Rivals clash again in lengthy feud

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The Independent Online
INDIA'S LOW-LEVEL war with Pakistan over Kashmir flared into dangerous new life yesterday when it launched two waves of air strikes against infiltrators from Pakistan who, it said, had established a bridgehead several miles inside Indian territory.

One year ago, after India staged five nuclear tests, the hawkish Hindu nationalist Home Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, said testing the bomb "signifies India's resolve to deal firmly and strongly with Pakistan's hostile designs and activities in Kashmir". Earlier this month, hundreds of Pakistani-sponsored militants called his bluff by seizing territory inside the Indian border; and yesterday India gave its response - the first use of airpower in the conflict for more than 20 years.

The two feuding nations, the world's newest, rawest nuclear states, trust each other so little that they cannot even agree on command and control systems to ensure their nukes do not detonate accidentally. Now they have embarked on a dangerous round of hostilities.

In the screaming of fighters above the bleak snowy wasteland of Ladakh yesterday there were sinister echoes of the fight over Kosovo. Nato's decision to use force to impose its will has made such action politically easier for India and Pakistan. It has also made it harder for the West to pressurise them into towing the nuclear line. A foreign diplomat in Delhi said: "The war in Kosovo provides a good background for any outrageous activity - they could even nuke each other."

The Kosovo crisis is important in another sense. For both India and Pakistan, Kashmir has powerful analogies to Kosovo. India claims Kashmir is part of the Indian heartland: it is the home of the Kashmiri "Pundits" (Brahmins) from whom the nation's first family, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, descend, and the site of important Hindu holy places. But its population is 90 per cent Muslim, and since the beginning of the insurgency in 1990, and the adoption by the Indian authorities of brutal methods to suppress it, they have become deeply disaffected.

Three religions have long co-existed in Kashmir - Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam - and the region had its own unique culture, of which religious tolerance was an important part. But the bitterness and bloodshed of Indo- Pakistan partition in 1947 put an end to that.

Pakistan has always insisted that Kashmir belonged to it.India has struggled to maintain the status quo, but since the start of the insurgency it has been a losing battle. This celebrated beauty spot has become an armed camp.

Meanwhile, Pakistan sponsors its unending war of attrition in the state, sending militants across the long, snaking "Line of Control" to set off explosions, attack the army and police and disrupt everyday life. The Islamic fighters, many of them Afghanis who believe they are engaged in jihad, or "holy war", carry out a form of ethnic cleansing, attacking the Hindu Pundit community and driving them out of the state.

India is determined to use its overwhelming advantage in size to pressure Pakistan into accepting the status quo in Kashmir. Its great fear, and Pakistan's great hope, is that the conflict will again involve more nations and that the international community forces India to reach a settlement.

Now that India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, Kashmir is routinely described in the foreign media as a "nuclear flashpoint" - and therefore as something with which the world should be concerned. It may come to be seen as one of the great ironies of India's status as a nuclear power that the drive to make India strong has made her vulnerable as never before to international diplomacy.