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India vs. Pakistan

LAST UPDATED: 10/17/02

There are six "declared" nuclear weapon states: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, and, just recently, North Korea. In addition to the declared states, there are three "de facto" states: India, Pakistan, and Israel. Both India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices in May 1998; Israel is widely assumed to have nuclear weapons. None of the de facto states has joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Only as recently as January, 2002, India and Pakistan came close to war. At that time, both sides engaged in a massive military build-up along their shared border (the biggest build-up since the 1971 India-Pakistan war). A million troops dug in along the heavily mined border, backed by missiles, fighter jets and tanks. Each side has missiles targeted at the other. India's arsenal includes medium-range Russian missiles and the Indian-made Prithvi I, which can be fired from a mobile launcher and which have a range of 93 miles. Pakistani missiles include medium-range Chinese-made weapons. Whether any of the targeted missiles are nuclear in nature has not been revealed by either side. While each country expressed reluctance to start a war, or to use nuclear weapons, neither would rule out the use of any means. For instance, on 1/11/02, India's army chief, General Sunderajan Padmanabhan, said that India is ready for war with Pakistan and would use its nuclear weapons if Pakistan were to launch a nuclear strike first. (Each side has stated that it will not initiate a nuclear strike, by the way.) At the time of this writing, the military build-up remains in place along the border, and the situation remains tense. India has said that it will de-escalate only if it sees a tangible change in Pakistan's relation to various terrorist groups based in Pakistan.

Sources of ongoing tension. The region of Kashmir (which lies between the two nations) has been a prime source of ongoing tension. Kashmir is bordered on the west by Pakistan, on the south by India, and on the north and east by China. The region is administered in two sections: the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir; and the Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir.

For more than half-a-century, Indian and Pakistani troops have stood eyeball to eyeball along the line, regularly exchanging artillery and small arms fire.

Pakistan supports independence for Kashmir, while India wants to keep the state within its own borders. India blames Pakistan for backing Kashmiri militants and terrorist groups who have conducted an ongoing guerrilla action against the Indian government. Muslim militants in the Jammu-Kashmir territory have battled Indian rule there for the last 12 years, with estimates of the death toll varying from 33,000 to 80,000 people.

Tension between the nuclear neighbor nations has been bristling since the December 13 suicide attack on Indian parliament that killed 14 people, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistani-sponsored militant groups fighting for an independent Kashmir. This incident was the trigger for the most recent military build-up along the border.

Kashmir has been the reason for two of the three wars fought between India and Pakistan since 1947 (the year the Indian subcontinent was partitioned and the two countries became independent of Great Britain). The most violent outbreaks came in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971 (when civil war split Pakistan into the Pakistan of today, and East Pakistan, which was occupied by India, and which then became the independent nation of Bangladesh). The roots of the conflicts lie in the hostility between Hindus and Muslims (and also, initially, in the disposition of self-governing princely states).

Currently, no resolution of the Kashmir dispute is in sight.

Unexpected side effects. When pressured by the international community -- particularly the United States -- to stand down, India's leaders suggested that the United States' position was rather hypocritical. The US had felt entirely justified in going to war against a country (Afghanistan) because it harbored terrorist groups that had acted against it. Without a doubt, terrorist groups based in Pakistan have carried out terrorist activities against India (most likely including the Dec. 13 attack). India argued that going to war against Pakistan to root out the terrorists would simply mirror what the US had done. In this way, the United States has set a dangerous example for other nations which feel equally justified in retaliating in response to terrorist actions.

Transcending the Logic of Retaliation

Current leadership. General Pervez Musharraf is the head of the state of Pakistan. In 1999, as head of Pakistan's army, General Musharraf led a military coup that overthrew the former democratic government.

Atal Behari Vajpayee is the Prime Minister of India.