New Delhi

New Delhi

No government welcomed George W. Bush’s declaration of a "war against terror" last September more enthusiastically than India’s. And none, save perhaps Ariel Sharon’s, more zealously tried to implement the Bush Doctrine: identifying terrorism as the main, if not the sole, threat to security everywhere, equating terrorists with their supporters or sympathizers and fashioning a purely militarist approach to terrorism. The fruits of this effort are now in full, gory evidence along the India-Pakistan border and particularly on the Line of Control in Kashmir, where a million soldiers confront one another eyeball-to-eyeball for the sixth consecutive month, in the greatest military mobilization since World War II.

Menacingly, they are backed by nuclear weapons and various denominations of missiles and fast-flying aircraft. Missile flight times between their main cities are three to eight minutes. Pakistan, the weaker power in conventional armaments, has warned that it could use nuclear weapons. On May 30 its UN ambassador declared, "India should not have the license to kill with conventional weapons while Pakistan’s hands are tied."

The world is witnessing its gravest nuclear crisis in half a century, and Indian and Pakistani leaders are not doing enough to defuse it. Their forces have been on hairtrigger alert since a May 14 terrorist attack on military dependents near Jammu, for which Atal Behari Vajpayee’s right-wing government blamed Pakistan-sponsored "cross-border terrorism" in the Kashmir Valley. There is absolutely no doubt that Pakistan has supported separatist guerrillas and infiltrated violent jihadis into the valley over the past twelve years. But there is plenty of room for doubt about its post-September 11 involvement. India has not produced convincing evidence of this in the December 13 attack on its Parliament or subsequent incidents.

The Vajpayee government has long been keen to settle scores with Pakistan militarily rather than to explore diplomatic means. The events of September 11 offered it a unique opportunity to trap Washington in its antiterrorism rhetoric and recruit US support. The reasons for India’s conduct are largely domestic. They have to do with covering up grave lapses in Kashmir, where India has unleashed vicious repression against popular demands for autonomy and secession. Charges of "cross-border terrorism," however true, are played up to divert attention from such repression.

Equally important is Vajpayee’s need to divert attention from the multiple failures of his Hindu-sectarian, anti-Muslim Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads a ragtag twenty-seven-party coalition in New Delhi. The BJP has implemented a right-wing pro-globalization economic agenda that has further impoverished the people. It has violated countless constitutional norms, pushed through repressive laws and mocked India’s greatest achievement: democracy. Above all, it has deepened social cleavages, promoted exclusivist policies and terrorized India’s religious minorities by imposing Hindu-fundamentalist agendas in education and culture. Its principal target is India’s 130 million Muslims, whom it demonizes as aliens.

The most grotesque instance of the Hindu-inspired terror campaign is the recent pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat, sponsored by the BJP and its associates with full state collusion. More than 2,000 people were butchered in a well-planned "retaliation" for the February 27 killing of fifty-eight Hindu militants in a train. Independent NGOs say the pogrom–the worst in fifty-five years–would have happened regardless of the train incident. Washington has not strongly condemned the Gujarat carnage–unlike the smaller-magnitude "terrorist" attacks.

India’s domestic opposition was united against Vajpayee for his shameful defense of the Gujarat government. Then came the May 14 attack near Jammu. It divided the opposition and somewhat shored up the BJP’s sinking popularity (the party has lost all major elections but one since 1999).

Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf has his own ax to grind–secure US economic and military aid, legitimation for himself and a commitment to open up the Kashmir dispute for discussion. He has consistently pandered to his Muslim constituency by endorsing the Muslim claims to Kashmir. This has led him to condone training and support for terrorist training camps in Pakistan while claiming he has nothing to do with the murderous forays into Indian-occupied areas of Kashmir.

The international community must intervene to separate the two rivals and defuse a possible nuclear catastrophe. There has been some progress in this direction recently. But the danger of war and nuclear holocaust will persist unless India and Pakistan demobilize their forces and demilitarize the Line of Control. The world, in particular the United States, can play a useful role by offering independent monitoring to insure a permanent end to cross-border infiltration of militants and by encouraging India and Pakistan to go to the negotiating table. This role must be subtle and evenhanded, not overbearing.

Kashmir must be free of violence for some years before India and Pakistan negotiate its ultimate status in consultation with its people. What matters now is that Washington not coddle either regime for narrow, short-term power considerations while indulging its own nuclear and missile-defense obsessions.