Pakistan and India on the brink of nuclear
Chairman of the All India Anti-Terrorist Front
(AIATF) M.S. Bitta (center), dressed in Indian army fatigues,
shouts anti-Pakistan slogans with hundreds of other supporters
during a demonstration near parliament in New Delhi on June
Photo by AFP/RAVEENDRAN via Newscom
Compiled by Eamon Martin
June 5— US officials are saying the situation is as
dangerous as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. On Tuesday, Pakistani
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf refused to renounce first use
of nuclear weapons, as efforts to bring him together with Indian
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to defuse tensions over
Kashmir appeared to fail.
That morning, the two leaders angrily blamed each other for
more than five decades of conflict as they sat across a table
while their troops traded heavy fire in the disputed Kashmir
region. The fledgling nuclear powers have massed a million troops
on their border, backed by tanks, missiles and artillery.
“The situation is extraordinarily serious. It could very rapidly
lead to nuclear war,” a well-placed source said this week. “This
is a credible scenario, millions of people would be killed and
untold damage be done to the infrastructure.”
Diplomatic sources insist that such a doomsday scenario is
Musharraf, when asked to state Pakistan’s nuclear policy and
explain why it will not renounce first use of nuclear weapons
as India has, said: “The possession of nuclear weapons by any
state obviously implies they will be used under some circumstances.”
But Musharraf insisted his country did not want the conflict
“The people of South Asia continue to pay a heavy price for
the refusal by India to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance
with resolutions of the United Nations and the wishes of the
Kashmiri people,” he said.
“We have repeatedly said that we are willing to discuss all
issues with Pakistan, including Jammu and Kashmir. But for that,
cross-border terrorism has to end,” Vajpayee said.
The bitter Hindu-Muslim conflict over Kashmir dates back to
the partition of India and Pakistan at the end of British rule
in 1947. The predominantly Muslim territory was handed to India
because the ruling maharajah under the British was a Hindu,
setting the scene for half a century of tension, two wars and
more than a decade of cross-border attacks by radical Islamic
Reacting to an aborted “jihadist” attempt last December to
blow up India’s Parliament using a car laden with high-explosives,
New Delhi ordered more than 700,000 of its troops to the Pakistan
border backed by missiles, tanks and its air force.
Pakistan denied involvement in the attack, which resulted in
the deaths of 14 people. Islamabad responded to the military
build-up by deploying several hundred thousand troops of its
own on the other side of the border.
Relations between India and Pakistan soured further this weekend
following claims by New Delhi that Pakistani security agents
had abducted an Indian diplomat.
Indian military planners have drawn up proposals ranging from
targeted air strikes on suspected terror training camps to a
major land invasion.
Pakistan has said that it will defend itself with all its “strategic
assets” (Islamabad’s term for nuclear weapons).
India is believed to possess 100-150 nuclear warheads that
can be delivered by fighter jet or fitted to long-range missiles;
Pakistan is thought to have an arsenal of 25-50.
Locals think they’re ready
“How much do our people and politicians know about nuclear
weapons?” an Indian officer mused aloud at his camp near Jammu
in Kashmir. “Nothing. All they’ve seen is a controlled explosion
on TV. They think they’re just big firecrackers.
“But if it came to it,” he added, “India could afford to lose,
say, 25 million people. The question is could Pakistan?”
This cavalier approach to the prospect of a nuclear holocaust
is horrifyingly typical on both sides of the border.
Nearly 1,000 miles away from Jammu, in the broiling Thar desert
close to the Pakistan border, an Indian colonel was in an expansive
mood: “We’re going to teach those Pakis a bloody good lesson,”
he said enthusiastically. But he was not worried that Pakistan’s
ruling generals would resort to their nuclear weapons if India
“We were down in Gujarat after the earthquake,” said the colonel.
“Nuclear war can’t be worse than an earthquake.”
The gung-ho, pro-nuclear mood is just as strong in Pakistan
as it is in India and last week’s test-firing of nuclear-capable
ballistic missiles was greeted enthusiastically by Musharraf.
