India and Pakistan: Millions threatened with a Nuclear Holocaust

Lal Khan looks at the developing threat of war between India and Pakistan, and particularly at the question of Kashmir, which has caused three wars in the last 54 years since independence. He looks at the catastrophic effects of the nuclear bomb, and explains the necessity of a class struggle that cuts across national boundaries, to create a a socialist federation of the Indian subcontinent, as the only way of ending forever the threat of nuclear war.

An Armageddon is threatening the very existence of more than one-fifth of the human race which inhabits the South Asian subcontinent. After three and a half wars in the 54 years after a traumatic partition, India and Pakistan are poised for another clash. This could unravel into a horrifying scenario - the threat of the first nuclear exchange between two of the poorest states in the world. 54 years of independence has not only devastated society and plunged them into misery poverty and disease, but has brought them to the brink of mutual annihilation. The core issue around which the preceding conflicts took place and the present threatening war looms is Kashmir.

Left behind by the British as an unresolved issue, it has become a festering wound on the body of the Indian subcontinent. In the last fifty years the ruling elites have used and abused the "Kashmir issue" for domestic consumption. The British and later American imperialism have been more than happy with the Kashmir issue being used a ploy to enhance their policy of divide and rule in the Indian subcontinent. The masses of Kashmir have been brutalized, exploited and subjected to severe oppression both by India and Pakistan. Indian-occupied Kashmir has been subjected to military aggression and a continual saga of torture, rape and genocide at the hands of the Indian army. The conditions in the approximately one-third of Kashmir under Pakistani occupation have been no less perilous. The masses in this part of Kashmir have had to endure severe hardships, poverty and disease.

Kashmir is the focus of the most terrible danger because, for most of players involved in it, the continuing conflict works. It works for the fundamentalist zealots, who have found an escape from grinding poverty through the guns, the cash and prestige it attracts. That is true of both the indigenous Kashmiri fighters and the "guest mujahideen", the so-called Arab-Afghans trained and sponsored by the CIA in the past, and lately by the ISI (Pakistan intelligence services).

Trouble in Kashmir also works for the Pakistani ruling classes. They have used the Kashmir issue to curb internal dissent and repress the workers movements. Musharraf's announcements of a crackdown on the militants ring more than a touch hollow. Lately, the prospect of an all-out war has also become increasingly attractive to India's rulers. War talk and fulmination against Islamic militancy have successfully removed all reports from the pages of India's newspapers of the excesses of the BJP hardliners in Gujarat, where more than 1,000 Muslims have been killed in a 10-week religious pogrom. Conflict and crisis also allow India to ignore the average Kashmiri's main woes - the nagging injustices, brutal rule, rigged elections, national oppression, police torture and rampant murders by the Indian army.

For the Pakistani state Kashmir is one of its reasons to exist - without it the generals could hardly justify the military consuming of more than one third of the national budget. But now the Kashmir issue has unravelled into a threat for the ruling elites of the subcontinent with a vengeance. They are on a verge of a conflict which can not only devastate both societies but could also deal a severe blow to the interests of the ruling elites themselves. With about a million troops massed along the line of control and the 3,000 km international border, any accident could ignite a war with disastrous consequences.

Vajpayee has landed himself in an unenviable dilemma. With their ranting anti-Pakistan jingoism and constant harping on Bush's doctrine of the "war against terror", they have gone too far. According to K. K Nayyar, a retired Indian rear admiral: "The Indians cannot afford to back down without looking silly to the Pakistanis…Conventional war is inevitable and the later it takes place the fiercer will be the campaign and the higher the death toll." But what is the reality of the background to the present standoff? If we look beyond the rhetoric of "cross border terrorism" the reasons turn out to be very different.

The accusation that the Musharraf regime is directly behind the Dec 13 attack on the Indian parliament and subsequently the May 14 attack on Kaluchak, Jammu is not substantiated by evidence and is, politically speaking, utterly implausible. The Musharraf dictatorship is not so foolish or naïve as to impose even further pressure on itself under circumstances when the regime is struggling for survival at home. The Indian government has refused to make this distinction, effectively holding Musharraf responsible for any failure to end cross-border terrorist attacks. It is like the tactics used by Israel, which is using the same dishonest, spurious and untenable arguments. They also make no distinction between actual terrorist perpetrators and the country that harbours them.

Since this is the same rationale that the Bush administration used to justify its assaults on Afghanistan, it makes it much more difficult for Washington to bring this distinction to India's attention, although it clearly wants to prevent a war from breaking out between India and Pakistan, as it pursues separate alliances with both countries.

The situation is extremely fragile. Since Musharraf is not in full control, there is simply no guarantee that another terrorist attack will not take place, any more than one can guarantee even after the US war on Afghanistan that there will never be another terrorist attack on the US. On the other hand, exactly what New Delhi is planning remains a mystery. "Wait and watch," was Vajpayee's dark warning last week in Srinagar.

