we will emerge victorious… it’s time to fight a decisive battle”.
For the BJP government, the war mobilisation is a desperate attempt to shore up its political support following a series of recent election losses. In Gujarat, the only state controlled by the BJP, state officials colluded in a horrendous anti-Muslim pogrom, resulting in over 2,000 deaths, one of the worst communal outrages since 1947.
The push to war also reflects the deeper ambitions of the Indian ruling class. Under cover of the US’s ‘war against terrorism’, they have seized on recent terrorist attacks to try to ‘settle’ the issue of Kashmir once and for all.
On the other side, Musharraf, under intense pressure from the US, again promised to curb incursion across the Line of Control which separates Pakistan-controlled from India-controlled Kashmir.
Yet Pakistan carried out a new round of missile tests. While denying that Pakistan was supporting jihadist incursions into India, Musharraf proclaimed “a liberation struggle is going on in Kashmir and Pakistan cannot be held responsible for any actions taken against Indian oppression”.
Musharraf is balancing on a knife edge. His support for the US offensive against the Taliban regime and al Qa-ida forces in Afghanistan has provoked a tide of opposition within Pakistan.
It has also brought him into conflict with a section of the military and its ISI intelligence wing, who armed and trained the Taliban forces and still maintain links with Islamic paramilitary groups.
Under pressure, Musharraf arrested many of the Islamic militant leaders, but released most of them. He has repeatedly claimed that he will take all the necessary steps to curb terrorist organisations. But he clearly does not have control over some sections of the military who are still giving them active support.
After the rout by the US of Taliban and al Qa’ida forces in Afghanistan, many of them returned to Pakistan. The US victory in Afghanistan (which has not secured stability and peace there) triggered a new jihad offensive in Kashmir. This has overwhelming mass sympathy within Pakistan.
The Islamic paramilitaries are aiming not only to hit India, but to undermine Musharraf’s position. That is why he has to do a balancing act, trying to appease the US while avoiding outraging support for Kashmiri liberation from Indian control.
All the ingredients for war are present. Only on 29 May was it announced that the US defence secretary, Rumsfeld, would travel to Pakistan (following the futile visit of US envoy Christine Rocca, and equally ineffective visits by Jack Straw and Chris Patten from the EU).
The US’s primary concern, however, is to prevent Pakistan from withdrawing forces from the Afghan border, diverting forces (as the US sees it) from the ‘war against terrorism’. But the Indo-Pakistan conflict is, in reality, far more serious. A war would provoke deep crises in both countries. It would completely destabilise the whole South Asian region, with repercussions further afield. Any semblance of a ‘new world order’ under the domination of the US superpower would be completely shattered.
War is not inevitable – it may be postponed for some time. But a nuclear exchange is possible. In fact, it is more possible than even in the Cuban missile crisis.
A limited war?
ONE SERIOUS incident could trigger war. In the present tense situation, having declared a ‘decisive fight’, Vajpayee’s only policy option, unless Pakistan retreats, appears to be to launch an attack across the Line of Control.
Many commentators console themselves with the idea that it would be a ‘limited war’. Past episodes of fighting between Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir, they note, have not led to full-blown conflict.
In the first period of Clinton’s presidency, however, “Pakistan came within a few minutes of a pre-emptive [nuclear] launch, having misinterpreted Indian army manoeuvres near the border [at Zarb-i-Momin]”, writes the Washington based commentator, Christopher Hitchens (Daily Mirror, 23 May). “The US officials who dealt with that emergency still go pale when they remember it – it was much closer and more frightening that the Cuba crisis.”
In 1999 conflict broke out near Kargil on Kashmir’s mountainous northern border, when Pakistan-backed forces attempted to retake a strip of territory taken by India in an earlier skirmish. That crisis was only defused when the US put intense pressure on the then-Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who withdrew Pakistani forces from the area.
The current situation is far more serious. India is much more likely to respond to any incidents by launching a military attack. This might be planned as a limited ‘symbolic strike’ not a major offensive. But the lesson of history is that armed conflicts rarely go according to plan. They have a logic of their own, and accidents can play a fatal part.
However limited, any strike by India will almost certainly be met by a Pakistani counter-attack. Musharraf has already warned that his forces would “take the offensive into Indian territory”, describing Pakistan’s policy as “an offensive defence”. (Guardian, 28 May) If either side appears to be facing defeat, they are likely to escalate their intervention.
India has a three-to-one superiority in conventional weapons, and has declared a ‘no first-use nuclear policy’. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been quite open in proclaiming a nuclear first-use strategy intended to compensate for its conventional weakness.