Earlier, the Vice Chief of Army Staff, General Mohammad Yusuf
Khan, told senior officers: “Indians will get the message loud
and clear that we also mean business. They must remember that
Pakistan is a nuclear state -- its people and armed forces are
proud of that fact.”
On the Indian side, displaced villagers are in no mood for
“We want war,” says Sudesh Kumari, who had fled from Mirpur,
a village one mile from the border, for the second time that
morning after a mortar shell landed on her house while she was
outside cooking. “It’s better to die once than to do it every
day. For the last week, they’ve been shelling our village morning
She and her fellow villagers look puzzled when asked about
nuclear war. “Nuclear weapons? We have much better weapons than
Pakistan,” says Angrez Singh, a 55-year-old farmer. “I’ve seen
three wars and I know it’s better to die now than to live like
The villagers were delighted when Prime Minister Vajpayee
told his troops in Kashmir that “the time has come for a decisive
battle.” Pakistan responded by calling on civil defense volunteers
and placing its bigger cities on a war footing.
Although well-informed people seem aware of the dangers of
a nuclear strike on Delhi there is reason to believe that most
ordinary citizens have little idea of the devastation that can
be caused by a nuclear blast or of the radiation fallout.
On Saturday, Nisha, 26, clutching an ice cream and her toddler
son, read impassively through a leaflet calling for immediate
dialogue with Pakistan to avert the horror of a nuclear war.
“Why should we worry about this?” she said with a shrug. “India
has more nuclear weapons than Pakistan. We will wipe them off
the map and win the war.”
That view may sound extreme, but it is one shared by George
Fernandes, the Indian Defense Minister, who coldly calculated
that India could survive such a strike and deliver a fatal blow
to Pakistan. Scientists have predicted that a nuclear exchange
would kill 12 million people - half of them in India, but all
over the country people are braying for war, nonetheless. About
82 percent believe that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons in
the event of a conflict, but 74 per cent believe that India
To activists, such statistics are terrifying. “There is no conception
among ordinary people about what a nuclear bomb would do,” Arundhati
Roy, the Booker prize-winning author and activist said. “They
just think it will make a louder bang.”
When India tested its first atomic weapon in 1998, the nuclear
scientists responsible were treated like heroes. No one dared
to suggest there might be a downside. There were no public service
broadcasts explaining what to do in the event of a nuclear strike,
no doomsday television dramas about a nuclear holocaust of the
type that put fear into the West during the Cold War.
The result is a profound ignorance about the reality of nuclear
conflict. The depth of misconception among ordinary people,
who are pushing for their Government to go to war, is alarming.
“The bomb is some kind of gas,” Lalith Kumar, a drinks vendor,
said as he served his customers iced tea from his stall in the
trendy Priya shopping district. “Farmers will be okay because
they can dig trenches to hide in. The rest of us will be annihilated.”
Gancham Gupta, a pediatrician and one of Kumar’s customers,
snorted into his drink in amusement. He knew much more about
nuclear weapons, he said — fall-out, radiation and so on — but
still saw little reason to be afraid. “We doubt Pakistan’s capability
because their missiles are all smuggled,” he said. “India made
its own so they will work, but Pakistan’s won’t.”
Anyone who tries to say otherwise is labeled unpatriotic. When
Sonia Reddy, an editorial writer, said in an anti-nuclear piece
for a national newspaper that she would build an ark for her
and her family in the event of a nuclear war, it prompted a
stream of e-mails denouncing her as a “bad Indian.”
The message is clear: you can be against the bomb or you can
be for India. You cannot be both.
“There is virtually no peace movement in India. That’s very
disturbing,” said Roy.
“I don’t care whether I live or die — we must punish Pakistan,”
Kumar said, mixing up another jug of iced tea. “If it doesn’t
happen to me, it will happen to my children. There should be
war now and this should be the end of it.”
