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Punjabi Manch    9th Issue  

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Editorial :

Options for Peace in The Indian Subcontinent

A Brief Background: Once again India and Pakistan are at the brink of an all out war.  These two countries have fought three wars during the last fifty four years since their independence from the British Empire.   When the British left in 1947 a new country called Pakistan was carved out of India.  The predominantly Hindu region was left in India and the heavily Muslim areas were given to Pakistan.  The formula for the partition of India was based mainly on religion thereby presenting a lot of problems.  There were three main religions namely Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs.  The then Sikh leadership decided to stay with India based on some assurances of a degree of autonomy within India promised by the then Indian leadership even though those promises never materialized later giving rise to a lot of resentment amongst the Sikhs.  The Sikh population was mainly concentrated in the state of Punjab making it their de facto homeland.  The Muslim leadership not trusting the predominantly Hindu India wanted to get out of India at any cost thereby setting the stage for the physical partition of India.  The large pockets of Muslim population were all over India.  The state of Punjab was divided into two parts namely East Punjab going to India and West Punjab going to Pakistan.  The same thing was done to the state of Bengal dividing it into West Bengal going to India and the East Bengal going to Pakistan under the name of East Pakistan. It was East Pakistan that was later stripped away from Pakistan during the third Indo Pak war and was named Bangla Desh.  There were large scale migrations of population in both directions during India's partition in 1947 resulting in religious riots and deaths of about a million people.  Kashmir was one of three heavily Muslim but Princely States not awarded to either side.  The Hindu ruler of Kashmir with a heavily Muslim population could not make up his mind on which side he wanted to join or if he wanted to get complete Independence.  When India annexed the other two princely states with heavily Muslim populations, Pakistan could not do anything as those two were surrounded by Indian territory from all sides making it a dead issue eventually.  However, Kashmir had a common border with Pakistan and a heavily Muslim population sympathetic towards Pakistan.  When Pakistan decided to annex Kashmir a few months after Independence, India sent her troops into that state and secured a request from the then ruler of Kashmir to join India.  This started the first war between India and Pakistan in 1948.  With the help of the United Nations a ceasefire was secured and a line of control ( LoC ) was established.  This served to provide the fragile peace between the two nations ever since.  India and Pakistan fought two more wars in 1965 and 1971 proving fatal for Pakistan as Pakistan lost its major chunk of territory known as East Pakistan and it became a new country we now know as Bangla Desh.  Pakistan can only avenge that loss by adding Kashmir to its territory.  This brief background of the current crisis in the Indian subcontinent will provide some insight for those of you who know nothing about the history of the region.

The Dangers:   At present the armies of both countries are standing face to face at the border ready for a showdown.  I was still living in the state of Punjab during the previous two wars in 1965 and 1971.  The state of Punjab was the main battlefield for those wars and had to endure heavy losses of life and property.  Even though death and destruction was everywhere in the state of Punjab during those two wars, this one if breaks out will be a call from hell for the provinces of Punjab and Kashmir due to the presence of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan.  This time, Punjab's fertile plains on both sides being the usual battleground could easily turn into a nuclear wasteland for decades to come.  The neighboring countries will not be immune from the nuclear radiation.  As India has two to one advantage over Pakistan in her military might, Pakistan will start going under eventually.  When that starts to happen at some point, Pakistan will see the need to opt for a nuclear strike.  Even though the Indian defense minister George Fernandez claims that India will survive such a strike to hit back, there are no guarantees of such survival.  The fear of getting paralyzed by the first strike coming from Pakistan may prompt some hawks on the Indian side to opt for the pre-emptive nuclear strike.  Therefore the danger of a nuclear war is real.  If that happens, other countries and groups may not sit on the sidelines thereby starting World War III and a nuclear one.  This can, not only result in disintegrating both India and Pakistan like the Soviet Union but could also push the entire human civilization on this planet many centuries back.  The bands of terrorists and fanatics will definitely benefit from such a chaotic situation.

The Options:  There are several options but none of them is easy and acceptable to all parties otherwise there was no reason for this situation to drag on for over half a century.  In the light of the above background no matter how brief it is, one can understand that the Kashmir problem is not a law and order problem.  It is a political problem and needs a political solution.  However some terrorist groups taking advantage of the situation have muddied the waters.  These groups have killed scores of innocent civilians mainly Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir over the years earning themselves the label of terrorists instead of the freedom fighters thereby shooting themselves in the foot.  It is not too long ago when these bandits slaughtered the entire Male Sikh Population of a village in the region during Bill Clinton's visit to India.  Such incidents definitely fall under law and order and no sane person can recognize them as legitimate guerilla actions part of any kind of freedom struggle but it does not mean that the Kashmir problem is merely a law and order problem.  Even though the same is true for Punjab, Nagaland, Pashtunistan, Sri Lanka and some other regions in the Indian subcontinent but for the purpose of this article, Kashmir is the Achilles' heel.  Here are some of the possible options:

(1) Both countries can let the status quo continue until the problem either dies down or explodes into a catastrophe a few centuries from now.  The people of Kashmir may not like this solution nor is it in the best interests of the rest of the World.  This is an option but not a solution.

(2) Both countries can recognize the Line of Control as a legitimate international border between them  with the hope that the Kashmiri people will get used to it as the people of Punjab and Bengal did.  The people of Kashmir may not like this solution.

(3) Let there be a UN sponsored referendum in Kashmir so the people can decide if they want to live with India, Pakistan or be totally independent.  India does not like this option.

(4) India can reinstate a deleted Article of its constitution, once again giving special status to Kashmir to elect her Prime Minister instead of a Chief Minister after getting assurances from Pakistan that it will relinquish all claims to the Indian controlled Kashmir.  This may not fully satisfy the people of Kashmir but large portions of the population may find it acceptable.  This may create some resentment in other Indian regions struggling for more autonomy or outright independence.

(5) The seven SAARC nations of the Indian subcontinent can do the unthinkable by boldly creating a few more countries including Kashmir within their borders and then forming a confederation like the European Union.  They can have a common border and a common army.  They can start by creating SAARCO as their common currency like the European Euro.  Even though this sounds like a day dream and highly unlikely at present but so was it in Europe before the first and the second World War.  Therefore such a solution can not be completely ruled out in the future.

Conclusion:  If you ask me what option these two nuclear rivals are going pick. The quick answer is that the circumstances will dictate it.  It may be one or none of the above.  However, I can say one thing with certainty that the international community including the United States can not afford to ignore this conflict.  If these two countries had no nuclear weapons they could tell other countries, " Stay out of it, it is none of your business."  As this conflict may not stay a conventional war, it has become everybody's business unless these two countries are willing to put their nuclear weapons in some kind of safe deposit under international supervision.  In the event of an all out war between these two nuclear rivals, there is a clear danger of some nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the terrorists that is the reason the terrorists created this situation in the first place.  The events of September 11, 2001 have demonstrated that the United States can not afford to pursue the Policy of Isolationism.  The nuclear conflict between these two countries will be a big setback for the United States efforts to combat terrorism.  Therefore the United States has no choice but to play an active role to avert a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions for the human civilization on this planet.

Yours Truly,

Amrik S. Kang, Editor                    Puyallup, Washington,  USA                            January 7, 2002