Politik und Gesellschaft Online
International Politics and Society 1/1999

The escalating conflict in South Asia

Preliminary version

India's decision to acquire nuclear weapons despite international sanctions is based primarily on its endeavour to catch up with China as an Asian superpower. This is based on the perception that it is the possession of nuclear weapons which in the end decides on the superpower status of a country. Pakistan's nuclear bomb is the logical answer to the Indian step, for the country is in permanent conflict with India. The two states have already waged three wars since independence, all of which were lost by Pakistan. The bone of contention is Kashmir which represents more than territorial possession for both countries. Pakistan's claim to the territory with its majority Muslim population is based on its national self-perception as the political home of all Muslims on the subcontinent. Only the incorporation of the whole of Kashmir would fully realise the underlying idea of the state of Pakistan. India, on the other hand, has never really got over partition with Pakistan. It sees itself as a secular and multi-ethnic state and as such does not want to allow the criterion of religious allegiance. For India, too, Kashmir is a matter of national self-perception. On a global level, the attempt is now being made to tie the two new nuclear powers into the global nuclear non-proliferation regime - with success, it would appear. On a regional level, however, the risk of nuclear war has been created. South Asia has become one of the most dangerous crisis regions of the world. A solution to the Kashmir question is unlikely in the foreseeable future. But structures must be built up which make it possible for India and Pakistan to handle the conflict in such a way that the danger of war is reduced. Both countries must improve their underdeveloped crisis management capabilities. Confidence-building is the immediate task. First steps are being taken in this respect. The construction of a security architecture for South Asia is the medium-term aim.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition bb&ola | Februar 1999