There are a few genuinely upbeat news stories when it comes to this planet and people trying to figure out how to save us from ourselves and our fossil-fuel addiction. This at a moment of record global surface temperatures and record ocean heating when, despite the Paris climate accord of 2015, carbon dioxide from those fossil fuels is once again entering the atmosphere in record amounts. Take little Costa Rica, where Claudia Dobles, an urban planner who just happens to be the wife of the country's president, has launched a model national decarbonization plan aimed at fully weaning that country off even the slightest reliance on fossil fuels by 2050. Or consider Copenhagen, Denmark's capital, whose mayor, Frank Jensen, is working to make it "carbon neutral" by 2022. Or think about the scientists now exploring far more controversial and futuristic geo-engineering schemes to try to deal with a world that could, in the decades to come, run amuck in global-warming terms -- including the possibility of spraying planet-cooling aerosols like sulfur dioxide (in imitation of the gases emitted by volcanoes) into the atmosphere to reverse the effects of global warming.
Of course, while all of the above are hopeful, none of them offer full-scale solutions to a crisis that threatens to quite literally sink not just cities, but potentially civilization itself. As it happens, there is an obvious solution to the climate-change crisis staring us all in the face, one that TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro (author of a particularly timely new book, Cold War in the Islamic World: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Struggle for Supremacy), brings up today. Forget Costa Rica, Copenhagen, aerosols, even that climate accord. Forget Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal. Forget it all. On a planet that's teetered at the edge of one kind of nuclear holocaust or another since mid-last century, there's always the possibility that nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, so often near, or in, conflict, could go to war and it might prove to be the war to end all wars.
At any moment, as Hiro explains, some act of terror could set them off in a way that would lead to the planet's first actual nuclear war. And here's the thing: scientists believe that such a war in South Asia could not only kill millions in those two countries, but throw enough smoke and soot particulates into the atmosphere to cause a global nuclear winter. In that case, it's estimated that somewhere between one and two billion inhabitants of this planet could die (mainly due to crop failures and starvation). But one problem created, another solved: climate change would, at least for the immediate future, be a thing of the past (as would a significant part of humanity). With that in mind, read Hiro, and think about a species that might have to rely on nuclear war to solve its problems. Tom
South Asia's Nuclear-Armed Neighbors Pull Back From the Abyss
By Dilip Hiro
It's still the most dangerous border on Earth. Yet compared to the recent tweets of President Donald Trump, it remains a marginal news story. That doesn't for a moment diminish the chance that the globe's first (and possibly ultimate) nuclear conflagration could break out along that 480-mile border known as the Line of Control (and, given the history that surrounds it, that phrase should indeed be capitalized). The casus belli would undoubtedly be the more than seven-decades-old clash between India and Pakistan over the contested territory of Kashmir. Like a volcano, this unresolved dispute rumbles periodically -- as it did only weeks ago -- threatening to spew its white-hot lava to devastating effect not just in the region but potentially globally as well.
The trigger for renewed rumbling is always a sensational terrorist attack by a Pakistani militant group on an Indian target. That propels the India's leadership to a moral high ground. From there, bitter condemnations of Pakistan are coupled with the promise of airstrikes on the training camps of the culprit terrorist organizations operating from the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. As a result, the already simmering relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors are quickly raised to a boiling point. This, in turn, prompts the United States to intervene and pressure Pakistan to shut down those violent jihadist groups. To placate Washington, the Pakistani government goes through the ritual of issuing banning orders on those groups, but in practice, any change is minimal.- Advertisement -
And in the background always lurks the possibility that a war between the two neighbors could lead to a devastating nuclear exchange. Which means that it's time to examine how and why, by arraying hundreds of thousands of troops along that Line of Control, India and Pakistan have created the most perilous place on Earth.
How It All Began
The Kashmir dispute began with the birth of the kicking twins -- Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan -- as independent countries. They emerged from the belly of the dying British Raj in August 1947. The princely states in British India were given the option of joining either of the new nations. The dithering Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir (its full title) finally signed a legally binding instrument of accession with New Delhi after his realm was invaded by armed tribal raiders from Pakistan. This document offered that state's citizens the chance to choose between the two countries once peace had been restored. This has not happened so far and there is no credible prospect that it will.
After the 1947-1948 Indo-Pakistani War that followed independence, India was left in control of almost two-thirds of the princely state (18% of which it lost to China in the Sino-Indian War of 1962). Crucially, the 45% of the former princely state that remained in its hands included the Vale of Kashmir. Guarded by snow-capped mountain peaks, covered with verdant forests of fir and pine, carpeted by wild flowers in the spring, and irrigated by the Jhelum River, it has been described by poets and others as "paradise on Earth." Its population of seven million is 96% Muslim. And it is this territory that is coveted by Pakistan.
In 1989, having secured the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Afghanistan after a 10-year struggle, some of the Afghan Mujahedin ("Holy Warriors"), including Pakistani militants, turned their attention to liberating Indian-controlled Kashmir. In this, they had the active backing of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, of Pakistan's army. Earlier, the ISI had acted as the conduit for channeling U.S. and Saudi-supplied weapons and cash to the Mujahedin coalition.
At that time, the two Pakistani groups in the Mujahedin coalition, which always harbored an anti-Indian agenda, emerged front and center. They were the Jaish-e Mohammad (Army of Mohammad) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous), led respectively by Masoud Azhar and Hafiz Saeed. Working with those Kashmiris who wanted their state to secede from India, they soon began to resort to terrorist acts.- Advertisement -
The Indian government responded with draconian measures. In July 1990, it passed the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, or AFJKSP, a law that authorized the state government to declare any part of Jammu and Kashmir a "disturbed area," where the Indian army would be free to shoot anyone acting in contravention of "any law" or in possession of a deadly weapon. Indian forces could now arrest people suspected of committing any offense without a warrant or enter and search any premises to make such arrests. In other words, from then on, the armed forces had carte blanche legal immunity to do whatever they wished without the slightest accountability.
Yet resistance to Indian rule did not subside. In fact, the slogan "Azadi" (Freedom) caught on, emboldening both terror groups to jointly launch an audacious attack on the Indian Parliament building on December 20, 2001, with the aim of taking lawmakers hostage. (They were bravely blocked by armed guards.) In the crisis that followed, the mobilized armies of the two neighbors, each already a declared nuclear power, faced off across their international border and the Line of Control in Kashmir. Pressured by Washington, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned the two terror organizations in January 2002. Yet both of them soon resurfaced under different names.
In June 2002, at a regional conference in the Kazakh city of Almaty, Musharraf assailed then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for ignoring the wishes of the Kashmiri people. "The possession of nuclear weapons by any state obviously implies they will be used under some circumstances," he stated grimly, refusing to commit his country (as India had) to a "no first use" policy on nuclear arms. Vajpayee accused him of "nuclear blackmail." At home, however, Musharraf's hardline stance was applauded by the militant groups.