By Saturday, France had joined the US, Britain, New Zealand,
Australia, Germany and the UN agencies in advising “non-essential”
diplomatic staff and citizens to leave India and on Monday,
Asian countries like Malaysia and South Korea followed suit.
Indian travel agents reported a rush in outward bookings with
more than 100,000 people expected to leave over the next two
Sources: Agence France Presse, Associated Press, BBC News,
CBS, Guardian (UK), Inter Press Service, Telegraph (UK), Times
Ashcroft drops FBI’s leash
By Shawn Gaynor
June 5 (AGR)— Attorney General John Ashcroft this week
announced sweeping changes to the way the FBI conducts surveillance.
The announcement comes amidst broad allegations of FBI and CIA
mishandling of information leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks
on the United States.
The move has been assailed by civil rights groups who believe
the removal of domestic spying limitations signals a new era
of law enforcement abuses. Ashcroft defended the broadening
of FBI powers by saying the bureau must change from “reactive
to proactive” in its fight against “terrorism.”
However, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, the White
House quietly acknowledged that the recent “terror” warnings
are not urgent and that they are partly motivated by political
objectives. White House officials told reporters that the blunt
warnings of new terrorist attacks issued last week do not reflect
a dramatic increase in threatening information but rather a
desire to fend off criticism from the Democrats.
Though Ashcroft’s announcement focused on the US “war on terror,”
a war one would assume from the administration’s rhetoric would
be waged against foreigners, no changes have been forthcoming
to the FBI’s code of conduct concerning foreign sponsored actions
in this country or abroad. According to the Center for Democracy
and Technology, “All of the changes are related to the FBI’s
domestic guidelines, not the international terrorism guidelines
under which Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida are investigated.”
The foreign intelligence and international terrorism guidelines
have long given the FBI more latitude to investigate, even when
there is no suspicion of criminal activity or affiliations.
Laura W. Murphy, of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
said the government was “rewarding failure [by giving] itself
new power rather than seriously investigate why the failures
Under the newly mandated guidelines, the FBI would have drastically
expanded powers to conduct investigations even in the absence
of any indication of criminal activity. Under the old guidelines
the FBI was not allowed to tamper with mail or wiretap in a
preliminary investigation where no criminal activity was reasonably
indicated. The old guidelines also capped preliminary investigations
to a 90-day period, after which, if there was still no indication
of a crime the investigation would stop. Now these types of
investigations can last a year, without any indication of a
crime being committed, and can be extended if a field office
is given approval by FBI headquarters.
Ashcroft also removed restrictions on the FBI’s power to use
commercial data banks for data mining. This means the FBI can
now look at the data recorded by commercial interests like credit
card companies, grocery stores’ bonus cards, banks, and phone
companies to do broad searches of the general population for
suspicious trends. For example, this provision would also allow
data gathering of individuals’ phone calling habits, in the
absence of suspicion of a crime, hypothetically making a person
subject to investigation for making repeated calls overseas,
buying common items that a bomb could be created from or unusual
Another startling change will allow the FBI to use RICO laws,
designed for use against organized crime like the Mafia and
drug cartels, against crimes that are not committed for monetary
gain. Perhaps the largest expansion of powers comes to the FBI’s
rules regarding Internet searches. The changes would allow the
FBI to do “topic research” on the Internet, allowing them to
capture all interactions that use a key word or phase. The old
powers only allowed these searches in the context of an investigation;
the new rules would allow sweeping searches of the general population.
Muslim groups are concerned that under the new rules the FBI
will begin monitoring mosques without any evidence of criminal
activity or terrorism. Others fear the new reality of blanket
surveillance by federal authorities.
According to the ACLU, “the new guidelines will trash a central
protection against government fishing expeditions by ending
the requirement that law enforcement agencies have at least
a scintilla of evidence — or even a hunch — of a crime before
engaging in certain investigative activities.”
Some critics believe that the new rules will further overwhelm
the FBI with erroneous information, further bogging down the
agency’s ability to respond to credible threats.
