Many observers—including such disparate voices as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Noam Chomsky, Hillary Clinton, Thomas Friedman, Pope Francis, and CounterPunch’s own Conn Hallinan—have described the North Indian province of Kashmir (and the surrounding area) as “the most dangerous place on earth.”
As extravagant or melodramatic as that statement may appear at first blush, it is nonetheless true. Having once lived in Punjab, India, and traveled to parts of Kashmir, I can attest that relations between India and Pakistan are unbelievably poisonous, and that the northwest region is regarded as so dangerously unstable, it’s a miracle it hasn’t exploded.
Here are some factors to consider.
* Ever since India (which is predominately Hindu) and Pakistan (which is overwhelmingly Muslim) became independent countries—via Partition, in 1947—they have been avowed enemies. That’s 70 years of simmering hostility.
* Directly bordering each other—just as the U.S. borders Canada and Mexico—India and Pakistan have already fought four “official” wars and engaged in numerous military skirmishes.
* India’s army is the third largest in the world, bigger than North Korea’s or Russia’s.
* Pakistan’s army is half the size of India’s.
* Both countries now have nuclear weapons.
* India is the world’s largest democracy.
* Pakistan is part quasi-military dictatorship, part theocracy.
* Both countries believe in an Afterlife.
* Pakistan is paranoid and frazzled, and always seems desperate.
* India is buoyantly self-confident, always ready to assert itself.
* Pakistan fears that the U.S. will install a pro-West, pro-Indian government in Afghanistan, resulting in Pakistan being squeezed between two enemies.
* India has a sizeable arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons.
* Pakistan has a modest supply of strategic warheads, but a large supply of tactical nuclear weapons.
And therein lies the rub. Tactical nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s access to tactical nukes is what makes everyone so nervous.
Whereas strategic nuclear weapons are the ones we’ve all learned to fear—the ones that would have been part of the worldwide, “duck and cover” thermonuclear war between the U.S. and USSR—tactical nukes are weapons designed specifically to be used on the field of the battle. They’re nuclear, but they’re limited.
Why has Pakistan developed so many of them? Why have they put so much effort into amassing an arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons? Answer: They see tactical nukes as the only deterrent to India invading and overrunning them in a conventional war. The Indian army is simply too big and well-equipped. It would be a rout.
This is the dreaded scenario: Fed up with Pakistan’s persistent meddling and incursions into Kashmir, and ignoring the pleas of the U.S. and the rest of the world, India unleashes its long awaited invasion of Pakistan. The mighty Indian army crosses the border in Punjab and proceeds to wipe the floor with outmanned and outgunned Pakistani soldiers.
To the horror of everyone, we find out that the rumors were true, that Pakistani field officers with the rank of full colonel or general have been given the authority to use tactical nukes at their own discretion—to use them in the face of “overwhelming and superior forces.” And use them they do.
Of course, once India realizes it’s under attack from nuclear weapons, they go ape-shit. They instantly retaliate with nukes of their own, but instead of the “benign” battlefield variety, they bring out the big boys. They launch a full-scale strategic nuclear attack against Pakistan’s major cities and military installations.
Left with no choice, Pakistan fires every nuclear warhead in its arsenal, convinced that, win, lose or draw, once the smoke clears, multitudes of faithful Muslims will be reunited with Allah.
As a consequence of this conflagration (a cumulative blast one million times more powerful than that of Hiroshima), the atmosphere is poisoned, the earth experiences Nuclear Winter, and life as we know it perishes.
And that’s how the world ends. With nuclear Hindus and nuclear Muslims destroying each other and taking the rest us with them. The notion of Armageddon coming in the form of Capitalism vs. Communism seems almost quaint by comparison.