[Last update: 19 September 2001]

Dangers in Pakistan

I am very, very worried about the situation in Pakistan. I had a very chilling discussion with my dissertation supervisor about this today, and also with one of my Indian neighbors, a hard sciences PhD who works at UT. Their opinions are that the US government's hardball with Musharraf puts him in a very dangerous spot. There is a very reactionary faction with in the Pakistani military that absolutely hate the strong-arming that has occured. Musharraf's position was precarious before this, and it is much worse now. He could wind up being killed in a coup, and then we have civil war in Pakistan, a member of the nuclear club. Our government is walking the edge of a very slippery, very steep slope.

Many Pakistanis, especially in the military, sympathize with the Taliban. Three regimes back, Zia ul-Haq, the then military dictator, essentially set up a reactionary Islamic regime, complete with mandatory veiling, inhumane rape laws and criminal codes. It was not universally hated, in fact many in Pakistan would not object to a return to a more doctrinaire approach. The problem is, not all do -- enough citizens dissent from this that there is a very real danger now of civil war in Pakistan over this mess.

Now here's where it gets ugly: India and Pakistan have fought three wars in fifty years over the disputed state of Kashmir. Both lob shells at each other across the UN-imposed but often violated and completely unacknowledged Line of Control. Both parties want the whole state. India wants it because Kashmir, back in the bad old days of the British Raj, was a princely state ruled by a Hindu dynasty. The maharaja of Kashmir, like all the princely states, had to choose in 1947 (the time of independence and Partition) between going with Pakistan or with India. The majority population was and still is Muslim. This is why Pakistan wants it. Nehru got to the maharaja, and Kashmir went with India in 1947. They've been squabbling over that piece of gorgeous real estate ever since. The situation is almost every bit as bad as Palestine, but it is mostly sealed to the outside world, so few really know about Kashmir's problems. There is some indication that the Kashmiris wouold really like to have their own independent state. It's too dangerous for Indian settlers, but rape, murder and every imaginable atrocity occur there nearly every day. It is a grenade missing its pin.

Why is this a problem? Simple. Mujaheddin from Pakistan, and possibly Afghanistan, go across the mountain borders all the time to wage guerilla war. The Pakistanis may well fund it: if not officially, then definitely unofficially. (Personally, I can't see Musharraf or his predecessors officially and openly funding the mujaheddin.) It is India's constant complaint. If civil war breaks out in Pakistan, the Kashmir hand grenade will go off. That's not speculation, that is the consensus among those who study this region professionally or who emigrate from South Asia. I really think that the Indian states which border Pakistan (the Punjab and Rajasthan) will see spillover from a Pakistani civil war. This will drive the government in New Delhi to retaliate militarily. Please remember that India is also a member of the nuclear club.

Two countries, which totally hate each other, where communalist passions are easily inflamed, with a volatile international scenario rapidly developing in their backyards, have nuclear weapons, people. The stakes are getting much too high. Our government has only started paying serious attention to South Asia, as far as policy-making goes, in the last few years. The US always kept their distance from India during the Cold War, because India was part of the non-aligned movement, along with Indonesia and several other countries in the developing world, and were feared for their polite relations with the Soviets. So I really do not think our government's policy-making bodies have sufficiently respected regional experts to explain this to the Administration's Cold-War-fixated thick skulls. I do not think they see this coming, but everyone in the South Asia field does.


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