What will India do? The first step New Delhi was considering was to abandon a treaty that ensures the free flow of three rivers, including the Indus, which originate in Indian-administered Kashmir and run through the mountains to irrigate Pakistan's breadbasket in Punjab and Sindh. This would be a serious blow to Pakistan, which is already in the grip of a severe drought.

A second option would be surgical strikes by the Indian air force and commando teams on "Jihadi" training camps in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The third is a pounding of Pakistani posts along the "line of control" in Kashmir, followed by a limited invasion to push it back a few kilometres and allow India to take and block the passes used by the militants crossing into Indian-occupied Kashmir.

With the intensifying socio-economic crisis in India, the hype of its present rulers passed into the domain of insanity. Inflated with the delusion of Indian military superiority over Pakistan, New Delhi is talking about its "determination" to call Pakistan's "nuclear bluff". That is to say, Pakistan must not be allowed to believe that it can shield itself from a serious conventional military defeat in at least a "limited" territorial incursion by threatening to launch its nuclear weapons.

There are elements in leading positions within the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Sewayamsevak Sang (RSS) - which is really the controlling body within the family of organisations of which the BJP is the electoral wing - who want more. They genuinely believe that Pakistan must be dismembered and destroyed. That such an approach could be a recipe for the most incredible disaster does not faze these Hindu fanatics. This is hardly surprising, given the similarity of their mind-set to their Islamic extremist counterparts in Pakistan.

There are also domestic reasons for this insane behaviour. The NDA (the ruling alliance in India) was in severe crisis, which could have led to the fall of the BJP from power, especially after the Gujarat imbroglio. The BJP needs a war or at least a period of strong and sustained war tensions - before it brings forward the date of the next general elections.

The Congress and other bourgeois opposition parties have timidly succumbed to the BJP's fanatical warmongering. This has further added to the war hysteria which has engulfed the supposedly "secular" Indian society even more than in theocratic Pakistan. The leadership of the communist and left parties has failed to launch a movement to stop this madness. The preservation of "democracy", "elected government", "Indian national integrity" and other justifications for the "two stages" policy, have given a free hand to the BJP reactionary regime to indulge in this chauvinist discourse without any major resistance from within.

In Pakistan the regime somehow decided to pour petrol on the flames in Kashmir while America was immersed in the Taliban mess. That clearly was a serious miscalculation. The ISI had been transferring its recruits and religious mercenaries to Kashmir just as the Americans were trying to bomb al Qaeda and Taliban into oblivion. But in the present scenario, with the reversal of the Kashmir policy, it is not just the Musharraf regime which is at stake but the whole Pakistani state, its ideological foundations; the very historical justification for its existence and its reactionary roots - all are threatened.

The Kashmir issue has been the "cornerstone" of the domestic and foreign policy of the Pakistani theocratic state ever since its inception. Hence it is next to impossible for Musharraf to give up this policy completely. However, the tough speech by Musharraf on May 27 was a case of defiant rhetoric cloaking a hidden retreat. The general did give orders for the incursions into India to be halted and rebel camps dismantled and the Americans have been enlisted to verify that this happens.

But the ISI's officers out in the hills of Pakistani Kashmir may not be as willing as Musharraf is said to be to end the bleeding of India. Furious with general Musharraf for betraying them in Afghanistan and perhaps now in Kashmir, the Islamic fundamentalists have every reason to seek to destabilise him. There is plenty that could still go wrong. More terrorist acts, like the May 14 slaughter of soldiers' wives and children or the December 13 attack on the Indian parliament could trigger an Indian reprisal. Even if a conventional war erupts, the devastation unleashed would be much more than the total destruction incurred in all the previous Indo-Pak wars. Moreover, it is far from clear that such a war could be limited in duration or territorial scope, as visualized. Militarily, neither the Indian army nor air force or the Navy is structured to conduct such precise surgical operations.

India has 1,303,000 people in its armed forces plus 5, 35,000 reservists. Pakistan has 612,000 troops and 513,000 reservists. India is believed to have 60 nuclear warheads, compared with Pakistan's 25. The Indian air force has 1,200 aircraft including 132 helicopters, most of them armed. The Pakistan air force has 410 planes and 34 unarmed helicopters. India has one aircraft carrier, while Pakistan has none. India also has 19 submarines, 25 destroyers and a flotilla of 93 boats for carrying missiles, troops and assault aircraft. (Source: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London)

India is spending Rs 10 billion a month and Pakistan at least half as much. The rising costs of the "war effort" are playing havoc with the economies of both the countries and the poverty, price hikes and misery of the masses on both sides are worsening dangerously. These are societies where the children have no shoes but the elites have nuclear weapons that cost billions of dollars.

