The military response of the American Empire to September 11 has made the world more dangerous and insecure. Its political strategy has led to the promotion of Ariel Sharon and Vladimir Putin as key allies in the ‘war against terror’ and ‘Islamo-fascism’. Palestinian and Chechen lives have become insignificant in the eyes of the Bush administration and have reduced the liberal belligeratti to near-silence on these issues. Hacks in sections of the liberal press have become part of a propaganda campaign to destroy the regime in Iraq and replace it with a puppet administration.
Meanwhile, the level of ignorance on the volatile situation in South Asia is disturbing. The monthly casualty rate in Kashmir is higher than in Palestine, but the world does not seem to care. Its population, exhausted by decades of violence, has become passive and listless, unconcerned with the wars being waged in its name.
In Pakistan, the armed jihadi groups which have been attempting to provoke a war with India by bombing the Indian Parliament and targetting civilians in Kashmir were creations of Pakistani military intelligence. Are they out of control? Or, do they reflect the opinion of hawkish sections of the Army who are angry and bitter?
The Indians, for their part, argue that if the United States could bomb a country and change its government while searching for terrorists, why not India. If Sharon can occupy Palestinian territories, kill civilians, why not India? If Putin can raise Grozny to the ground and supervise the deaths of over 10,000 Chechens, why not India?
The logic is impeccable, but it is foolish to expect consistency from Empires. Imperial fundamentalism is far more ruthless and single-minded than the other variety. What always comes first is the economic and strategic interests of the America Empire. The reason Mr Vajpayee of India cannot be permitted to emulate the war-criminal who rules Israel is because Pakistan is a valued ally. That’s why there never was a danger of an all-out war between India and Pakistan. It would have meant the bombing of Pakistan’s military and air bases. Since a number of these are currently being used by the Empire to fight in Afghanistan, it would have led to US casualties which no regime in New Delhi could risk. The nuclear sabre-rattling provided a substitute for a real war and an opportunity for visiting statesmen like Blair, Cheney and Rumsfeld to hawk their military wares to both sides.
A few years ago, the hope that a negotiated settlement in Kashmir might be possible was raised. It was not to be. The American response to September 11 made this impossible.
The province itself has become a football, badly fouled by both sides. Pakistan’s secret services blatantly manipulate the terrorist attacks. India responds with state terror. Behind this tragedy lurks an obvious solution. Kashmir is the unfinished business of the Partition of 1947. It has been disputed territory since India and Pakistan became independent states in 1947. The simplest solution would have been to permit a referendum so that the population could decide which of the two states it wanted to join. India, first agreed and then sabotaged all attempts by the Kashmiris to determine their own future.
Is there a way out of this crisis? There is, but it requires a leap of the imagination on the part of the politicians and Generals who rule South Asia. The dispute can not be resolved if our gaze concentrates exclusively on Kashmir. What is needed is a wide-ranging economic and political settlement, whose benefits would include a shared sovereignty for Kashmir. A South Asian Union, modelled partially on the EU and including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka could help the region as a whole. While the founding states would preserve their sovereignty, a soft-border between them could provide genuine autonomy for Kashmir, which could be extended to the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka. The Kashmiris would be prepared to forego their own army and foreign policy if a shared sovereignty within a broader framework was possible.
Most citizens of South Asia want a durable peace. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh alone have a combined population of well over a billion. Linguistically diverse, the entire region shares cultures and histories in common. A massive reduction in military expenditure could be one beneficial result. Neither India nor Pakistan can afford this weaponry. Both countries would benefit enormously if the billions spent on nuclear weapons were used to subsidise health and education. As the two states confront each other, such a solution appears utopian. In fact, it is the only realistic way forward.
Tariq Ali’s latest book ‘The Clash of Fundamentalisms’, from Verso, contains a detailed history of Kashmir.