Kashmir – whose ‘war on terrorism’?
We are witnessing a piece of military-diplomatic theatre, played out for the benefit of an international audience.
Why are India and Pakistan still rattling sabres and missiles at one another over Kashmir?
After all, as far back as January 2002, UK prime minister Tony Blair went to the trouble of flying out to the sub-continent to tell them both to ‘calm down’. This was part of his ‘I will heal the world’ mission, post-11 September. Yet for some extraordinary reason those naughty schoolboys in New Delhi and Islamabad appear to have ignored Mr Blair’s instructions.
The conclusion that self-important British politicians seem to have drawn is that the Indians and Pakistanis don’t understand English. So other statesmen are now queuing up to reiterate Blair’s imperial message, presumably speaking slowly and loudly for the benefit of Johnny Hindu and Johnny Muslim.
Euro commissioner and failed Tory minister Chris Patten has already been out there to poke his nose in. UK foreign secretary Jack Straw is now flying to South Asia, warning both sides that ‘a nuclear conflict of a kind we have never seen before’ could bring ‘death, destruction, disease and economic collapse’ to the sub-continent (no doubt this information has come as a considerable shock to the naive natives).
Straw’s junior minister, Ben Bradshaw, has just told the Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf that ‘we expect a great deal more to be done’ to stop terrorist attacks on Kashmir. Now that Bradshaw has made his position clear, the outbreak of peace must surely be imminent.
This kind of interference by the UK, EU and USA is not just self-delusional. It is highly dangerous. The interference of outside powers has done more than anything to inflame the conflict over Kashmir. Many have commented on how the lasting divisions on the sub-continent are partly a legacy of British colonialism. Far fewer seem to have grasped the extent to which the current tensions are a side effect of the USA’s international ‘war on terrorism’.
On 11 September, hours after the terrorist attacks on America, Bush told his foreign policy aides that they now had a ‘great opportunity’. Ever since, Washington has been trying to reorganise the world around its war on terrorism. As Bush has stoked up the ‘with us or against us’ rhetoric, other states have sought to improve relations with the world’s only superpower by demonstrating their commitment to his cause.
Like other states from Israel to Russia, both India and Pakistan have tried to recast their local conflict as part of the global war on terrorism. India has asked for international support against Pakistani-backed guerrilla attacks in Kashmir. For its part, Pakistan has cut its links with the Taliban and forged a new alliance with the USA. President Musharraf has now accused India of backing Hindu terrorism in Kashmir. He wants international intervention to resolve the dispute over Kashmir.
The latest escalation of the Kashmir crisis has been caused, less by new developments on the ground than by the internationalisation of the conflict. It is obvious that both governments are striking postures for the benefit of their domestic audiences. But what we are witnessing is also a piece of military-diplomatic theatre, played out for the benefit of an international audience, with both the Indians and the Pakistanis trying to catch the eye of the USA and its allies. The trouble is that it is being acted out with real armies and missiles.
If the rising tensions in the region are a symptom of the post-11 September world, so too is the panicky Western reaction. The doom-laden prophecies of nuclear catastrophe emanating from Western capitals, complete with US predictions of up to 12million casualties (‘and that’s just the start…’), stand in contrast to the more measured analysis of many Asian commentators. These exaggerated reactions are a consequence of the culture of fear and loathing that grips Western societies today, rather than of events in the Indian sub-continent. But as outside intervention continues to raise the stakes in the region, there is always a chance that the predictions of disaster could turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.
As the USA signs a nuclear missile reduction deal with Russia, we are told once more that the Bush-Blair diplomatic offensive after 11 September is ‘making the world a safer place’. Events around Kashmir, however, suggest that the opposite is true.
There is a risk that every regional conflict could now be blown up into an international affair. It seems some will not be satisfied until every disputed area from Palestine to Kashmir is a kind of international protectorate, perhaps run by failed Western politicians (Patten? Straw?) in the same way that forgotten former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has been appointed UN High Representative (ie, colonial governor general) in charge of Bosnia.
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