It is true that India has a much larger army and military arsenal, but if we examine the balance of military forces, it would not be a walkover. There are many unknown and unpredictable factors. For example, if a "conventional war" should break out, the question is who, how and when will it be stopped? Who exactly will determine when the "limit" has been crossed and enough damage has been done - for Pakistan to resort to the use of nuclear weapons? The former head of the ISI and present communication minister, Lt Gen Javed Ashraf (who is famous for his reactionary and barbarous attitude towards the workers), recently said: "If Pakistan's existence is threatened it will use nuclear weapons." That is clear enough.

In the madness which now rules on both sides, they do not even try to imagine the implications of a nuclear exchange. Nor those blind followers from primitive sections of society who danced with joy and distributed sweets in India and Pakistan when these tests were detonated in May 1998. Current estimates are that 12 million people would be killed outright in a nuclear exchange between the two warring countries and countless more millions would linger on, dying slowly, painfully and horribly.

Taking Hoffman's 1 megaton blast as an example, those within a radius of say 6 square miles will be killed by the gamma rays emitted by the blast. They will be the lucky ones. They will have no warning, no idea as to what it was that cooked them. Outside the circle for another ten miles or so every living thing, human or animal, will be instantly blinded by the bright light from the explosion whether their eyes be open or closed.

The initial gamma burst will be followed a tenth of a second later, by a multi-spectral heat blast, followed over the next few seconds by a pressure wave which will cause all living beings in its way to bleed from every orifice of their bodies. The wave will be accompanied by high velocity winds about 70 miles per hour as far as 6 miles from the epicentre. These will be carrying dangerous debris causing multiple wounds and injuries. The wave and winds will cause the death of many and those that survive over perhaps an area of 150 square miles will later suffer from vomiting, skin rashes and unquenchable thirst. Their hair will fall out in clumps, and their skin will peel off.

The mushroom-shaped cloud will dissipate within an hour and then comes the invisible and intractable radiation, spreading death and disease over a large area. The clouds that drift with the wind will carry a deadly cargo for thousands of miles, over international borders into countries which have no involvement in the India-Pakistan dispute.

Cancer, leukaemia and other genetic damage by radioactive material will strike generations to come. The final phenomenon is the electromagnetic pulse caused by the nuclear blast, which can be as large as the subcontinent and as deadly. It can electrify metallic structures in such a way that an entire country can seem to have been struck by lightening in one fell swoop. To cite just a few examples of what would happen, pacemakers will cease to work, aircraft will fall from the skies, train tracks and telephone wiring will carry the charge and whatever does not explode will cease to function.

Yes! These are the horrors of capitalism, which even Lenin couldn't envisage, when he said that it was "horror without end". The evacuation of thousands of Western citizens from the subcontinent shows the serious nature of the threat. These are the by-products or repercussions of the extreme and peculiar crisis of Pakistani and Indian capitalism.

The Americans and other imperialists are desperately trying to defuse this crisis. But in reality this crisis is of their own making. On the one hand, the extreme exploitation and instigation of reactionary and barbarous forces by US imperialism has resulted in this outcome. Now, when the possibility of this conflict threatens the imperialists' interests, they have panicked and are rushing desperately to avert it. Even if the present war threat is averted, what then? The avoidance of war may lead to the fall of the Musharraf dictatorship in Pakistan and the Vajpayee regime in India. The instability will not disappear but continue to grow and pose new dangers.

During this war hysteria these very rulers have continued their relentless "war against the people". Savage attacks have been made on the workers and masses in both countries. Trade unionists like comrade Hameed Khan have been put behind bars. Slavishly following the dictates of the IMF the policies carried out by these rotten capitalist regimes have led to the soaring of prices, massive redundancies, downsizing, privatisations and attacks on the rights of the workers. Living standards in both India and Pakistan have further fallen and now the economic burden of this war hysteria has been forced upon the working classes.

Once this war hysteria dissipates a new wave of class struggle will rise. There is a strong possibility of an upsurge of the class war in both India and Pakistan. But if this doesn't reach a victorious conclusion and capitalism still manages to survive, then sooner or later a similar threat of annihilation will emerge with even greater dimensions. It is inevitable under capitalist rule. This system has become so rotten, so inhuman that now it literally threatens the existence of the human race. These are the actions of nation states that were retarded at birth and are economically redundant and historically obsolete. Peace under capitalism is a utopia and a deception.

In an integrated world the impact of a war would not be confined to the subcontinent. The only guarantee to put an end to this threat of war and nuclear annihilation is the overthrow of the system which breeds these conflicts and contradictions.

Only on the basis of class unity and solidarity can the national, religious, ethnic, linguistic, racial and other divisions of humanity be obliterated. But this class unity is only possible on the basis of class struggle. And the only way of making this unity permanent is the victory of this class struggle through a socialist revolution.

The crisis of capitalism has made the ruling classes of India and Pakistan go berserk. On the basis of the present system, only new horrors await humankind. The present crisis only shows of the necessity and urgency of building up the working class movement and creating a Marxist force which can lead the class struggle to the victory of socialism.

A socialist federation of the Indian subcontinent is the only destiny which can save this fifth of humanity from the catastrophe towards which capitalist crisis is pushing it.