“The problem is,” writes Amin Saikal (International Herald Tribune, 23 May), “the war may not remain limited for long, because in striking back Pakistan may well hit Indian Punjab, which is densely populated, a vital granary and close to the heartland of central India. This could lead to an all-out war, including a nuclear exchange…”
India is unlikely to strike at Pakistan across the international boundary (as opposed to the Line of Control through Kashmir), but it is possible that Pakistan could strike back across the international border.
There is also the danger that once fighting starts, an individual field commander might decide to launch a nuclear strike. Some reports suggest that Pakistan has already deployed nuclear armed missiles in the field.
Neither Pakistan nor India has the sophisticated systems that exist in the US and other Western powers to assure the safety, security and control of nuclear weapons under war conditions.
Bush and other Western leaders have appeared complacent about the danger of nuclear war, at least up until now. Behind the scenes, however, the tops of the military and intelligence establishments are extremely alarmed.
“US and European officials,” writes David Ignatius, editor of the International Herald Tribune, “are increasingly worried about what could happen… they warn that all the ingredients are in place for a disastrous chain of miscalculation on the order of August 1914, when over-armed European nations blundered into world war one.” (IHT, 11 May)
Presenting their latest intelligence assessment, Pentagon and state department officials “said they wanted to counter any false perception that India and Pakistan… were simply going through a well-rehearsed dance of threat and counter-threat. ‘We just don’t know where the “red lines” are any more,’ an administration official said, adding that president Bush and his senior advisors were not confident that the Indians and the Pakistanis did, either.” (New York Times, 28 May)
At the same time, “British intelligence sources voice fears that the two countries were locked on a path to the world’s first nuclear exchange.” (The Times, 24 May) “British military chiefs are drawing up plans for dealing with the consequences of a nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent, which they now believe to be a ‘real possibility’.”
If Pakistan were to resort to a first-strike, then it is very likely that India would retaliate. A ‘senior Western diplomat’ commented: “If there was a nuclear strike and part of the Indian [nuclear] stockpiles survives, don’t you think the Indians will definitely retaliate?” (Financial Times, 27 May)
A full-scale nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan could kill up to twelve million people immediately and cause up to seven million non-fatal casualties, according to a recent assessment by the Pentagon (New York Times, 28 May). Even a limited war, with only a small number of warheads being detonated, would have a cataclysmic effect.
Individual nuclear warheads are thought to be capable of producing a 20 kilo-tonne blast, the equivalent of 20,000 tonnes of TNT. This is comparable to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Experts with Jane’s Defence Review believe that Pakistan has up to 150 warheads and India 250. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates the Indian arsenal as up to 40 nuclear weapons, and the Pakistani stockpile as up to 20. The warheads can be delivered by combat aircraft or missiles.
The effects of any nuclear exchange would be catastrophic. Apart from millions of human casualties, there would be a long-term social breakdown, with famine and the spread of disease. Medical and other emergency resources would be overwhelmed.
Radioactive contamination would spread, causing more and more casualties, as well as incalculable long-term health effects – across the region and globe. Kamal Chenoy, a leader of India’s Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, commented: “I’m afraid our political elite do not understand that if we bomb Lahore, people will die in Amritsar as soon as the wind changes.” (Daily Telegraph, 30 May)
THE THREAT of nuclear war in South Asia is the most dangerous aspect of the present crisis of world imperialist domination and capitalism. The capitalists and their landlord allies, represented by corrupt, nationalistic political leaders, have no solution – except war. The choice for humankind really is socialism or barbarism.
India has a powerful working class, and there are still two mass parties, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the CPI (Marxist). On India’s independence day (16 April) there was a solid general strike of over ten million workers against privatisation.
Regrettably, however, leaders of both CPs have given the BJP-dominated government support in the fight against ‘terrorism’ and have even called upon US imperialism to politically intervene.
Neither have put forward an independent socialist, working-class alternative. They have been incapable of cutting across the BJP’s chauvinist purges against minorities, and its nationalistic offensive on the issue of Kashmir.
If the CPI and CPI(M) mobilise the potential support on socialist policies they could have a decisive effect on the situation in the subcontinent. A socialist intervention would also arouse worldwide support from workers.
Socialists in India, Pakistan and Kashmir call for mass protests of workers, peasants and youth and the forging of links between the masses in all three countries to build a socialist alternative to capitalism and war in the region.
The key points of a socialist programme for the subcontinent are: The withdrawal of US imperialism and other Western powers, now intervening under cover of the ‘war against terrorism’. All nuclear arms should be scrapped. Excessive arms expenditure should be cut, with resources being directed towards economic development and social provision for the population.
At the same time, there should be a mobilisation against communal pogroms – the ‘internal war’ – against Muslims and other minorities.
