Kashmir crisis and self-determination

Preacher Blair impressed no one on his junior imperialist tour of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, which ended earlier this week. Announcing he had arrived to "cool down" the governments of India and Pakistan in their current heated dispute was not exactly a good start: Blair's practised arrogance (complemented by his firengi sartorial efforts) impressed no one on the subcontinent. With Blair and his homilies gone, however, the armed forces of India and Pakistan still face each other in a higher state of tension than has existed at least since the last time they went to war 30 years ago. There have been short-lived mini-wars in that time, like that over Kargil three years ago, but nothing approaching the present situation. Of course, Kashmir is the jewel that the two states covet. It has been thus since the Hindu monarch of Jammu and Kashmir was 'persuaded' - what with the massed military might of both India and Pakistan (including Afghanis) pressing on all sides - to place his subjects in the hurriedly created India of 1947. When five men, allegedly backing Kashmiri separation from India, launched an attack on India's parliament building on December 13, it ended in their own deaths and propelled the Indian government toward war with Pakistan, blaming its government for "harbouring terrorists". Ministers of India's extreme rightwing administration even suggested that it was an attempt to wipe it out. The attack was the ideal pretext they needed to roll out the military hardware and challenge the old foe once and for all, face to face and beefed up with weapons of mass destruction. Despite both sides possessing nuclear capabilities, Indian government talk alarmingly claimed that India could survive nuclear war but Pakistan would be destroyed. Pakistan has controlled Azad (free) Kashmir (about a third of its territory, divided from Indian-ruled Kashmir by a longstanding 'line of control') for many years. Apart from fairly brief periods of more intense struggles, like the Kargil battles, although artillery shells have been lobbed between the two sides across this ceasefire line on a fairly frequent and almost humdrum basis for years, it was only with the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament last month that massive military mobilisation at the LOC took place. Although the claims are no doubt exaggerated somewhat, Pakistani military intelligence states that most of the Indian army has massed on the line, and that military command centres normally situated around Assam and in the west of India have been moved there in a manner reminiscent of the last time the two countries were at war in 1971. While Pakistan suffers under the military dictator, general Pervez Musharaf, who became president through a coup in October 1999, India is supposedly the world's largest democracy (ie, there are elections), though with a BJP government that includes at the highest levels supporters of the fascist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), hindu fanatics responsible for assassinating MK ('Mahatma') Gandhi for being too pro-muslim. Organiser, the RSS paper, now writes, "The time has come to solve the problem that is Pakistan forever and for all." A leader of the fascist Vishva Hindu Parishad (which has, incidentally, received finance from Labour-controlled local authorities in Britain), another element within the BJP firmament, has recently called for nuclear war against Pakistan, the "fountainhead of terrorism". Of course, the ruling class of neither country intends that the people of Kashmir should decide their own fate. Pakistani politicians have often paid lip service to Kashmiri rights, including that of self-determination, but when it comes down to it they believe that the whole of Kashmir should be ruled as part of Pakistan (whose founders, after all, placed the 'k' in its name to represent 'Kashmir'). Musharaf has to tread a difficult path if he wants to survive. Any Pakistani leader seen as abandoning the "freedom struggle" in Kashmir would presage his own political, and probably bodily, death. It is certainly true that muslim groups fostered within Pakistan over the years, whether to take over Kashmir or to bolster islamism in Afghanistan, have more than a foothold in the state, including the military. So Musharaf has been careful to maintain that in acting to outlaw a couple of these groups, "he was continuing a process he started last August. He wanted to make the point that he was not responding to Indian demands" (The Daily Telegraph January 8). He did, however, suggest in talks with Blair a few days ago that he would be looking in detail at a list of 20 terrorist suspects provided by India, though no timescale has been mentioned. But so far his official position has been that Pakistan's government cannot act on the list until India provides prima facie evidence of the suspects' involvement in terrorist activity. Members of the two jihadi groups concerned, Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure), the military wing of the Wahabi Dawa-wal-Irshad, and Maulana Masood's Jaish-e-Mohammad (Prophet Mohammed's Army), have been rounded up in Pakistan: Musharaf claims around 300 have been placed in custody. Lashkar-e-Toiba has been fighting with the Taliban and al-Qa'eda in Afghanistan. So Musharaf can therefore claim to India and the west to be doing something, while provoking his fundamentalist constituency minimally, but he has failed so far to move against the largest fundamentalist organisation operating in Kashmir, Hizb-ul Mujahedin, which has been reportedly taking part in joint operations with Lashkar-e-Toiba since 1997; this may be because Hizb-ul Mujahedin, allegedly, provides local knowledge to terrorist units run by Pakistan's intelligence service, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Indian prime minister Vajpayee and his government are dissatisfied with Musharaf's approach and are pressing him to act against the 20 listed suspects. Indian ministers have not been shy in making bellicose noises about the need for 'hot pursuit' of terrorists beyond the LOC and into Pakistan proper if Musharaf fails to deliver. Certainly, a drive by India's armed forces beyond the line, let alone into Pakistan itself, carries the real risk of all-out war, including the nuclear option. Left alternative? What of the left in Pakistan and India? In India, there is no evidence of any understanding of democratic questions such as the right of Kashmiris to self-determination, up to and including independence. People's Democracy, weekly paper of the mass 'official' Communist Party of India (Marxist), it is true, went out of its way to condemn xenophobic outbursts by government supporters in an article headed 'Unfolding of fascist project' (December 30), but seems more concerned at not being painted with the same brush as islamic jihadis by respectable society than opposing incipient war in a communist manner. So People's Democracy concentrates on advising Vajpayee et al how to be more effective rather