India and Pakistan: War and peace on the subcontinent - A class perspective

The sudden peace overtures sent out by Vajpayee on April 18 have stirred the political landscape of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Most sections of the intellectual and political elites of both India and Pakistan, and even far beyond, are astonished. Yet, if we take a quick look at the post partition history of the subcontinent it is not surprising at all.

The sudden peace overtures sent out by Vajpayee on April 18 from Srinagar have stirred the political landscape of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. It has surprised many across the divide including A.K Advani and a number of other stalwarts of Vajpayee's BJP. Advani and his cohorts failed to conceal their scepticism and hostility. Most sections of the intellectual and political elites of both India and Pakistan, and even far beyond, are astonished. Yet, if we take a quick look at the post partition history of the subcontinent it is not surprising at all.

This chequered period of more than half a century, apart from the three direct military conflicts, is punctuated with alternating episodes of threats of Armageddon and the gimmickry of Peace. It is the story of the continuation of a futile process from Lahore to Kargill, from Agra to a million man eyeball-to-eyeball build up. And now we have the music from Srinagar.

Vajpayee's sudden turn after an 18-month standoff is and is not an accident at the same time. In Hegel's dictum, it is the "expression of necessity through accident". Apart from Mr. Vajpayee's notions of historical grandeur and poetic nostalgia, the immediate causes are several. The burgeoning economic costs, moral decline of the troops and military causalities were beginning to bite. Just in the year 2002 India lost more than 3000 soldiers and incurred a cost of 80 billion rupees in military operations in Kashmir alone.

The Sangpariwar's onslaught of whipping up Hindu chauvinism had peaked and was fast losing steam. After Gujarat in contrast to the predictions of most political pundits it was turning into its opposite. The stakes for the BJP in the forthcoming state elections in autumn and the national elections in 2004 were in steep decline. Vajpayee, the cunning fox of Indian politics took this opportunity to strike back at the so-called hardliners who had cornered him in the last period.

The political crisis was worsening rapidly and in a way, as with war, the external peace gesture is just the 'continuation of politics by other means'. The American factor cannot be excluded but it is being exaggerated. Ultimately the Americans would never go for a settlement of Kashmir and other issues for a permanent peace in the subcontinent, even if it were possible within the existing system. How could they undo a crisis which was created by their predecessors, the British, for the benefit of imperialist exploitation under the policy of 'divide and rule'? They would rather prefer a continual, subterranean conflict, which could be restrained, but at the same time have enough potential to keep the wounds festering and mutual hatreds burning.

The response of the Pakistani regime was as expected. With the sudden U-turn in its policy in Afghanistan after the events of 9/11 the state had to undergo severe strains. The fissures opening up have had a debilitating effect on the state's capacity to assert its authority. Further external military pressure from the eastern front was diminishing its strength and its foundations. Thus the overture from Delhi was received with a sigh of relief. Hence the Jamali phone call to Vajpayee. Musharraf was quick to intervene in the debate with his old rhetoric of 'nuclear disarmament and non aggression pact'. He didn't seriously contemplate, nor really understand the possibility, real meanings or the implications of his favourite cliché. The so-called hawks amongst the fundamentalists, national chauvinists and those in the Pakistani establishment have had a battering in the last period. In an unprecedented move even the ISI (Pakistani intelligence services) had to go through the embarrassment of holding two press conferences in Islamabad, one for the foreign journalists and the other for the local ones, a couple of months ago. According to an official these press conferences were held, 'to dispel the growing impression (in the USA?) that a part of the ISI had gone on its own and the military leadership had lost control over the agency's field operations'. When there is smoke…

With their intrinsic incapacity to swim against the stream they have decided to lie low for the time being, just muttering age-old phrases of Kashmir being an integral part of Pakistan. They are biding their time for this peace wave to ebb.

This turn of events has generated a flurry of statements, articles and suggestions in the press and the electronic media. Everybody seems to be in line for peace. But this quest for peace is too superficial and too limited. The restoration of diplomatic relations, curbing visa restrictions, restoration of transport links, 'direct people to people contacts', cultural exchanges, revival of trade links and of course the resolution of the 'core issue of Kashmir' are said to be the precursors for a lasting peace in the subcontinent.

