A potentially serious military clash between the rival nuclear-armed capitalist governments in India and Pakistan was defused after a captured Indian pilot was returned by Islamabad March 1. His jet had been downed on Pakistani territory during retaliatory cross-border air raids Feb. 27. In seven decades, there have been four wars between the rulers in India and Pakistan, chiefly over the disputed Kashmir province. These ongoing conflicts are all directly attributable to the way the defeated British colonial rulers engineered a bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the pilot’s release was a “peace gesture,” intended to “open negotiations” with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to reduce tensions. While no talks have been set, tensions have tempered.
This was the first aerial clash between the rival South Asian powers since 1971. Washington and Beijing, London and Moscow all applied pressure on both sides to de-escalate the conflict. The various rival capitalist rulers were all alarmed at how steps towards all-out war in South Asia would deepen the fragmentation of the imperialist world order and destabilize their place in it.
For a century prior to independence from Britain, united national struggles by workers and peasants for Indian independence had gained strength. They grew in the face of severe British repression and irrespective of different nationalities and religions. These culminated in a powerful, united anti-colonial upsurge after the second world imperialist slaughter had gravely weakened the British Empire.
British rulers divide South Asia
London’s partition of the subcontinent was aimed at fanning divisions between Hindu and Muslim peoples, hoping it would lead to two hostile states in India and Pakistan and make it easier for the British rulers to continue exploiting the region. The partition led to conflict and a wave of mass emigration and religious riots as Muslims and Hindus fled across borders arbitrarily drawn by the colonial officialdom. Hundreds of thousands were killed and many millions displaced. Working people, saddled with divisions long fermented under British tutelage, were made more vulnerable to demagogic incitements by the newly created rival governments.
Pakistan was a “Muslim state” of two territories separated by 1,000 miles and different languages and cultures — Pakistan proper and East Pakistan, which would later gain independence as Bangladesh.
The first India-Pakistan war erupted after independence in 1947 over rival claims to Kashmir. Pakistan ended up occupying one-third and India the major portion. A further war was fought over the region in 1965. In 1999, the two governments waged another shorter border conflict.
The other major war between Islamabad and New Delhi was in 1971. The Pakistani military dictatorship had launched a bloody attempt to suppress an upsurge of the Bangladeshi independence struggle. After nine months of carnage, the Indian rulers launched a brief war to defeat the Pakistani forces. The Indian rulers acted to ensure the creation of the new country while cutting short popular mobilizations in Bangladesh that could have developed into a social revolution.
The current confrontation over Kashmir began after a suicide bombing by a Muslim Kashmiri rebel in the area controlled by New Delhi killed 40 Indian paramilitary personnel Feb. 14. The Indian government blamed Pakistani-backed terrorists and launched retaliatory raids.
The fact is the Indian army has carried out widespread abuses against the local population in Kashmir, fueling popular opposition to New Delhi’s rule there.
At different times recently, the capitalist rulers in both Islamabad and New Delhi have sought talks to ease tensions. But so far they’ve gone nowhere.