Being an American comes with many undeniable benefits, or, to use biblical language, blessings. I am often struck by the fact that my Spanish ancestors could have chosen to emigrate, as many of their compatriots, to, say, Argentina, Mexico, or Cuba. Instead, they chose Puerto Rico, and within a generation their children would be made citizens of the United States.
But there are also pitfalls to being citizens of the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. One of them is a kind of insularity. We assume, not entirely without reason, that the world revolves around the United States. That leads us to ignore or discount what is happening in the rest of the world.
This is especially true of places with whom we share few cultural affinities—i.e., not the Anglosphere or major European countries like Germany and France. To paraphrase Nathaniel, “Can anything important come from Asia (or Africa, or South America)?”
The answer is “Most certainly.” And we should pay attention to those things, because, to paraphrase a decidedly nonbiblical phrase, what happens in these places doesn’t always stay in these places, as the rise of ISIS and the spread of the Zika virus should have impressed upon us.
As Abraham Kuyper, the intellectual inspiration/patron saint (just kidding) of the Colson Center, famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” In a new column that I’m calling “Know Your Square Inch,” I’m going to periodically draw your attention to some overlooked square inches.
I’ll start with a lot of square inches—341,231,616,000,000 of them, give or take several trillion: Kashmir.
I’m not talking about sweaters or the classic Led Zeppelin song. I’m talking about what has been called “the most dangerous place on Earth.” Since July 2016, the Indian state has been in the midst of an uprising against Indian rule. The precipitating event was the killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani during an encounter with Indian security forces.
In response to Wani’s death, young Kashmiris began demonstrating their displeasure with Indian rule—at first with slogans and demands for a plebiscite on Kashmiri independence, and subsequently by throwing stones at Indian security forces. In response, one young protester was tied to the hood of an Indian Army Jeep as a kind of human shield against stone throwers.
None of this, as tragic as it is, warrants calling Kashmir “the most dangerous place on Earth.” To understand what makes it dangerous, a short history lesson is necessary. As everyone who has ever seen the movie “Gandhi” knows, in 1947 what was then British India—modern-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—was partitioned along religious lines.
In the parts of India that were under direct British control, the results were ghastly. In what would today be called “ethnic cleansing,” between 10 and 12 million people fled their homes and anywhere from several hundred thousand to 2 million people were killed.
Making matters even worse, or at least more complicated, was that the British didn’t directly control all of India. At the time of partition, there were nearly 600 “princely states” in the subcontinent ruled by maharajas and sultans of various stripes. Some of these were the size of a city park, and others, like Kashmir, were the size of western European countries.
To greatly oversimplify the tale, through a combination of bribery, arm-twisting, and intimidation, virtually all of these rulers chose to become part of either Pakistan or Indian, in a process formally called “accession.” Making matters simpler was that virtually all of them shared the same religion as the majority of their subjects.
The biggest exception on both of these counts was Kashmir. Its ruler was Hindu while the majority of its people were Muslims. Once again, to greatly oversimplify, after contemplating outright independence, Kashmir’s ruler chose to join India. This outraged Pakistan, which, not without reason, believed that by the norms that had been established during the partition of the subcontinent, that if Kashmir acceded at all, it should accede to Pakistan.
The immediate result was the first of several wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. While India prevailed in all of these wars (plus a 1971 war that helped create Bangladesh), Pakistan has never renounced its claim on Kashmir. The lesson they learned from their military losses was that they could not hope to prevail in a conventional war with their neighbor.
So they switched to fighting an unconventional war by supporting Islamist terrorist proxies such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Lashkar-e-Taiba (“The Army of the Righteous”) in addition to its actions in Kashmir, has been linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, and, possibly, the 2010 failed car bomb in Times Square. The policy was to “bleed India with a thousand cuts.”
But even this support for terrorism, coupled with Pakistani incursions across the “Line of Control,” some of which allegedly include the beheading of Indian soldiers, isn’t enough to warrant calling Kashmir “the most dangerous place in the world.”
What puts it over the top is that both sides have nuclear weapons. In 1999, while you were probably worrying over Y2K, India and Pakistan waged a two-month war that came close to becoming a nuclear one. There are credible reports that Pakistan considered using nuclear weapons, which would have prompted India to do the same. Thankfully, forceful American diplomacy helped to de-escalate that conflict before the worst happened.
Today, Kashmir is in crisis again, and any settlement that all three parties—the Indians, Pakistanis, and, let’s not forget, the Kashmiris—will find acceptable is impossible to imagine. Since 1999, Pakistan has introduced tactical nuclear weapons, a.k.a. “battlefield nukes,” into the mix, which should cause Americans to lose far more sleep than any threat originating out of Teheran.
Meanwhile in India, the public mood is, let’s just say, more truculent than it’s been in a while. India claims to have developed a “ballistic missile defense shield” than can protect Delhi, and speaks of deploying additional shields around other major cities.
Stated simply, no one shows any signs of backing down even when the subject of nukes comes up. That makes Kashmir—specifically, the Line of Control that runs through it— “the most dangerous place in the world,” and 340 trillion square inches worth understanding.
Tilak Devasher, “Pakistan: Courting the Abyss.” The words “courting the abyss” should almost never be used about a nuclear-armed state, but Devasher makes a compelling case for why it’s appropriate in the case of Pakistan.
Anatole, Lieven, “Pakistan: A Hard Country.” Covers some of the same ground as Devasher’s book, but also examines American policy blunder that have made matters worse. Unlike Devasher, the author isn’t an Indian, so it’s harder to discount what he writes as “bias.”
Nisid Hajari, “Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition.” The subtitle says it all.
Yasmin Khan, “The Great Partition.” As one reviewer on Amazon put it, “a great chronicle of a human tragedy.”
Ramachandra Guha, “India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy.” Despite the “rah-rah” nature of the subtitle, Guha’s account is often critical of the Mahatma’s successors.
Human Rights Watch, “Everyone Lives in Fear: Patterns of Immunity in Jammu and Kashmir” by Human Rights Watch. A painful look at the victims.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Roberto Rivera is senior fellow at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. For nearly 20 years he has been chief writer for the BreakPoint Radio commentary program. His “Internally Displaced Person” is a mostly regular column at BreakPoint.org. His writings have appeared in Touchstone, First Things, and Sojourners. He lives with his son in Alexandria, Virginia.