Wednesday, 07 November 2001

AVOIDING ESCALATION IN CENTRAL ASIA’S SOUTHERN BORDERLAND

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By Maria Sultan (11/7/2001 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: The 1990s has been an era of many surprises in South Asian power politics, characterized by Indo -Pakistani rivalry and the influence of great powers, mainly China and the U.S. The end of the cold war was thought to bring about a noticeable de-escalation in the level of tension in the numerous conflicts in the third world.

BACKGROUND: The 1990s has been an era of many surprises in South Asian power politics, characterized by Indo -Pakistani rivalry and the influence of great powers, mainly China and the U.S. The end of the cold war was thought to bring about a noticeable de-escalation in the level of tension in the numerous conflicts in the third world. However, the 1990s failed to bring about a structural change in the nature of conflict between India and Pakistan, especially over the Kashmir dispute. Rather, the state of inertia in the India-­Pakistan relationship during the first afghan war saw a rapid increase in tensions and hostility with a massive uprising in Kashmir’s resistance movement in 1989. The scale of the uprising was so intense and the change so dynamic that India from then onwards found it increasingly difficult to handle the resistance movement, and throughout the decade, Kashmir saw a rapid increase in the number of Indian military personnel and paramilitary forces to the staggering amount of approximately 700,000 personnel.  Since the early 1950s, India has claimed that Kashmir is an integral part of India and that the freedom struggle is basically a by-product of Pakistan’s alleged interference in India’s internal affairs. Hence India terms all aspects of the freedom movement as acts of terror. However, the situation is more complex. First of all, Kashmir is a disputed territory and recognized as such. Moreover, the allegation that the struggle is only a Pakistan-sponsored movement begs the question how the struggle has managed to continue for so long and has intensified in the 1990s, even as Pakistan deliberately  put Kashmir on the back burner in the 1980s. The mass concentration of Indian troops in the Kashmir valley and within the state rather than on the Line of Control to stop the alleged infiltration of militants from Pakistan also suggests that the problem is within Kashmir and not a mere cross-border issue. It is also puzzling that India refuses access to international media and Human Rights organizations and to place United Nations special observers for India and Pakistan on its side of the Line of Control. 

IMPLICATIONS: Terrorism has become the predominant feature of post-cold war security thinking. Hence it was only natural for India to term the growing resistance in the valley as a terrorist campaign, especially as the last few years have seen increased cooperation between the US and India. However, the September 11 attacks have brought about a significant change not only in the way U.S. interprets threats to itself, but also more generally in the global political situation. The indiscriminate use of the concept ‘terrorism’ may lead to a beginning tendency to differentiate between acts of terror and legitimate freedom struggle. The renewed attempt by U.S. and world leaders to give tacit approval to the recognition of a Palestinian state is the most obvious example.  This recognition that peace and stability can be brought to the Middle East only if there is a just solution and a sustained attempt to continue the peace process, has led to renewed fears in New Delhi. Given that the argument used in the Middle East is highly applicable in the Kashmir dispute, there is a growing perception in New Delhi that it needs to reinforce its efforts to convince world opinion that what is going on in Kashmir in not an indigenous movement but foreign-aided terrorism – thereby justifying its refusal to negotiate or even to recognize that the Kashmir issue is at the core of the dispute between India and Pakistan.  In order to deflect attention at earlier times of great power interest in the region in general, and Afghanistan in particular, India has tended to resort to the use of force against Pakistan. During the first Afghan war, India not only violated the sanctity of the Line of Control but also that of the 1965 Simla agreement by launching a limited war in the Siachn Glacier in 1984. These decisions were likely based on the reality that Islamabad could not afford a two-front war. Given the threat from the North, Pakistan could not be involved in a full-scale war with India, and Indian advances therefore carried a lesser risk. The war in the Siachin Glacier continues to this day, and helped India to extend the conflict zone, strain Pakistani resources by engaging it militarily there, and to attain access to a large stretch of Pakistani territory in the Northern Areas.  Just as was the case in the 1980s, Pakistan is now involved in a war on its northern front and experiences serious internal discontent, which may be perceived as an opening in New Delhi. Now like then, there are strong indications that New might be preparing for hot pursuit raids in Pakistani-administered Kashmir or perhaps at other border points across the Line of Control, to force the Kashmir dispute to be settled on Indian terms. In short, India may be contemplating such operations, expecting Pakistan to be unable or unwilling to respond. Yet this time the situation is different from that of the 1980s. For one, the nature of war being fought in Afghanistan is focused against terrorists and not against a super power; and secondly, given its experience of the 1980s, Pakistan is unlikely to accept any Indian intrusions on Pakistani territory. Pakistan‘s official stance for any future conflict with India is based on the rationale that it will not first absorb an attack in order to respond later but to avoid wars being waged on Pakistani territory. Hence hostilities may not remain limited in nature as desired by New Delhi. Moreover, already strained by public opposition to its involvement in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani leadership cannot afford to be seen domestically as ‘soft on Kashmir’.

CONCLUSIONS: Given that the launch of a limited operation across the Line of Control on the Kashmir front would require approximately ten days of preparations, a pre-emptive strike by Pakistan to dissuade India from attacking is possible. Hence any type of military build-up on the frontline could be lead to a quick escalation of conflict; in that event, a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute cannot be excluded.  The context of India’s recent belligerence in Kashmir is hence chilling. It is advisable for both parties to exercise restraint and not attempt to alter the status quo. Pragmatism warrants that New Delhi recognizes that the way out of the Kashmir dispute lies not through the use of force or with a desire to destabilize Pakistan, but through a sustained process of peaceful negations with Pakistan. 

AUTHOR BIO: Maria Sultan is a senior research associate at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is also a lecturer in the department of Defence and Strategic Studies of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, and a faculty member of the Pakistan Foreign Service Academy.

Copyright 2001 The Analyst All rights reserved

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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