Yet the reality is that the prerequisites of peace in the subcontinent go far beyond these issues.

The India and Pakistan came into being not through a defeat of the British colonial rule, through a national liberation struggle, but through a negotiated settlement between the Hindu and Muslim elite of this region with the British imperialists. The massacres and the violence took place after partition had been agreed and these acts were not against the British state but were sectarian conflicts amongst the masses themselves. This does not mean that there was no liberation struggle of the peoples of the subcontinent. On the contrary there was a massive upsurge against the colonial rule in the subcontinent for decades.

The massive strike waves on the railways, in the textile industry and several other sectors of the economy, the peasant uprisings along with the heroic revolt of the sailors of the Royal Indian Navy and mutinies in the army in the mid 1940s are a witness to this fact. If this movement had had a revolutionary leadership, the national liberation struggle could have entered the realm of social liberation. This would have changed the whole course of history.

However the ideological and strategic blunders and betrayals of the leaders of the workers' parties paved the way for the accession of the politicians of the local elite classes to the helm of the national liberation movement. Here the class interests came into play.

The negotiated independence meant that the character of the state and the socio-economic system remained fundamentally unchanged. Hence the imperialist plunder has continued to this day. It has rather intensified.

The markets, the industries and the services are up for grabs for the vulture capitalism in an ever-growing economic domination by imperialist corporations. The IMF, the World Bank and other institutions rule the roost. All social indicators show a constant decline. The subcontinent with one fifth of the world population is one of the poorest regions in the world. In India more than 700 million souls have been forced into a destiny of destitution and misery. In fact they have been economically abandoned into oblivion by the dynamics of crisis ridden Indian capitalism. In Pakistan 10,000 people are falling into the abyss below the poverty line every day. More and more people are being forced into inhuman existence. This is also the least gender sensitive region in the world. Child labour is a social norm. Medieval and pre-medieval forms of exploitation like slavery and bonded labour still flourish. In fact the subcontinent can be termed as a living museum of historical materialism. The majority of the children are without shoes, yet the Indian and Pakistani ruling elites are some of the biggest spenders on military hardware and their nuclear arsenals. This year's Indian defence budget of Rs.650billion and the annual expenditure of Pakistan of Rs.70 billion on weaponry are a glaring example of this madness.

Even if formal trade begins to blossom and there is a certain rise in the rate of growth of GDP, still these gains, if any, would only benefit those at the top. A bit may trickle down to the middle classes but the vast majority of the subcontinent's populace will remain deprived and destitute. Similarly other cosmetic measures are not able to solve the fundamental problems facing these societies. Hence the crisis culminating into further turmoil, conflict and conflagration.

Even during periods of lull and stagnation, when there are no big movements of the oppressed classes against the ruling elite, the instability and chaos emanating from the severity of the economic and social crisis continually rocks these states and these regimes. Therefore we see this inevitably expressed in twists and turns in the domestic and foreign policies of these regimes.

Similarly all this razzmatazz about a solution of the Kashmir question is more of a desperate attempt to build up false hopes rather than anyone seriously contemplating that any 'comprehensive' solution can be reached in the prevailing circumstances. The trauma and the wounds of the people of Kashmir are too deep to be healed by these superficial medications. Kashmir has been abused and misused by the sub-continental rulers to perpetuate their despotic rule across the region. The resistance, valour and determination put up by the oppressed masses and youth of Kashmir against the aggression and brutalities of the Indian army, in spite and despite the interference in the movement of the Pakistani agencies and fundamentalist outfits, has been spectacular.

Now this struggle in Kashmir is becoming a threat for these rulers, so they want a 'settlement'. The only problem is that the issue which they have abused for so long has come back to haunt them. The truth is that none of the options being put forward by the official intelligentsia are feasible or practicable. The destiny of the oppressed of Kashmir is ultimately linked with the rest of the deprived and exploited classes of the region.

The main reason for this impasse is that the ruling classes of India and Pakistan emerged too late on the world arena. Therefore they could not carry out the tasks posed to them as a class by history.

