June 15, 2002 - Bakersfield Californian: An RPCV looks at Kashmir

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An RPCV looks at Kashmir

Read and comment on this op-ed piece from the Bakersfield Californian by India RPCV Gene Tackett with his views on the international situation in Kashmir at:

Viewpoint / Gene Tackett: Kashmir*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Viewpoint / Gene Tackett: Kashmir

Saturday June 15, 2002, 05:20:09 PM

Over 30 years ago, I spent a very peaceful week in Kashmir. Along with four other Peace Corps volunteers in India, I made the 12-hour train and bus ride from New Delhi to India's most northern province sharing a border with Pakistan. We rented a three-bedroom houseboat on Dal Lake in Shrinagar and enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Muslim culture in this Himalayan paradise.

Today there are 1 million Indian and Pakistani soldiers lined along the 1,800-mile border separating the two countries. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan by the 480-mile Line of Control that follows a cease-fire line established in 1949 and officially negotiated by the two countries in 1972.

The entire world is concerned about a nuclear war between India and Pakistan with worldwide consequences. The United States, the United Nations and at least 12 other countries have issued travel warnings in South Asia. Kashmir is no longer a peaceful place.

The Kashmir issue began when India became independent of Great Britain in 1947. The British, responding to political pressure, partitioned India to create a majority Muslim nation, Pakistan. Kashmir had a Muslim majority population, but was ruled by a Hindu prince who wanted to stay with India. It remained with India and has been a flash point ever since.

For Pakistan, Kashmir is cause for a national liberation struggle; those fighting for independence or to be a part of Pakistan are viewed as soldiers in an honorable cause. India views those actions as terrorist activities.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars. The first was right after Independence and Partition in 1947, with a cease-fire in 1949 and Pakistan gaining one third of Kashmir. The second was in 1965 and was also fought over Kashmir. The third, in 1971, was fought in East Pakistan and ended with the creation of Bangladesh. This last war included heavy fighting in Kashmir. Since the two countries developed nuclear weapons in the 1990s, there has not been a full-scale war.

Pakistan is an Islamic nation. Even though India is a secular nation, 80 percent is Hindu. But there are almost as many Muslims in India, 130 million, as the entire population of Pakistan, 146 million. There have been religious battles in India between Muslims and Hindus over the last thousand years.

Hindu temples were destroyed and mosques built on their sites. Recently, thousands of Hindu nationalists prayed and marched in Ayodhya, 350 miles east of New Delhi, in a campaign to pressure the Indian government to let them build a temple at the site of a razed mosque. Fear of Hindu-Muslim clashes and threats by Islamic separatist guerrillas, caused the national government to send 10,000 police and paramilitary troops to guard the area.

Intelligence information reported a Pakistan-based militant group planned to attack the Hindu temple. In 1992, Hindus using spades and crowbars tore down a 16th century mosque and triggered riots that killed more than 2,000 people.

Hindus believe that Lord Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, was born at the site and that Mugal emperor Babar build the mosque on the ruins of a Hindu temple he destroyed. Muslims slaughter cows outside temples and Hindu wedding music is played outside the mosque. Religion impacts local and national politics in both countries and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority province in India.

Domestic political pressures in both countries and the personalities of the leaders have lead to the atomic weapons rattling. India's Vajpayee, a poet and orator, is considered the moderate face of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. His political party has been weakened by defeats in local elections and the handling of deadly Hindu-Muslim riots. He had two knee-replacement surgeries last year and the 77-year-old prime minister appears increasingly enfeebled. But with every strike launched by the Kashmiri militants, his internal political problems no longer appear on the front pages of newspapers and the pressure for Vajpayee to react against Pakistan has increased.

After major attacks in India last year, Vajpayee ordered a massive mobilization along the border with Pakistan. In October, militants attacked the state legislature in Srinagar killing 38 people. In December, militants assaulted the national parliament in New Delhi where 14 died. Last month there was a suicide strike by Pakistani militants at an Indian Army base in India-controlled Kashmir killing 30, mostly soldiers' wives and children.

General Musharraf, a paratrooper who ran the army before a coup made him Pakistan's dictatorial president, was born in India in 1943. He fled with his family to newly created Pakistan in 1947. Kashmir has long been a professional preoccupation for Musharraf. A hawk on security issues, he orchestrated the 1999 military incursion across the Line of Control.

He faces political opposition because of his decision to end Pakistan's long-standing support for the Afghanistan's Taliban regime. In January, he outlawed three Pakistan-based Islamic guerrilla groups that India blames for terrorist attacks and arrested hundreds of their activists. Reports have the groups moving to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and working under new names. Many of the arrested activists have been released. Musharref could face a lethal uprising among senior military officers if he cracks down harder on the militants. But a recent poll commissioned by the U.S. State Department reported that 72 percent of urban Pakistanis have confidence in him and support his banning of the extremist Islamic groups that have caused havoc inside Pakistan.

Is there a peaceful solution? It may be that the unthinkable consequence of a nuclear war in an area where one out of every five human beings lives is the real deterrent. The ghost of Gandhi and the influence of Islamic poetry are not helping. The weather is not helping. It is a time of shadeed garmi, extreme heat. It was 120 last week in Delhi, 110 in Islamabad and well over 100 in Kashmir. The cool, calming monsoon rains will come next month. Maybe, they will cool the heated tempers on both sides of the Line of Control.

In the meantime, we need to help India with its fight against terrorism on its homeland. We need to keep the pressure on Musharraf to stop Pakistan's support for cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. We need to work with the United Nations to craft a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. I want to make a return trek to the houseboat on Dal Lake.

Gene Tackett, a political consultant, is a resident of Bakersfield and a former Kern County supervisor.

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