AN ATTACK on an Indian army camp in Kashmir by Kashmiri separatists has increased tensions between India and Pakistan threatening a potentially horrific escalation in the region’s long-running conflict.

Since the attack on the barracks, in which 34 people were killed, including the attackers, India has retaliated by expelling the Pakistani high commissioner. The troops of both governments have massed either side of their common border and along the Line of Control in Kashmir and have launched artillery shells at each other.

These events have the potential to spiral into full-scale war between Pakistan and India. In recent months, the media and both governments had already adopted an increasingly bellicose stance over Kashmir. Kashmir is occupied and divided into Pakistan administered and Indian administered regions. In the last decade, thousands of Kashmiris have died from military repression in Indian occupied Kashmir. Unemployment and poverty is rife.

Were a war to take place it would be the third that India and Pakistan have fought over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947. However, war today could potentially have far more devastating consequences for the masses in the region.

Already, over the last months increasing tension and the threat of an escalation in the conflict have created a massive social crisis, with thousands of refugees fleeing villages near the border. Prior to the last attacks over 100,000 had fled on the Pakistani side of the border.

But most horrifying for workers and the poor across the subcontinent, is the potential for a nuclear conflict between the two countries. Both India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons. Pakistan has said that it would be prepared to use them in the event of a conventional attack by India. And while the ruling classes in India and Pakistan spend $billions on armaments the working masses and rural poor are denied access to proper healthcare, education and housing.

Instability

The threat of war, even nuclear war demonstrates the instability of the region under capitalism. This instability has increased since 11 September and the US- led war in Afghanistan. Both Indian and Pakistani governments are playing a dangerous game in beating their nationalist drums to garner domestic support. They may find it impossible to put the nationalist genie back into the bottle.

In India, the Hindu nationalist ruling BJP has given succour to even more extreme Hindu nationalist organisations leading to renewed sectarian clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the border state of Gujurat.

In elections earlier this year in Uttar Pradesh state where the BJP was defeated, it ran a highly communal election campaign using the Ayodhya Temple issue to polarise voters along religious lines.

India and Pakistan last faced a military stand-off in January of this year. That followed the 13 December attack on the Indian parliament, which India claims was perpetrated by a Kashmiri Islamic group backed by Pakistan.

The situation was defused only after much pressure was applied to the Pakistani regime from George Bush and Tony Blair. Musharaff announced on 13 January the banning of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other sectarian organisations. However, Musharaff no doubt feels his status as a vital ally of the US against the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, has strengthened his hand against India. As a result he may feel more confident to ratchet up the tension, while counting on the US to keep India in check.

The US administration is frantically attempting to calm things down between India and Pakistan. A war between India and Pakistan would scupper their plans for the continuation of the ’war against terrorism’ in the Middle East. However, the divisions and instability created by imperialism in the region over centuries are not easy for it to control. Once a conventional war starts, it could spiral out of control.

Ultimately, the only solution to instability and the threat of war in the region is a socialist one. That means that capitalism and feudalism have to be overthrown.

The workers, youth and peasants of Kashmir, India and Pakistan have more in common with each other than their rulers. The struggle for an independent socialist Kashmir, as part of a voluntary federation of socialist South Asian states, presents the only way forward.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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