  • After about 56 years of formal independence India and Pakistan cannot claim to be unified nation states. National oppression and secessionist movements have been present throughout the whole period.
  • The land question has not been resolved and they have failed to complete the agrarian revolution.
  • The basic social and physical infrastructure prerequisites for a modern industrial state and society are far from complete in these countries.
  • In spite of the bragging of the theoreticians and intellectuals of the Indian officialdom Indian democracy has failed to deliver the basic democratic rights to the mass of the population. The vast majority of the people are and have been continually subjected to state repression, injustice and brutality. Their Pakistani counterparts cannot even claim to have had a façade of a parliamentary set up for any substantial length of time.
  • Secular India has no less, if not more religious pogroms and sectarian holocausts than theocratic Pakistan.
  • Similarly none of the other tasks of the national democratic revolution have been completed by the ruling elites on both sides of the divide.

This historical failure was due to the fact that by 1947 imperialism, especially the United States had consolidated its economic stranglehold over the capitalist world in particular and around the whole planet to some extent. The ruling classes in India and Pakistan could not compete with the economic, financial and technological strength of imperialism. So basing themselves on a capitalist socio-economic order they had no choice but to give in. This subjugation ensured that the patterns of socio-economic development in these societies, apart from some trivial changes, would remain the same as under direct colonial rule. These patterns of uneven and combined nature of development have on the one hand aggravated the socio-economic miseries of the masses, while they have exacerbated the class and social contradictions in the last half-century. These contradictions explode in different directions at different times. As long as these contradictions remain the turmoil and convulsions on different frontiers and in different forms will continue to erupt. The ruling elites will also try to deviate and distract the movements rising up around these contradictions. They have used and they will use any means and could go to any length of destruction and devastation to maintain their domination.

The recent issue of The Economist states, "In fact, senior Indian politicians now admit in private, war was never seriously contemplated." So what was the game? With a million troops amassed along the border more than a billion impoverished and desecrated souls were tormented and agonised with the threat of war and devastation. Billions extracted from the blood, sweat and tears of the working people were extravagantly dished out for their 'preparations of war'. This farcical, as well as tragic, act of escalation and de-escalation was played only to quell the rising tide from below and to distract the oppressed masses from taking the road of their own emancipation. But for how long can these theatrics deceive and deviate the oppressed?

No sane person would oppose peace. But it would also be sinister to instil people with false hopes of a peace that cannot be sustained by the elites and their system of crisis. There is a vast difference between peace as a façade and peace in reality.

The history of the last three decades clearly reveals that the situation has become so fragile and dangerous that the ruling classes of India and Pakistan can't afford to go to war. But it is also a reality that they can't maintain peace. This is the clear verdict of the post partition history of the subcontinent. And again as the saying goes, 'those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it'.

The oppressed masses of India and Pakistan, and of course those of Kashmir, have no enmity with each other. In fact their fundamental interests and aspirations are the same. Their emancipation has a common path and destiny. Different political representatives of different sections of the ruling classes and finance capital use them as cannon fodder, sometimes by inculcating them with chauvinism and war hysteria, and at other times, ironically, by giving them false hopes of peace and tranquillity under the yoke of imperialist exploitation. Peace and exploitation can never coexist, in the same way that the coexistence of misery and prosperity can never bring tranquillity.

Genuine and lasting peace can only be achieved by obliterating the root causes of turmoil, conflicts, and wars that are poverty, exploitation and depreviation. These can only be abolished by overthrowing the socio-economic system on which they breed - Capitalism. Only those who are the real victims of this tyrannical system can carry out this social transformation. They are the exploited, the deprived and the oppressed, the working classes. The only road for achieving this aim is the class struggle. And the culmination and victory of the class struggle is the successful carrying out of a Socialist Revolution.

Successful socialist revolutions in India or Pakistan will not only overthrow this system of wars and destruction but will also lay the foundations for the voluntary Socialist Federation of the Subcontinent. Only then peace will become reality and a united people free from class antagonisms can move forward to construct a peaceful, prosperous and an emancipated future for the human race.