No. 177, June 6-12, 2002


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Pakistan and India on the brink of nuclear war

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 5, 2002.
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 “very real.”

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 to erupt.

“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 factions.

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 invaded.

“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 compromise.

“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 and evening.”

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 this.”

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 should attack.

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 weeks.

Sources: Agence France Presse, Associated Press, BBC News, CBS, Guardian (UK), Inter Press Service, Telegraph (UK), Times (UK)

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 occurred.”

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 spending habits.

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 Black Panthers.

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 inadequate guidelines.”

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.


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