Of course the national flag was on display because in Japan the football team were competing in the World Cup. Nationhood makes that competition all the sweeter. Unfortunately while millions all around the world tuned into TV sets for the games &endash; the other more prevalent form of Nationalism and madness was being played out at the top of the World in a place called Kashmir.
At the western end of the Himalayas &endash; a province that borders on Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China has been in dispute since 1948. Effectively what happened was the British pulled out and the ruler of this province, the Raja, dithered when deciding to link up with one of his choices, India (Hindus) or Pakistan (Muslims). When he finally decided to link with India the two thirds of the population that's Muslim felt aggrieved and split setting up free (Azad) Kashmir. In May 1948 troops went in from both sides and by 1949 a line of confrontation had been drawn.
There has been intermittent fighting there ever since. Over 60,000 people have lost their lives and while I was trundling along on the train to the west of Ireland this latest conflict between India and Pakistan had me wondering if any of us would see the World Cup. Of course this area has been in dispute for as long as the two countries have existed. Another legacy of the great British empire and the troubles that it's created all over the planet.
Like a family feud that refuses to go away &endash; the Kashmir question has been here for exploitation by both sides over the last 50 years. The difference now being that this is a family feud that involves nuclear weapons. Only 4 years ago a certain General Musharraf orchestrated a manoeuvre whereby some of his troops took over some abandoned winter bunkers normally occupied by troops from India near Kargill. A 6 week battle ensued. Buoyed by this daring move General Musharraf took power in coup in Pakistan 6 months after this battle in Kashmir.
With George Bush carrying on his "crusade" or shouldn't we call it war on terror, it's an inevitable consequence that other leaders see this as a time to sort out their issues. While war rages people are deflected from the issues that are being neglected and ignored. General Muscharraf took the opportunity to declare himself leader for life &endash; when the US was bombing the rubble in Afghanistan to smaller rubble. Now once again he turns to Kashmir (a place he has used before) as a means to continue his own personal wars and deflect the people of Pakistan away from the real issues of poverty, education, lack of clean water.
As one poor farmer in the Punjab said when asked about the possibility of war "for us there is always a war." He was referring to the endemic problems of corruption and the economics of just being able to survive. As long as the leaders of India and Pakistan continue to bluster on and move troops to the troubled area they can continue to do nothing to help the people of their respective countries.
Most recent developments means that war, for the moment, has been averted. So people are continuing to be killed, journalists assassinated, peace activists have been attacked, kidnapped and tortured, and leaders have made promises. Of course this means that nothing has really changed. General Mussharraf &endash; leader for life of Pakistan has promised to crack down on Muslim militants who have made frequent incursions into Indian controlled Kashmir. India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee most worryingly claimed "If Pakistan had not agreed to end infiltration, and America had not conveyed that guarantee to India, then war would not have been averted."
So this story hasn't ended. It's a situation that will not go away and while we sit around and look at our sports broadcasts two Nuclear countries throw slaps at each other every few years and shape up for a massive fight. While all of this was going on Tony Blair was stating that the British government was trying to be a "calming influence" in the region while 30 British companies attended an arms fair in Delhi, his ministers signed export licences for weapons, and a few of them tried to convince the Indian Government to guy 66 Hawk jets worth £1Billion. Business as usual. Emanating from their imperialist history the British government try and play the diplomats and ambassadors of peace to the world media while they beaver away at selling arms to both sides in the conflict. Business must go on despite the media spotlight.
The people of the region, of course, are the forgotten ones. When a poll is conducted it only answers that are allowed is to name the country you wish to be ruled by. Of course in the long and bloody history in this region there has never been a referendum on the issue. War is the great diversion for both of these countries. In both India and Pakistan the gap between rich and poor is enormous and appears to be growing on a daily basis. Rather than grapling with this reality it's in the interests of the rulers to stir up old hatreds along religious and nationalist divides. George W. Bush is not the only leader to resort to a war to deflect attention away from his bankrupt domestic polcies.
1 Taken from interview on Labour Party of Pakistan web site
2 Guardian "India Claims Victory without war" 17th June 2002
3 Guardian "UK Selling arms to India" June 20th
This edition is No71 published in July 2002