The House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner,
a Republican from Wisconsin said, “I get very queasy when federal
law enforcement is effectively saying, [we are] going back to
the bad old days when the FBI was spying on people like Martin
Luther King. I believe the justice department has gone too far.”
The guidelines that Ashcroft revised were put in place over
twenty years ago under the Republican administration of Gerald
Ford, after the FBI was caught spying on, and secretly interfering
with, civil rights groups, the Vietnam anti-war movement and
others. Under FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s Counter Intelligence
Program (COINTELPRO) the FBI infiltrated domestic groups to
cause disruptions and engaged in psychological warfare against
groups and individuals by planting false stories, forming fake
public groups run by agents, strong-arming employers, parents,
and schools, as well as other misinformation tactics. The FBI
also engaged in legal harassment by fabricating evidence as
a pretext for arrest. In some cases the FBI resorted to using
extra-legal force to assault, beat and, it is widely believed,
assassinate political dissidents.
Broad campaigns were carried out against Martin Luther King’s
Southern Christian Leadership Council, student groups, and the
The government changed the guidelines after a break-in at
an FBI field office lead to the leaking of documents related
to the program. The US Senate, led by former Republican Senator
Frank Church, investigated and imposed the restrictions on the
FBI’s powers to monitor and interfere with domestic political
and religious groups. The conclusion of the Church Committee
Report states, “the American people need to be assured that
never again will an agency of the government be permitted to
conduct a secret war against those citizens it considers threats
to the established order. Only a combination of legislative
prohibitions and Department control can guarantee COINTELPRO
will not happen again.”
Earth First! activist arrested
after 11-hour blockade at Bitterroot
May 29 (AGR)— Wild Rockies Earth First (WREF!) activist,
Redge Peterson, will be arraigned on federal felony charges
of conspiracy to impede and obstruct an officer at 9:30am, May
30 in Judge Ericson’s court. Peterson was arrested May 28 after
a successful 11 hour blockade of the Bitterroot National Forest
Service headquarters in Hamilton, Montaina.
Protesters gathered at the Forest Service office yesterday
to demand an immediate end to logging under the guise of restoration
in the Bitterroot National Forest. The action effectively interrupted
business as usual at the Hamilton Forest Service office.
Activists say they were trying to bring to public attention
the failings of the current Forest Service plan of logging to
restore the Bitterroot Forest. “As evidence in the forest shows,
logging is not restoration.” stated Julia Piaskowski of WREF!.
“In our field assessment we found that the Forest Service has
violated public trust. They implemented a plan that does not
restore our forest and are unwilling to even follow that plan’s
In a reversal from earlier statements, the Forest Service
denied that any violations have occurred in the Bitterroot National
Forest timber sales. “The Forest Service denial of violations
shows once again that they are incompetent to oversee even the
plan they supported in this salvage logging scam. We have photographic
evidence of violations that we will gladly provide to the public.”
said Mike Bowersox of WREF!.
Protesters say the recent action was in response to the Forest
Service’s dismissal of concerns raised by citizens, including
the logging community, and for the survival of the forest. Peterson
chose the personal sacrifice of risking his own freedom to bring
much needed attention to the plight of the Bitterroot Forest.
“Redge’s integrity in the way he conducted himself is an inspiration
to us all.” said Rebecca Smith. “His willingness to sacrifice
his freedom to halt the destruction of the forest is a shining
example of what true patriotism is all about.”
Since fires burned the Bitterroot National Forest two years
ago, environmentalists have been working to stop the Forest
Service from destroying yet another unique and beautiful part
of the Northern Rockies ecosystem. Using restoration as a smoke
screen, the USFS subverted the democratic process of public
participation to maximize timber profits. Giving no more than
lip service to jobs for the local economy, the USFS ignored
the community supported Conservation and Local Economy Alternative.
Wild Rockies Earth First! has actively advocated for the Northern
Rockies ecosystem for more than 15 years. The group is made
up of volunteers who put their time and bodies on the line to
protect the last wild places.