In Pakistan, socialists stand for the overthrow of the military dictatorship, and the restoration of all democratic and workers’ rights.
The conflict over Kashmir, which cannot be solved by either India or Pakistan, should be resolved on the basis of an independent socialist Kashmir, with democratic rights for all minorities, as part of a socialist confederation of the sub-continent.
The rule of the landlords and capitalists is the source of all exploitation, repression, and corruption – socialists stand for the overthrow of the ruling class in both India and Pakistan, and the establishment of democratic socialist states.
National conflicts throughout the region will only be resolved on the basis of a voluntary socialist confederation of the subcontinent.
The Weapons Bazaar
SOON AFTER India conducted its first underground nuclear test, Pakistan launched its own nuclear programme. Zulfiqar Bhutto, the prime minister, declared that Pakistan would “go for nuclear status even if we have to eat grass”.
Ever since, two of the world’s poorest countries have engaged in an accelerating arms race, both nuclear and conventional. This has accelerated in the last few years (rising 23% in real terms between 1998-2000). India now spends $13.94 billion (2.5% of GDP) on its military, while Pakistan, with a much smaller economy, spends $3.3 billion (4.2% of GDP).
The Indian subcontinent is now the biggest arms bazaar in the world, with the US, Britain, Russia, France and other powers all rushing in to sell weaponry. Between 1992 and 2001 India imported a total of $8.2 billion-worth of arms, while Pakistan imported $5.5 billion.
The Blair government is currently trying to conclude a deal to sell Hawk fighter aircraft to India. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the price of a single Hawk fighter would be enough to provide 1.5 million people with a clean water supply for life.
Kashmir conflict: Workers’ Unity to Stop Nuclear Threat
Exclusive report from Kasmiri socialist
KASHMIR, INDIA and Pakistan stand on the edge of a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Two unstable capitalist regimes with nuclear weapons threaten to bring destruction to millions of people already suffering from poverty, disease and mass unemployment.
An eyewitness account from a socialist in Pakistani occupied Kashmir
“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, Tatri Note, and Tattapani, this morning [28 May], during which over 500 shells were fired.
Around 32,000 people have been displaced. Three women were injured, houses destroyed, and buffaloes killed. Housing rent has escalated again.
It is much the same terrible situation in Nakyaal sector and surrounding villages, where shelling continues all day. Anwar Khan, president of JKNAP (Jammu and Kashmir National Awami Party, a left organisation), said that around 50 shells fell on the Pakistan occupied Kashmir side of the Line of Control [the ceasefire line separating Indian and Pakistani troops], ten of them near his house.
The situation in hospitals 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 kilometres 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 India-Pakistan 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 needs to be organised.
Recently, Committee for a Workers’ International supporters, [CWI – the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated] and members of JKNAP held a demonstration of 150 young people against the war in Hajeera, Pakistani occupied Kashmir. This village is within shelling distance of the Line Of Control. Two days after the demonstration shelling from the Indian army killed six villagers.
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 the only guarantee against the possibility of nuclear conflict.”
Kashmir conflict: On The Brink Of A Catastrophe
FACED WITH a potential nuclear war between regional rivals Pakistan and India over their Kashmir conflict, the Western powers, Russia and China are attempting to de-escalate tensions. But as a Kashmiri socialist explains, the impoverished and oppressed masses of the region cannot put their faith in the hands of the capitalist ruling classes either in the region or in the rest of the world.
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 Line of Control (LoC) in occupied Kashmir.
The almost continuous shelling across the LoC – vastly under-reported by the Western press – has led to the displacement of over 100,000 people on both sides of the LoC.
The present stand-off between the two nuclear rivals occurred after the 14 May attack on an Indian army camp in Jammu, the winter capital of Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK). Over 30 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 Indian prime minister AB 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. It 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. 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 which is a staunch supporter of ‘accession to Pakistan’. The president, Sardar Anwar Khan, is a serving Major General in the Pakistani army.
THE TESTING of three missiles and Musharraf’s bellicose speech on 27 May 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 downgrading 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. A few days ago, German diplomatic staff numbers were curtailed drastically.
The visits of the EU commissioner, Chris Patten, British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the coming visit of Donald Rumsfeld the US defence secretary, 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.
The horrific prospect of the total destruction of millions of people now looms over the heads of the workers, peasants and poor masses of Asia.
The masses – who are paying dearly for this military build up – already face chronic poverty, hunger, and disease. They also lack basic needs, like clean drinking water and sanitation facilitates.
Capitalism has failed
THE MILITARY escalation demonstrates the complete failure of capitalism to solve the national question in Kashmir.
The only 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 rehoused and given Rs1,000 a month 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!
From The Socialist (Paper of the Socialist Party)