Border build-up worries British analysts

LONDON, DEC. 30. British commentators today warned that Kashmir and Palestine were potentially the most likely flashpoints of 2002, and expressed scepticism over claims that terrorism would decline in the wake of the rout of the Al-Qaeda network.

Looking ahead at the world situation in the new year, they took a grim view of what they described as the biggest India-Pakistan military build-up in 15 years, and said that even if the current crisis was defused, tension would continue to simmer over the Kashmir issue.

The leading Marxist writer, Mr. Tariq Ali, in a TV interview, called for intervention by the international community to force India and Pakistan to come to an agreement to avert a confrontation. His controversial prescription was a political arrangement that would ``force'' New Delhi and Islamabad to ``share sovereignty'' over Kashmir.

Other analysts refrained from offering a solution but warned that peace would remain a ``hostage'' on the subcontinent unless the Kashmir issue was got out of the way. ``Kashmir has the same destabilising potential for the Indian subcontinent as the Palestinian problem has for the Middle East,'' one analyst said, pointing out that the fact that India and Pakistan were now nuclear powers had heightened the risks.

A dominant view was that it would be a mistake to believe that the defeat of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's forces in Afghanistan necessarily meant an end to terrorism. Most commentators maintained that terrorism would continue to breed unless its causes were removed, and one cause - they believed - was the ``double standards'' that the West, more particularly American foreign policy makers, applied to international issues. The Palestine issue was repeatedly mentioned as a glaring example of such ``double standards''. Social inequities arising out of ``distortions'' in the process of globalisation were cited as another major factor behind growing alienation from mainstream politics and the ``lurch'' towards extremism.

Even those such as Prof. Fred Halliday of the London School of Economics, who did not wish to get involved in the blame-game between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, insisted that peace would come to the region only with the formation of an independent Palestinian state, whose sovereignty was recognised and respected by its neighbours. Asked on Sky TV how optimistic he was about 2002, he said it would depend on how the situation in Palestine, Afghanistan and Kashmir unfolded.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, meanwhile, echoed the urgency to bring peace to West Asia. In his New Year's message, he called for concerted efforts by the international community to revive the peace process in the region. He has consistently maintained that the fight against terrorism must include addressing its underlying causes - a view also put forward by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mr. Don McKinnon, in his end of year message. ``The terrorist attacks (of September 11) have brought a sense of urgency to our lives. We have come to realise that the problems our world is facing demand urgent attention... The clock was always ticking. Only now it is ticking faster,'' he said.

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