A World At War?
10 September 2004
London: What's the worst that could happen? India and Pakistan's rivalry over Kashmir could, by 2020, have finally have erupted into a nuclear exchange that might leave 100 million people dead and lay waste to half a million square kilometres of rich agricultural land in Asia. The roots of such a disaster would lie in a series of political miscalculations and in chronic economic mismanagement. The main problem will be the two neighbours refusing to make the tough decisions required for peace. Political misjudgments would see India failing to realise its potential as an economic powerhouse, with successive governments introducing policies that favour the rise of a small urban elite, rather than lifting the fortunes of the rural poor. This could spark armed insurrection among the poor of northern and eastern India. The Maoist rebellion in Nepal would exacerbate the problem, providing ideological coherence from the Himalaya to the plains of India. Governance will be a thing of the past in many of India's large northern and eastern states. The country's southern regions, which have their own distinctive culture and languages, will begin to agitate for a form of independence. The north will react differently to the political chaos, electing a hardline Hindu nationalist leadership that would stress national unity. Its plea would fail. The Indian union will unravel if a south Indian fiscal union is formed between Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. These four wealthy states, with close ties to the hi-tech US defence industry and burgeoning software industries, might refuse to subsidise the central government and the north, leading to a major political crisis. In Pakistan, the modernisers will lose out to the religious zealots by 2010 after Nato ends all its operations in Afghanistan. The military, in effect, will become the armed wing of a theocracy - one armed with a nuclear bomb. This fundamentalist state would begin to neglect education and would do little to stem the rise of Islamic institutes, preferring instead to produce an army of willing volunteers for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Religion would not be a strong enough glue for the nation. The simmering tension between the states of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab would begin to boil over. The argument will be that Punjab's plains soak up most of Pakistan's water and its industry consumes most of the country's coal, depriving other states. Militant groups would declare independence in Sindh and Balochistan and begin targeting Punjabi officials. Pakistan's civil war would have begun. In Kashmir, the issue of water is going to be crucial. The three rivers that feed Pakistan - the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum - run through Indian Kashmir. With the water table of Pakistan decreasing and north-west India facing shortages, the two nations will abrogate their mutual water treaty by 2015. America might by then have decided that an independent Kashmir is the answer and arm insurgency groups via China. And by then Kashmir will have become a killing field, with Indian and Pakistani-backed fighters engaged in open warfare. This war in Kashmir, Pakistan's anarchy and political chaos in India will turn the region into a live bomb: all that would be needed is someone to light the fuse. Kashmir will be the excuse, not the reason. But by this point apocalypse will be inevitable; the world will have seen its first case of mutually assured destruction. What's the best that could happen? By 2020 no one will believe that almost 20 years before, Pakistan and India were poised in a nuclear stand-off over the then restive Kashmir, which will have become the tranquil tourist haven of Kashmir Autonomous Region. The turning point was the summer of 2002, which marked the end of history for the region. Not long after, the leaders of the two nations began to escape from the prison of the past. India and Pakistan made the commitment to develop friendly relations and leave the settlement of the Kashmir question to the diplomatic process which began this year. The factor that will lead to peace is the realisation of the leadership of both countries that neither can win militarily. That, and the emergence of a new South Asian Union (SAU) as a single economic area, which will grease the development of sound bilateral relations. Instead of Hindu nationalism and Islamic chauvinism, leaders in both countries would then opt for good governance and development. The simple fact is that to house, feed and provide jobs for ever-growing populations, both India and Pakistan need to start working together. By making social and economic policies the priority for government, rather than nurturing nationalism, both will lift tens of millions out of poverty. Trade will be the proving ground of the new relationship. If the energy-hungry metropolises of the subcontinent can be supplied by pipelines from Iran and Turkmenistan, then both countries will stand to benefit. Islamabad will gain wealth from transit fees while India will be able to buy cheap energy. The two countries will discover that trade is a game of mutual interests, where both will be able to seek and gain benefit. Delhi will allow Pakistani goods to travel by road to reach south-east Asia. In return Islamabad will open transit routes to central Asia for Indian wares. The cultural and religious antagonisms between India and Pakistan will then fade, reducing the need for perpetual war-footing. No longer will their people consider each other to be in the grip of obscurantist preachers and zealots. They will be too busy setting up factories, rediscovering lost relatives and friends on the other side of the border, as well as taking holidays in hill stations and balmy sunspots. The signing of a nuclear-arms reduction treaty between India and Pakistan will also reduce tensions, and China will play a key role, aware that nuclear war in its backyard will hamper its own peaceful rise. In Kashmir, under the guidance of an American peace envoy, a ceasefire will be in place by 2007. The Indian army will finally withdraw from the Kashmir Valley and Delhi can then address the human rights violations perpetrated since the insurgency began in 1989. Pakistan, too, will end its shadowy intelligence operations and close down militant camps in Kashmir. Home-grown armed separatists can then move towards the use of the ballot box, not the bullet. If a settlement is reached, the pace of change could be so fast that the problem will be not peace, but deciding what follows peace. Kashmir's complicated geography and the fact its territory is fractured along the fault lines of national identity and state allegiance mean there would be no easy answers. There are minorities who would fight for the status quo as viciously as they would for independence. To defuse these tensions will require a peace plan that first devolves power from Islamabad and Delhi to the state capitals of the two halves of Kashmir. Also elections in Pakistani and Indian Kashmir would allow representation from all political shades. The border would remain but crossing it would require no travel documents. By 2020, a single Kashmir political entity could be a reality, in one of the world's most tense and bitter rivalries. What's likely to happen? The concept of a separate Kashmiri identity is going to disappear over the next 16 years, as the independence movement is submerged by the crashing waves of Indian and Pakistani nationalism. Kashmir will be simply carved into two by both countries, with China being handed the mountainous portion its army has occupied for decades. India and Pakistan will accept the deal, and the people of Kashmir will pay the price. Lacking an inspirational leader, Kashmiris will be unable to tell the world of their plight. The likely sop to the Kashmiri people will be a form of travel documents which both India and Pakistan will pledge to upgrade, eventually, into passports. Talk of a cross-border Kashmiri parliament will come to nothing: all that is likely to happen is a regular meeting of Indian and Pakistani-appointed politicians. Such a Kashmir settlement would not be accepted by separatists on either side of the border, but they will be unable to mobilise resistance. A joint Indo-Pakistan covert military operation will pick off the militant leaders and simply repress all forms of dissent. The reason for the diminishing importance of Kashmir in both national psyches is that both countries simply have more to lose than to gain over the issue. Pakistan will in time come to realise its primary advantage over India lies in its geopolitical location, which gives it access to the huge and growing market across the border. It will be in both countries' interests to agree a nuclear no-first-use pact, probably sponsored by the Americans The two countries will also be brought closer by the movement towards a south Asian common market. When an agreement to establish a SAU is finally signed in 2015, the region's legal and economic institutions will be forced to improve their services and, to some extent, harmonise their activities. The SAU would have to grant Kashmir special status, but to tempt investors restrictions on land acquisitions will be lifted, leading to a buy up by big business. That will mean the arrival of a migrant workforce for Kashmir's new industrial sector. The distinctive character of the region will start to fade, just like Tibet since its annexation by China. A less confrontational relationship between India and Pakistan will mean that by 2020 the shadow of conflict will no longer hang over south Asia.