While most of the world was riveted on events in Kosovo this spring, there was another conflict raging half a world away that had greater potential for disaster. India and Pakistan, two countries that had conducted nuclear weapons tests fourteen months ago, were again battling over the contested Himalayan region of Kashmir.
A thousand Pakistani-backed Muslim guerrillas had begun combat operations to take control of that portion of Kashmir (some two-thirds of the total land area) which belongs to India.
On May 26 India retaliated with an air and ground offensive designed to restore control of its sector and push the insurgents back to the military Line of Control which divides Kashmir into two parts.
Now, almost six weeks into the campaign, Indian forces have made headway and seem destined to accomplish their limited objectives of restoring the status quo. But, the season for campaigning high in the Himalayas is quickly coming to an end. What worries world leaders more than anything is the instability of a protracted conflict between two countries capable of destroying each other with nuclear weapons. Should that occur, no one wants to go down in flames with them.
Pakistan's Strategic Goals
Though Pakistan claims nothing more than moral and political support for the insurgents in Kashmir, there is overwhelming evidence that its leaders had been planning such an offensive for two years, and its military forces are supporting the operation.
Pakistani leaders believe that predominantly Muslim Kashmir should be allowed to decide by a United Nations sponsored vote whether to become a part of predominantly Hindu India or predominately Muslim Pakistan. Obviously, India objects, believing that all of Kashmir has been and should always be part of India.
In the current conflict, Pakistan's strategic objectives are threefold:
- Rekindle insurgency by Kashmir Muslims.
- Bargain over Kashmir from a position of strength.
- Force international involvement in the dispute.
The United States' Role
The United States has reaffirmed to Pakistan that the issue is one for India and Pakistan to decide, but it is willing to engage with both sides in meaningful dialogue, though not in the role of mediator.
We have made it clear to the Pakistanis that we know more about their involvement in the dispute that they are willing to admit, and we disapprove. This is not to say that we are siding with India in some huge regional dispute which could conceivably lead to a nuclear catastrophe. On the contrary, we are attempting to get both sides to conduct negotiations that will lead to a peaceful and satisfactory resolution to this lates dispute.
The Road Ahead
Pakistan has accused India of refusing to negotiate, even though both countries have had secret exchanges of emissaries, and there are some indications that a settlement could be reached. It has warned India that there will be serious consequences if India widens the conflict.
India has stated that it has no intention of widening the conflict, but it will continue the fighting until it restores order in its part of Kashmir.
The ever-present nuclear card still is something to be considered, but the chances of this conflict escalating into nuclear war are remote. Other nuclear powers have warned both countries not to consider such options. The United States has also used separate exchange visits over the past year between civilian and military representatives of both countries and our country to acquaint them with the complexities of being a nuclear power. In short, we have given them the benefit of almost fifty years of experience in how not to use these ultimate weapons. They seemed to listen. Whether they will take heed is yet another matter.
Knowing the consequences is often enough to deter a nation from using weapons of mass destruction. India and Pakistan know full well what those consequences would be. The issue is now in the hands of rational leaders whose more immediate concern is maintaining authority and control over their own military forces.
Pakistan will be the loser in this conflict. The support it needs to achieve its three strategic objectives is simply not there. Now it must find a way quickly to save face and extricate itself from the embarrassment of its thinly veiled subterfuge.
by Mitch Mitchell