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S U B C O N T I N E N T A L   D R I F T
The Folly of Fighting
Why an Indo-Pakistani war won't solve the Kashmir problem

March 9, 2000
Web posted at 6 a.m. Hong Kong time, 5 p.m. EST

There are, apparently, people out there who believe India and Pakistan can resolve the Kashmir issue, once and for all time, by waging all-out war. Look at the poll on Kashmir on the South Asia section of this site: the majority of respondents say the 53-year-old problem cannot be solved by peaceful means. Who thinks this? Mainly Indians, judging from the postings on our bulletin board and the letters sent directly to us.

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The poll and the letters don't represent scientific samples, so it's difficult to gauge the popularity of this view. But it's not hard to see why some Indians might favor a military solution: after all, they beat Pakistan in all three South Asian wars since independence. Victors tend to be oblivious to the folly of fighting. (Perhaps because they lost those three wars, few Pakistanis on our board propose a fourth.) India's successful expulsion of a Pakistani intrusion in Kargil last summer has also fanned jingoistic flames. If our boys could kick the Pakistanis out of Kargil, then why not go the whole nine yards and boot them out of Pakistan-held Kashmir?

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Here's why not: modern wars don't provide long-term solutions to problems. I could point to the Koreas, the Middle East and other examples from across the globe, but there are perfectly good ones closer home. India and Pakistan have fought two and a half times over the Valley ('71 was really about Bangladesh, but the matter of Kashmir did come up), and they still don't have a solution. Why should we believe more fighting will help?

On the other hand, there's no question that any war would hurt both sides. There's no need to dwell on the catastrophe that would be wrought by a nuclear exchange across the Line of Control--I don't believe that worst-case scenario will ever pan out. There might be bloodthirsty hawks in both governments, but there are also enough sane minds to prevent a holocaust. And the chances of a full-scale conventional war ended with the tit-for-tat nuclear testing in '98.

Any future fighting over Kashmir will be a variant of the Kargil skirmish. Let's replay that sorry episode in our minds. First, Pakistani troops and Islamic guerrillas use the cover of winter to occupy a patch of Kashmir on the Indian side of the LOC. Come the thaw, the Indians discover the intruders. Both sides exchange furious fire. As international pressure mounts on both sides to exercise restraint, Islamabad denies that the men on the mountain are Pakistani regulars. Delhi says it has proof--documents and ID cards found on dead soldiers; but Pakistan says these are forged. TIME publishes an interview with a Pakistani soldier that points to Islamabad's culpability. But the United Nations and Western powers are too cautious to pass judgment. Meanwhile in the mountains, hundreds die before the Indians eject the intruders.

Who gained what from the fighting? The Pakistani military got a slap in the face, but it wasn't hard enough to hurt the generals' credibility at home. Witness the popularity of General Pervez Musharraf's coup. The Indians felt victorious for a while, but soon the news from Kashmir returned to "normal"--rebels killing soldiers, soldiers killing rebels and lots of innocent people dying in the crossfire. Since the rest of the world was loath to blame Islamabad for the fighting, Delhi failed to gain any diplomatic leverage from Kargil.

So India and Pakistan are back to the status quo--which is exactly where any future fighting will take them. War is a waste of time and resources. Talking, as hard as it might be, is the only way to peace.

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