For an aficionado of impeding crises, there are plenty locations from which to choose. As the events of the past couple of weeks demonstrated, one of the most probable spots is Kashmir. The MSM spent a fair amount of time and attention on the civil unrest on the Indian side of the dividing line but didn't bother to place the strife in the context where it belongs. Kashmir today is the contemporary version of Sarajevo in the summer of 1914.
The conflict over Kashmir holds the world record for longest running Cold and Hot War. The shooting over the 92,000 square miles started with the independence of India and Pakistan sixty-two years ago. The killing and dying have not stopped yet with the most recent additions to the body count being a hundred or so locals felled by the guns of Indian paramilitary police.
When the wars of partition ended, India was in possession of two thirds of Kashmir. Pakistan got the rump, the less densely populated mountain region in the west. The population divided in about the same proportion so that roughly eight million Kashmiri live on the Indian side of the Line of Control. Three million reside on Pakistani territory. It is important to note that over three quarters of the Kashmiri population is Muslim. Twenty percent are Hindu with the rest scattered between Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists. It is almost unnecessary to point out that religion is not a trivial consideration in the region.
The wars since partition have been short, bloody, inconclusive, and have usually ended to Indian advantage. In 1999 the two powers came perilously close to yet another war. By this time both possessed nuclear weapons. Considering the ranges and travel times involved, both India and Pakistan would have had no choice but launch-under-warning.
The launch-under-warning necessity continues today. Considering the most recent changes in both country's delivery systems there is good reason to posit that each is skidding toward a launch-under-threat doctrine. That reality is sufficient to make even the most limited, most ambiguous direct contact between Pakistani and Indian forces along the Line of Control a very scary thing.
China has played and continues to play the role of the dual sided sword in the Kashmir conflict. On the one hand Beijing has served as a destabilizing presence. An example: Back in the days of Mao, the Fifties to be precise, the Chinese occupied and annexed a portion of Kashmir, a stretch along the Aksai Chin mountains, to allow the building of a military road between Tibet and the Xinjang province in China. The close relationship between the Indian government under Nehru with both Moscow and Beijing assured this event went by with little noise and international interest.
Perhaps emboldened by the quick, quiet success of this action, Beijing went on to claim the Ladakh region of Indian Kashmir. The rapid and decisive slap down administered to the Indian army by the PLA was not uncoupled from this claim. Nor is the ongoing face off high in the mountains between Indian troops and their PLA rivals.
Through the Seventies and even more in the Eighties, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) armed, trained, and directed the activities of Kashmiri jhadi. In 1989 the long simmering but low level ISI managed partisan war escalated to a level rivaling or surpassing the Palestinian intifadas. The Indian security forces suppressed the uprising in a welter of blood--at least forty thousand were killed.
Neither the anti-Indian sentiments of the Kashmiri nor the ambitions of ISI were extinguished by the suppression as the rapidly blooming crisis of 1999 made clear. The Pakistanis did not even pretend to ratchet down the partisan war until the administration of George W. Bush used a combination of bribery and diplomatic pressure in the days following 9/11 to convince Islamabad to make genuflections before the alter of peace.
Even if someone were so delusional as to believe that the results of the Bush effort would be either genuinely effective or long lasting must have been disabused of this belief when the US showed a willingness to open new avenues of cooperation with the Indian government. These steps, most importantly the move to facilitate Indian civil nuclear power development, gave the Pakistanis pause.
Islamabad used this pause to reconsider their relations with China. It was not a Dulles style "agonizing reappraisal" but rather a quick but well-considered demarch to Beijing. The Trolls of Beijing were more than a tad interested in a new axis of interest between China and Pakistan. India was seen increasingly through the prism of the Forbidden City as an emerging rival for regional preeminence as well as an economic competitor in the making.
Given this and the profound anti-American sentiment in the Pakistani government and public, it has not been surprising to see Beijing successfully seek opportunities for investment and influence alike. Chinese money is developing port facilities in natural gas rich Baluchistan. China stands ready, willing, and eager to supplant the US as chief armorer of the Pakistani armed forces. Beijing's aid in the wake of the flood has been quick and generous. And, China is standing by to aid Pakistan in developing its nuclear power needs.
The Indio-Pakistani conflict in Kashmir has spilled over into Afghanistan. India has developed a major presence in Kabul. Indian money has been spread generously around the Karzai government, a dynamic which is aided greatly by the Indian government's open minded attitudes regarding bribery and corruption. The Indians have been successful to an outstanding extent in both countering Pakistan's paramount place in the Kabul government and expanding its own interests there.
This, in turn, has alarmed Islamabad. The vision of strategic depth in Afghanistan has driven Pakistani policy there since the last days of the Soviet occupation. In ongoing pursuit of this dream, Islamabad, particularly the ISI, has provided support and assistance to the anti-Karzai insurgents. The training camps and other necessary facilities strewing the remoter portions of Pakistan are there because Taliban and the Haqqani network are seen as keys to eventual Pakistani dominance of Kabul.
Kashmir and the groups advocating violent political Islam are joined head and hip. There is a set of very real problems for both India and Pakistan involved in this intimate relation between Kashmir and groups such as but not limited to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT.) It will be recalled that LeT was the executive agent of the 2008 attack on Mumbai.
As the ISI and others in Islamabad have found out repeatedly, LeT like Taliban and the Haqqani network are monsters which easily escape the leash of their creator. LeT and the others will and do pursue what each determines to be in its "national" interest. If that coincides with Islamabad's needs or desires, well, fine. If it doesn't, well, that is just too bad.
Terrorists need tensions to provide the necessary context for their operations. The combination of terrorism, violent political Islam, and tensions between states or within the population of a country is as natural as coffee and a doughnut. However, the combination of religiously predicated terrorism and inter-state tensions turns very ugly when operations are conducted in an environment with a launch-under-threat component.
The presence of Chinese troops in northern Pakistan in a place coterminous with Kashmir can be either stabilizing or it opposite. The troops are there ostensibly to repair the Kharakorum highway which is the only direct land route between China and the Pakistani region of Gilgit. The tipping point where the Chinese presence can shift from one of a potentially stabilizing one to its opposite comes with the unpleasant recent complication of an independent Kashmir.
About a million Kashmiri live in Gilgit which is historically a part of greater Kashmir. Within this million there are those (number unknown) who, like compatriots on both sides of the Line of Control, take the view that only an independent Kashmir can find peace and prosperity. Nationalism has been growing well under the radar scopes of the West, including the US. This is a very dangerous fact and one which augments the analogy between Kashmir today and Bosnia in 1914.
As yet another generation comes of age in divided and bloody Kashmir, the appeals of nationalism are being reinforced. The (to the outside world) invisible Chinese presence even though small and low profile is one more bit of kindling on the nationalistic fire. A growing but unquantifiable number of Kashmiri are seeing themselves as "occupied" pawns in an inscrutable Game of Nations.
In this context the force of armed political Islam should not, cannot, be overstated. A new generation of terrorist Frankenstein monsters is under construction. Soon this new force will be far beyond the control or even influence of Islamabad or Delhi.
As the world learned nearly a century ago, the effects of a small act of nationalistic terror can be totally non-linear in its ultimate effects. If this was true in an era of six shooters, where the machinegun was a world beater and the fighter aircraft not yet invented, think how true it might be in a day of nuclear tipped missiles and a launch-under-warning imperative.
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