The Threat of War between India and Pakistan

From week to week, the likely site of the next phase of crisis-driven war fever shifts. All that remains constant is the world capitalist crisis itself, which is what has brought us all to this pass. Current speculation over the likely death toll that could result from an Indo-Pak nuclear exchange, with a figure of 30 million quoted on BBC radio, may be translated into reality or may be superseded by the threat or reality of quite other warmongering horrors. Either way, the capitalist crisis will not go away, and nor will the warmongering which lies at its heart.

It is the continued imperialist domination of the Indian subcontinent postwar which now exposes so many of its inhabitants to such horrors. The colonial legacy of Partition, continuing to divide after the British had ceased to rule, served the indigenous Indian and Pakistani bourgeois rulers alike when it came to robbing the people of the fruits of their national democratic struggle. Such rankling disputes as that over Kashmir sprang direct from this cynical parting shot from colonial brigandage.

While India, assisted in its development by the Soviet Union and prominent in the non-aligned movement, retained a degree of national independence, this was only ever relatively so. A key achievement of the decolonisation struggle, the establishment of the secular state, was routinely compromised throughout the long postwar reign of the Congress party. Time and again, Congress continued the old colonial game of divide and rule, exploiting confessional divisions to shore up continued capitalist class rule.

Meanwhile, the whole national existence of post-liberation Pakistan was corrupted by being dragged into the permanent service of US imperialism, acting in the region much as Israel has acted in the Middle East. Most notably, in the Eighties, all of Pakistani society became enslaved to Washington’s obsession with obliterating the progressive advances being made by the Soviet-backed Afghan revolution. In the process, Pakistan was flooded with weapons and transformed into a permanent magnet for the very Islamic fundamentalist groups which are now identified as a source of destabilisation and “terror”.

The intensification of imperialist crisis which had as an early feature the tragic demise of the Soviet Union (dragged down into the ditch by revisionist treachery) has also sent shock waves through the subcontinent. Under pressure from the crisis, and with neither India nor Pakistan able to rely on its former Cold War bearings, the ground has begun to shift under capitalism’s feet.

On the surface, much still appears the same, with Pakistan still stooging for the West. But appearances deceive. Yes, Washington props up the unelected Musharraf regime as its continued best hope for maintaining its sway over the subcontinent, but this very support could prove Musharraf’s undoing. Now that Pakistan has no clearly defined Cold War role to play, but is instead having to second-guess Washington’s intentions from week to week, the life of a stooge is getting more complicated and dangerous. Throughout the Cold War the message was plain: put the armed forces, the intelligence services and every other arm of the state at the disposal of the US-backed Islamic fundamentalists in their mission to crush the Afghan revolution. (A key group amongst these fundamentalists was of course the Taleban.) Now everything has changed: yesterday’s “freedom fighters” are today’s “terrorists”, and Pakistan is berated for its tardiness in using its armed forces to crush them! Reported the Guardian (13-05-02):

“The first splits in America’s alliance with Pakistan in the war against al-Qaida began to emerge last night as officials in Washington complained about the slow pace of military operations in Pakistan’s sensitive tribal areas […]

“Pentagon officials have pressed the military regime in Islamabad to take action but they are facing strong resistance, according to a report in yesterday’s Washington Post. ‘We’ve been after them to attack and we haven’t made much progress’, one senior defence official told the paper. Another official said: ‘We are trying to encourage, wheedle, coerce, urge the Pakistanis to move more aggressively’. […]

“A rocket was fired on Friday at a school in Miram Shah in Waziristan where US troops are staying. It was the second such attack in two weeks…”

Trying to sell this propaganda switch to the Pakistani masses, especially at a time when crisis is imposing even greater hardship and insecurity than hitherto, is a thankless, and potentially suicidal, task. Nor should it be assumed that the massive demonstrations of solidarity with the Afghan people under attack from US imperialism are simply a “religious” phenomenon. Musharraf is not mistaken in his fear that the behaviour of imperialism will ignite a powder keg of anti-imperialism which his regime will be hard pressed to douse. That is why US and British troops terrorizing the population on the Afghan-Pakistan border are suddenly feeling a cold draught as Pakistani forces are diverted to the Indian border, to fight what Musharraf hopes and prays will prove a more popular war over Kashmir. His desperate hope must be that such warmongering will assuage backward religious prejudice whilst steering attention away from the anti-imperialist sentiments which lie beneath. Yet in the end it is the actions of imperialism itself which unmasks as fools and traitors those who act as its puppets.

In India itself, the end of the Cold War did not see the “end of history”, but it did see the end of that phase of bourgeois rule dominated by the Congress Party of India. Coinciding with the growing influence of US imperialism in the economic life of the country, government fell into the hands of a series of volatile coalitions increasingly dominated by overtly anti-secular forces, most notably the Hindu fundamentalist BJP. This degeneration into confessional politics, for which the phony “secularism” of Congress (I) had long prepared the way, underlies the communal violence which has increasingly disfigured Indian society in recent years. The open reliance of the modern Indian bourgeoisie upon the most backward religious extremism, simply to keep its hold upon power, reveals its desperation at this historical juncture, and offers a most instructive picture to those able to keep their head. It reveals the bank-ruptcy of its claims ever to have been the class best equipped by history to complete that national democratic struggle which began with the fight to kick out the British colonists. And it shows up as a cruel joke the lie put about by the World Bank and the IMF that the greater the ascendency of economic neoliberalism, the healthier will be the modernizing breeze gusting through all of society. Instead, India is more divided than ever between haves and havenots, between fragile yuppie wealth and general poverty, whilst advocates of a theocratic state squawk on top of the dungheap of bourgeois politics, making a mockery of capitalism’s claims still to represent historical progress.

All this deadly dangerous jockeying for position between rival bourgeois gangs in the Majority World is happening in the much wider context of the crisis of world imperialism, where the most powerful gangs of all are moving into the phase of cut-throat struggle to dominate the entire world market. Only thus can any of the key players hope to survive the crisis of capitalist overproduction; only thus can each gang seek to ensure that the glut of surplus capital wipes out its competitors’ profits, not its own, and thereby drive all rivals to the wall. It is this global crisis of overproduction which at root creates those conditions of instability from which only such desperate courses as war seem to offer capitalist society a way out, albeit illusory. The threat of war now blighting the lives of millions in India and Pakistan will sooner or later be felt much closer to home, in the metropolitan heartlands of imperialism. Today, Britain is arming both sides in the Indo-Pak conflict; tomorrow or the day after, the arms industries of the West will be fuelling conflicts much closer to home.

Communism will always be found in the vanguard of the fight for peace. And its best contribution to every peace movement will always be found in its firm explanation that imperialism requires war for its survival, and that only the overthrow of imperialism can put an end to war.