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South Asia’s Overlooked Nuclear Crisis

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EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.

It’s still the most dangerous border on Earth. Yet compared to the recent tweets of President Donald Trump, it remains a marginal news story. That doesn’t for a moment diminish the chance that the globe’s first (and possibly ultimate) nuclear conflagration could break out along that 480-mile border known as the Line of Control (and, given the history that surrounds it, that phrase should indeed be capitalized). The casus belli would undoubtedly be the more than seven-decades-old clash between India and Pakistan over the contested territory of Kashmir. Like a volcano, this unresolved dispute rumbles periodically—as it did only weeks ago—threatening to spew its white-hot lava to devastating effect not just in the region but potentially globally as well.

The trigger for renewed rumbling is always a sensational terrorist attack by a Pakistani militant group on an Indian target. That propels India’s leadership to a moral high ground. From there, bitter condemnations of Pakistan are coupled with the promise of airstrikes on the training camps of the culprit terrorist organizations operating from the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. As a result, the already simmering relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors are quickly raised to a boiling point. This, in turn, prompts the United States to intervene and pressure Pakistan to shut down those violent jihadist groups. To placate Washington, the Pakistani government goes through the ritual of issuing banning orders on those groups, but in practice, any change is minimal.

And in the background always lurks the possibility that a war between the two neighbors could lead to a devastating nuclear exchange. Which means that it’s time to examine how and why, by arraying hundreds of thousands of troops along that Line of Control, India and Pakistan have created the most perilous place on Earth.

How It All Began

The Kashmir dispute began with the birth of the kicking twins—Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan—as independent countries. They emerged from the belly of the dying British Raj in August 1947. The princely states in British India were given the option of joining either of the new nations. The dithering Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir (its full title) finally signed a legally binding instrument of accession with New Delhi after his realm was invaded by armed tribal raiders from Pakistan. This document offered that state’s citizens the chance to choose between the two countries once peace had been restored. This has not happened so far and there is no credible prospect that it will.

After the 1947–48 Indo-Pakistani War that followed independence, India was left in control of almost two-thirds of the princely state (18 percent of which it lost to China in the Sino-Indian War of 1962). Crucially, the 45 percent of the former princely state that remained in its hands included the Vale of Kashmir. Guarded by snow-capped mountain peaks, covered with verdant forests of fir and pine, carpeted by wild flowers in the spring, and irrigated by the Jhelum River, it has been described by poets and others as “paradise on Earth.” Its population of seven million is 96 percent Muslim. And it is this territory that is coveted by Pakistan.





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