than on combating the Indian state: "The government even after having prior intelligence inputs in this particular incident [December 13 attack - JG] failed to take any pre-emptive measures." In another article in the same issue ('Tackle terrorist threat without war'), it states: "The Indian government has a strong case to present before the world community. It should demand that the United Nations initiate steps against the terrorist organisations based in Pakistan." That seems to imply support for a UN invasion of Pakistan, following on the heels of the USA/UK venture in Afghanistan. The other mass 'official communist' party in India, the Communist Party of India, is even worse than its breakaway, the CPI (M). Immediately the terrorist attack took place in New Delhi on December 13, the CPI issued a statement in which, "The Party pays its respectful homage to those policemen who fought valiantly against the terrorists and laid their lives in defence of our parliament." Parliamentarist to the core, the CPI in subsequent statements has only referred obliquely to the post-December 13 environment, protesting at ministers comparing leftists to cross-border terrorists and trying to maintain their bourgeois respectability. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) also betrays its Stalinite, national socialist mindset. The CPI (ML) - supposedly a Maoist grouping - "strongly condemned the attack on Indian parliament "¦ the government should come out before the nation with the whole truth. "¦ the nation's concern is about whether the country's defence, security and sovereignty can really be safe in the hands of those involved in such murky deals" as members of the present BJP government. Even while condemning a "section of the ruling establishment "¦ bent on invoking jingoistic passion in the country which will further aggravate the situation," the CPI (ML) merely sees December 13 as providing government with an "opportunity to distract people's attention from its corruption and criminality" (Weekly News Magazine). CPI (ML) (Liberation) takes a slightly more measured approach that tackles the anti-democratic thrust of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) promulgated by the BJP government in October in response to the September 11 attacks in the USA. POTO replicates some of the worst trampling of democratic rights, such as detention without trial, of Indira Gandhi's legislation in the 1970s, which, far from targeting terrorists, was used against the working class. POTO was renewed on December 30. "While condemning the terrorist assault on the Parliament House, it is therefore all the more necessary to reject not just POTO, but the entire gamut of fascist arguments emanating from the Sangh Parivar [reactionary grouping at the core of the BJP government's support] "¦ while it is difficult to eliminate terrorism, it is possible to lessen the risks by creating a political environment that discourages terrorism "¦ For every genuine arrest of a terrorist under POTO, at least 100 innocent citizens or imaginary terrorists would also be subjected to state repression "¦ We must reject any military misadventure and fascist short-circuiting of the constitutional rule of law. Without a firm democratic resolve combined with a patient and realistic political handling, there can be no reduction of the terrorist threat" (Weekly News Bulletin December 19). In a similar vein, the CPI (ML) Red Flag said of the New Delhi terrorist attack on December 13 that, like the terrorist attack on September 11, which permitted the US government "to take away the democratic rights of US people, it is definite that Vajpayee government will utilise this attack to intensify the imposition of its communal fascist agenda" (press statement, December 13). Pakistan is, of course, without mass communist parties of any stripe, and the Labour Party Pakistan represents virtually the only pole of attraction for the left currently. In a recent article entitled 'Is India-Pakistan war imminent?', the LPP's general secretary, Farooq Tariq, writes: "Pakistan and Indian working class has to act and act decisively in the present situation. They have to act now. They have to reject the excuse of their rulers to go for the war. There is no excuse to start a war. They have to say no to war, yes to the peace. The need for a peace movement in the Indian subcontinent is greater at present than any other time in history. The real losers in the war between India and Pakistan will be ordinary citizens of both countries. They have to pay the price of the war. The rich and the capitalist will make money out of war and the workers will pay not only dearly with cash but with their lives as well. They have no safe place or any money to leave the country. "The Indian and Pakistan economies are no more than $400 dollars per capita. They both have almost one fifth of the world population. They both have more than 70% of the world poor. The economic impact of this war will be disastrous for both. Pakistan's economy is already on the verge of economic collapse despite all the claims of international help. The Afghan war has already ruined the Pakistan economy. A war between India and Pakistan will roll back the standard of living of the masses to an unprecedented level" (http://www.labour.00server.com, December 31). While comrade Tariq quite correctly calls clearly for action from the working class in both India and Pakistan, unlike anything coming from supposed communists in India, he and presumably his party still see the tasks to be tackled in terms of calls for peace and economistic demands. Nowhere do the rights of those who live in divided Kashmir appear to figure except as pawns to be moved around according to the whims and power of the two neighbouring states, India and Pakistan: they are to be ruled, one way or another. A previous Weekly Worker article ('Kashmir and freedom' Weekly Worker January 13 2000) dealt with the democratic question of how the working class, in Pakistan as well as India and elsewhere, have a duty to promote Kashmiri rights. The situation is crying out for the working class movements in both India and Pakistan to take their own independent line. Unless they do so, rather than presenting a challenge to their ruling class, they will repeatedly fall in behind one section or another of the political establishments in their respective countries. For it is precisely in times of war or the threat of it that the working class can strike home. It is an abomination of working class politics to suggest that we need to fight for peace so we can have 'normal' (ie, economistic) political struggle. War brings instability for the bourgeoisie and it is thus the duty of communists wherever war rears its head to make the best of it in the only revolutionary way possible, by fighting for the defeat of our own rulers "¦ by the working class. In India and Pakistan the best way to oppose the scheming of the ruling class is to champion the right of the Kashmiris to self-determination - a right which both states wish to deny. Jim Gilbert