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Commentary | PERSPECTIVE ON NUCLEAR WAR

Kashmir Could Ignite a Cataclysm

Islamic states are liable to rally round Pakistan, which the U.S. is sanctioning with India. And China gets MFN.

June 15, 1998|BRUCE HERSCHENSOHN | Bruce Herschensohn is a distinguished fellow at the Claremont Institute

Maybe the best will come about and Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan will sign an agreement and bless each other, and Kashmir will live in peace. But that is not a prediction. It is a hope.

Since the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, there has been a series of conflicts in Southwest Asia, including two major wars (1947 and 1965) between India and Pakistan over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The chronology of conflicts on the subcontinent includes more than those two wars: There was the 1962 border war between India and China and the 1971 war for the independence of East Pakistan from West Pakistan, resulting in East Pakistan, with the support of India, becoming Bangladesh.

More recently, China has been supplying Pakistan M-11 missiles as well as technology and equipment for Pakistan's Ghauri missiles.

Would a fifth war in that region just be another date to add to the chronology? Not likely. In all previous wars, neither India nor Pakistan had nuclear capability. Now they both do. Neither side had a missile delivery system that could cause warheads to reach each other's capital cities in minutes. Now they both do. In those past wars, the northern neighbor, China, was not the economic and military giant that it is today. With the help of the United States, China is fast becoming a world force. Moreover, during the wars of 1947, 1962, 1965 and 1971, there was no Islamic fundamentalist revolution in the world.

If India and Pakistan were to be at war again, it is entirely possible that an immediate alliance would be formed among Pakistan, China, and Islamic fundamentalists. That partnership could include more than half the population of the world, reaching from Asia to the Middle East and parts of Africa and into Europe.

Whereas some Islamic governments would be hesitant to join the alliance, others would be eager, and the hesitant would be likely to follow the leadership of the eager, out of fear.

Iran would be eager. Beyond the Islamic religion that would link it to Pakistan, Iran would have an indebtedness to China for supplying it with anti-ship cruise missiles as well as nuclear and chemical warfare capabilities. Even if President Mohammad Khatami wanted to sit it out, his authority is subordinate to the mullahs who look at every cough as a justification for a holy war.

Iraq would be eager. Saddam Hussein, who has been quoting the Koran in his recent speeches, is attempting to portray himself as a deeply religious man. Although it is doubtful that he knows which way to turn to face Mecca, he added the words "Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar" (God Is Great, God Is Great) to the flag of Iraq. In addition, he has ordered the construction of the world's biggest mosque, designed to shelter 45,000 worshipers and named, unsurprisingly, Saddam Mosque.

Yasser Arafat, who would consider Kashmir to be a distraction from his own cause of taking over more and more of Israel, would not only feel obligated to bend to his "brothers" as he bent to Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf War, but he would probably seize the opportunity to give other Islamic states evidence of his "brotherhood."

The alliance of Islamic states would likely include Hafez Assad of Syria and Moammar Kadafi of Libya, both of whom have received missile components from China and would like to continue receiving them. That alliance could well reach into Europe if Bosnian Muslims wanted to exhibit appreciation for the only arms they received for years against the Serb military--while the United States enacted an arms embargo.

Other parts of Europe would not be immune from the conflict. The large Pakistani and Indian communities of London would not sit still while Britain favored one or the other. Neutrality would be worse.

Who would be on the side of India? Russia? Maybe. But Russia's old habit of aiding India would have to be appraised under current political realities. The Muslims of Russia and of the Commonwealth of Independent States would not be as subservient to Moscow as they were when there was a Soviet Union. To enhance India's peril, the president of the United States has called China "our partner" and annually grants it a continuation of most-favored-nation trading status. Although there is much congressional support for economic sanctions against both India and Pakistan for their 1998 nuclear underground tests, this combination of policies is an untenable one: The United States is punishing two democracies while rewarding a totalitarian government. Worse than that, China has become a privileged sanctuary for U.S. dollars and technology and other goods to flow from the United States to China and from China to Pakistan.

The Clinton administration, which was bored by the Kashmir dispute until the recent underground nuclear tests of both India and Pakistan, seems unable to view this conflict in a global context. That lack of vision is a threat to more than Kashmir, more than India and Pakistan.

There should be quick U-turns made in U.S. policy with the suspension of MFN trade status and an immediate halt to all technology transfers to China. The United States should increase its defense capabilities to Reagan administration levels, and the United States should immediately deploy a ballistic missile defense system.

The Clinton foreign and defense policies, subscribed to by much of Congress, have been to plan for the best and deny the worst, instead of planning for the worst and being active in bringing about the best. Power, not U.N. resolutions, can smother sparks before they spread, and Kashmir is a spark that is capable of igniting a conflict of global proportions.

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