OVER 1.2 billion people in India and Pakistan are living under the shadow of all-out war between the two nuclear-armed states. An outbreak of full scale fighting would be catastrophic. Yet the threat remains, despite attempts at getting talks between the two regimes.
Yogendra Narain, India's defence secretary, said on Sunday, 'Pakistan is not a democratic country and we don't know their nuclear threshold. We will retaliate, and must be prepared for mutual destruction on both sides.' Pakistani generals called on General Musharraf, who heads the military regime in Pakistan, not to give an inch.
One hardliner said, 'I think General Musharraf is succumbing to pressure, and there is a limit to which you can succumb.' There are already over one million Indian and Pakistani troops in Kashmir, the divided territory both states claim. Shelling across the 'line of control' which separates them intensified throughout last week. Every major city in Pakistan and northern India is in range of both sides' nuclear missiles.
The US and Western governments have appealed for calm while pulling thousands of their citizens out. Hundreds of millions of overwhelmingly poor people in the Indian subcontinent have nowhere to go. The conflict between India and Pakistan is a result of the insane system championed by the US and its allies.
The same US and British leaders who call for talks between India and Pakistan are fuelling the global drive to war. On the same day India's defence secretary talked of 'mutual destruction', US president George Bush called for 'pre-emptive action' in his 'war against terror'-with Iraq as the main target.
He told officers at the West Point military academy, 'For much of the last century America's defence relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies. In this world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.'
That chilling logic is precisely what the Pakistani military regime and the Hindu chauvinist Indian government are following as they edge towards war. At a conference of Asian leaders last weekend US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz further fanned the flames when he called on them to join Bush's crusade.
The US-led war has already increased the tensions between India and Pakistan. The Pakistani elite swung behind the attack on Afghanistan. It lost influence in Afghanistan when its Taliban allies collapsed. As compensation it redirected Islamist militants towards Indian-occupied Kashmir to exploit the legitimate grievances of the population there.
The Indian government, headed by the anti-Muslim BJP, then used Bush's talk of a war on terror to declare Pakistan a terror state in December of last year and to justify war. BJP militants in the state of Gujarat orchestrated a horrific pogrom of Muslims which left over 1,000 dead.
Blair fans the flames
OVER 500 million people in India and Pakistan survive on less than $1 a day. Yet the rulers of both countries have armed themselves to the hilt. Between 1993 and 2000 the two countries' combined arms purchases were worth £13 billion. The so called responsible states that are now offering to mediate in the conflict provided the weapons.
Over the last two years, as the tensions over Kashmir rose, the British government licensed £122 million of arms sales to India and £17.5 million to Pakistan, which was under the military dictatorship of General Musharraf all that time.
British officials negotiated further arms sales during Tony Blair's 'peace mission' to the region in January this year. The following month Britain's Defence Manufacturers Association had a huge pavilion at the Indian government's Defexpo 2002 arms fair. The same arms manufacturers are planning to attend Pakistan's arms fair, Ideas 2002. Blair's government is still trying to rush through a £1 billion deal to provide 66 Hawk jets, built by BAe Systems, for India.
After 11 September the US government abandoned an arms embargo on both countries. Its ambassador to India said, 'We now anticipate a conclusive acceleration in defence cooperation which will include arms sales.' Other states have also supplied arms and sought to use the rivalry between India and Pakistan to advance their own interests in the region.
Russia provides £690 million of arms to India each year. China is the main provider of weapons to Pakistan. It also sold nuclear and missile technology. France sells Mirage jets to both air forces.
Victims of crisis
THE BIGGEST victims of the build-up for war between Pakistan and India over the last month have been the people of Kashmir who both states claim they are protecting. Kashmir was a casualty of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, which created the states of Pakistan and India. It was itself divided, and has been fought over three times since.
The Indian state has carried out monstrous atrocities against the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir, who are mainly Muslims. Pakistan has used this suffering to boost its own claim to be the protector of Kashmiri Muslims. In reality it wants to annexe the whole of Kashmir.
The part that it occupies is thoroughly undemocratic. Power is in the hands of appointees of the Pakistani state rather than Kashmiris. The people of Kashmir cannot be free if they are dominated by either the Pakistani or Indian state.
That is a message coming from fighters for independence in Kashmir. Both the Indian and Pakistani states have sought to whip up ferocious nationalism.
But there are peace campaigns in both countries. The biggest thing ordinary people elsewhere can do to help is to challenge the global slide towards increasing wars. At the heart of that lies Bush's 'war on terror'.
Bush wants to use nukes
EVEN THE thought of the use of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan is terrifying. The possibility of such immense destruction is testament to the insanity of the world capitalist system.
The Indian and Pakistani governments are not alone in contemplating the use of nuclear weapons. Earlier this year the Los Angeles Times reported that the latest US defence policy included the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons.
It authorises targeting non-nuclear states for the first time. It says nuclear weapons could be used when there is an unexpected development in a conventional war. Such a development could include a sudden reversal on the battlefield. US generals are considering just that possibility if Bush orders a full scale invasion of Iraq.
Britain's defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, quietly announced a few months ago that he too is prepared to authorise the first strike use of nuclear weapons.