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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

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From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek editorial

JANUARY 21, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 2

Peril Over Kashmir
India and Pakistan need to cool the rhetoric, then start talks


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"This is nothing but shamelessness." So said Bal Thackeray, powerful leader of the Hindu chauvinist Shiv Sena party in India's Maharashtra state, as he demanded that his country scrap upcoming cricket matches with Pakistan following the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane. "They are hijacking our planes and we are playing cricket with them." His sentiments are wrong. The rival nations should play cricket with each other. And field hockey and tennis and all other sports. They should swap films and books too - and do more business. And, eventually, their leaders should sit down and talk. None of that is likely to happen soon. But India and Pakistan must find a way to stop the mounting spiral of hatred toward each other.

The hijacking by militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir has raised the risk of major conflict in South Asia. New Delhi, which says Islamabad engineered the hijacking, wants its neighbor branded a "terrorist state." Pakistan denies the charge, but it has long given moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiri militants, and the hands-on role its intelligence agents play is an open secret. Beyond the rhetoric, by freeing three Kashmiri activists in Indian jails to save the plane's 160 hostages, India sent out the message that terrorism works. Militants may now try something bigger and more destabilizing. Already, attacks in Kashmir against Indian forces are escalating. As the stakes rise, open war between these nuclear powers becomes thinkable.

Moreover, the Kashmir conflict is worsening Hindu-Muslim tensions in India. While Kashmir sparked two of the three Indo-Pakistan wars, it has generally been isolated from the sectarian conflicts that flare up within India from time to time. But Indian intelligence warned that communal riots could erupt if the hijack produced high casualties among the hostages, probably the first time such a dire prediction was made in connection with Kashmir. Leaders like Thackeray are fanning the flames. On the other side, Masood Azhar, one of the activists freed by the hijack, publicly called for a "holy war" beyond Kashmir. "Muslims should not rest until we have destroyed America and India," he was quoted as saying in Karachi. (Azhar later denied urging aggression against the U.S.) If Kashmir boils over, the specter of Hindu-Muslim riots and massacres would loom across India.

What can be done? First, India and Pakistan must talk to each other - it almost does not matter what about, so long as they get a dialogue going. Since the two seem in no mood to do so, international pressure - especially from the United States - may be essential. But while Washington successfully catalyzed negotiations in intractable conflicts like Northern Ireland and West Asia, it has neither the same clout nor interest in the subcontinent. Perhaps South Asian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley should lobby the U.S. Congress to at least pay attention, and tell leaders in their homelands just what riots and wars do to business. Before they talk, New Delhi and Islamabad should take steps to diffuse tensions and build confidence. A simple gesture would be to cool the inflammatory rhetoric being hurled in both directions. Nothing of substance is likely to happen quickly. But unless movement - however slow - starts toward reconciliation, a bloodbath may lie ahead.


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