THOUSANDS OF civilians are fleeing their homes in Kashmir. The death toll is mounting as shelling by Indian and Pakistani troops escalates. India and Pakistan were teetering on the brink of all-out war at the beginning of this week. Both states have nuclear weapons. Even a war using conventional arms will inflict slaughter in Kashmir and along the India-Pakistan border.
The conflict could deepen instability throughout the region. The US and Britain have already done that with the war on Afghanistan. And they have armed both India and Pakistan. The drive to war reached new depths in recent days as the Pakistani regime led by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf test fired three missiles. The Ghaznavi missile is capable of delivering nuclear warheads against most Indian cities. India has similar missiles.
India and Pakistan have one million troops between them in Kashmir. Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has called on his soldiers 'to be ready for your sacrifice. Your goal should be victory. It is time to fight a decisive battle.' General Musharraf responded on Monday of this week by saying, 'I am a military man. While I do not want war, I am not scared of war.'
The combined population of India and Pakistan, over 1.2 billion people, face the nightmare of war under the shadow of the nuclear bomb. Skirmishes have spiralled out of control after an attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir, killing 34 people. The Islamist separatist group Lashkar-e tolba claimed responsibility for the attack.
It is one of many groups funded and backed by the ISI, Pakistan's secret service. Before the US war in Afghanistan, the ISI used these groups to carry out a proxy war in Kashmir with the knowledge of the US. Musharraf did a U-turn over support for the groups in order to be part of Bush's war on Afghanistan.
But India's government, headed by the Hindu chauvinist BJP party, is using the US war on terror to justify war with Pakistan. Vajpayee asked earlier this year, 'When the world is fighting terrorism and American forces are in Afghanistan fighting the forces of terrorism, then how and for how long can India tolerate terrorism?'
The US and Britain are throwing up their hands in horror at the prospect of a war between India and Pakistan. But Bush and Blair have made it more likely by claiming that war is justified 'to defeat terrorism'. And the way the US has flipped between favouring Pakistan and favouring India as its main ally in the region has further fuelled the tension.
In the wake of the Afghanistan war the governments of India and Pakistan are both out to demonstrate that they are the main regional power, deserving of US support.
On the one side stands the military dictator of Pakistan, who is desperate to hold on to the power he seized in 1999 with the support of army hardliners. On the other stands the government of the BJP, a party whose members orchestrated the recent massacre of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat. British government ministers have sold arms to both.
New Labour ministers granted 700 arms export licences valued at £64 million to India and £6 million to Pakistan in 2000. As recently as last January Blair promoted a deal by British arms maker BAe Systems while on a 'peace mission' to the region. BAe Systems is to profit from the £1 billion deal to supply India with 60 Hawk jets.
As Socialist Worker went to press Blair's government was refusing to stop arms sales. The Ministry of Defence is trying to sell Sea Harrier jets to India. Yet Blair hypocritically dispatches Jack Straw to the region to 'appeal for peace'.
The people who rained death on Afghanistan and who plan war on Iraq cannot bring peace to India and Pakistan. Those who can are the hundreds of millions of people who live there, mostly in dire poverty. They have every reason to oppose the rival gangs on both sides of the border.