Windows on the world


The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Bill Clinton described the Indian sub-continent as the most dangerous place on earth.  Danger manifests on borders and in disputed territories, and the State of Kashmir shares borders with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China; it is disputed territory; and the neighbours with a grievance have nuclear weapons.  Yet the world failed to take action following Clinton’s warning.

The Disappearing Act

Long before Clinton came on the international scene there was a United Nations joke doing the rounds.  When there is a dispute between two small nations the UN steps in and the dispute disappears.  When there is a dispute between a small nation and a large nation the UN steps in the small nation disappears.  When there is a dispute between two large nations the UN disappears.  In 1949 the UN passed a resolution that Pakistan should withdraw from its illegally held positions in Kashmir, but when Pakistan refused to comply the UN duly performed its version of the Indian Rope trick.

The State of Kashmir has enjoyed centuries of independence, interspersed with invasions and periods of foreign rule.  With the exception of the Afghan period, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists have always been free to practice their respective faiths under rulers of different religions.  Kashmir even managed to stand up to the British, refusing them permission to buy land to build houses, inadvertently promoting the Anglo love affair with Kashmiri house boats in the process.  But that marked the end of the golden era, for the beginning of the present dispute can probably be traced to the partition of India following the end of British rule in 1947.  The Maharaja had negotiated for neutrality with both India and Pakistan, but Pakistan ignored the treaty and invaded from the west, seizing the northern half of Kashmir. Taking advantage of the situation China seized territory in the north-east. The Maharaja turned to Nehru for assistance, the price of which turned out to be Kashmir’s accession to the nation of India.

International Threat

The West did not intervene when China invaded Tibet, nor when Russia pushed out her boundaries to create the Soviet Bloc.  It is doubtful that the will or the means existed.  But since the ending of the Cold War the international community has shown more unity in the face of unprovoked aggression.  The Iraq invasion of Kuwait was resisted, as was the terrorist faction protected by the Afghan regime.  Back in the middle of the twentieth century the West was unwilling to get involved in a local war that did not have strategic importance, oil reserves, or pose a threat to US citizens.  But now that India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons the escalation of this local war poses an international threat. 

The details of what happened in 1947, and the subsequent wars between Pakistan and India, are well-documented.  Azad Kashmir, under Pakistani rule, is now divided from Indian Jammu & Kashmir by the so-called line of control, which is de facto an international boundary.   This much is clear, but the finer points are contested and refuted constantly, making it unlikely that a solution can be found in the pages of history.  When Argentina seized The Falkland Islands the British repelled the invaders not just because of some questionable events in earlier centuries but because the Islanders wanted to remain British.  For decades Britain has justified its rule over Gibraltar because that is the will of the people. 

The Promised Plebiscite

India claims to be the largest democracy in the world, but a true democracy cannot be founded on the unwilling participation of member states. India has promised a plebiscite, but the will of the people of Kashmir cannot be determined because large areas are under Pakistani occupation.  As India and Pakistan have demonstrated an inability to resolve the dispute it is time for the international community to take control.  It is time, in fact, for United Nations to act consistently in the face of unwarranted aggression.  In accordance with the old UN resolution Pakistan must be made to withdraw to allow the people of Azad Kashmir, and Jammu & Kashmir, to decide their own fate. Independence or partition; remaining as part of India or ceding to Pakistan; all options should be offered to the people in a process supervised by UN observers.

The Sanskrit poet Kalidas described Kashmir as more beautiful than heaven.  But until the international community assumes responsibility to deal with the problem Kashmir will remain the most dangerous place on earth.

© Harvey Tordoff
May 2002