- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2000

Where Russia once closed major arms deals in secret, this month its weapons bazaar in the Ural mountains looked more like a public international amusement park than a place where countries could obtain killing machines. There were missile launching demonstrations, batton-twirling majorettes, tank-emblazoned vodka glasses and celebrity appearances of Russia's own President Vladimir Putin and AK-47 designer Mikhail Kalashnikov. In Russia's arms export playground, China and India are the major buyers, and India has a lot to spend. Increasing its defense budget to an unprecedented 28 percent, the nuclear power is also talking to Israel about obtaining aerial-surveillance vehicles and radars to be deployed in northern Kashmir. This does not bode well for the citizens living in the disputed region around the border of Pakistan and India.

"The government is spending its last cent on destruction," Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the Kashmiri-American Council said about the defense deal. "For the common Kashmiri, his life is not worth 2 cents."

Just one year after the end of an armed air and ground conflict in the region between the Indian army and a group of Islamabad-backed fighters, India wants to make sure it will continue to have power over the Kashmiri region an area which has been under dispute since 1947 when India became India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Kashmiris, who have their own distinct culture and traditions, are not allowed to have a voice in their future. On June 26, the parliament of Jammu and Kashmir voted for a resolution to limit the Indian government's powers in defense, foreign affairs and communication. New Delhi ignored it. It seems to think it has graver concerns than the fate of Kashmir's 13 million inhabitants, who are used as bargaining chips in India's fight with Pakistan over the region.

So what kind of Russian exports can the Kashmiris look forward to seeing in a neighborhood near them? Around 300 T-90 tanks, to the tune of around $700 million, make up a deal soon to be announced, the New York Times reported. The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and MIG-29 jets are also being considered.

Meanwhile, India is having to face the reality that its neighboring nuclear power is involved in the same game. Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan arrived in New Delhi Friday to discuss nuclear proliferation issues, and India is hoping China will explain why it has transferred missiles to Pakistan and increased shipments of guidance systems and technical expertise there.

India need look no further than its own arms cache, sealed with best regards to Pakistan and Kashmir, to answer that question. It's time to put down the vodka glasses. Preparing for another armed conflict with Pakistan in the Kashmiri homeland is nothing to celebrate.

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