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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 1, 2002

Islanders wary of war talk in Asia

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i residents with connections to the India-Pakistan region are holding out hope that the hostilities in the border region will abate, but at least one political expert here believes fears are more than justified.

Zeenad Khan, a Pakistan national who lives in Pearl City with her husband, Karim, talks often with her family in the northwest, near Afghanistan. Their eldest daughter, 16, lives with her sister there.

"Of course, I'm very worried about my family and all the time we pray for our country, that God helps us solve this problem with negotiation, not war," she said.

But war is looking increasingly likely to political scientist and East-West Center fellow Arun Swamy, an Indian citizen and longtime U.S. resident who specializes in the region's international relations.

He compared the situation to the Cuban missile crisis in that, although war can still be averted, the threat of it will inevitably intensify.

"This is a game of chicken, that's what's going on," Swamy said yesterday. "It's nuclear brinkmanship."

Sister Grace Marie Tom, a Hawai'i-born nun who is a member of the Sacred Hearts religious community in Honolulu, has been assigned to the Damien Institute for Hansen's Disease in Orissa, a state south of Calcutta, since 1996. She returned earlier this month to visit family and expected to return to India in July.

However, in the wake of a U.S. advisory for Americans to return home, she's unsure what will happen now — both to herself and to the two other Honolulu sisters on a similar Indian assignment.

Sister Rose Henry Reeves is still there, she said, while Sister Jane Frances Leandro, usually serving as house mother at a Calcutta residence for novices in the order, is at a Sacred Hearts international meeting in the Philippines.

"There's always been this tension," she said. "I worry a little. I just figure that we're rather far... we were warned by the consulate in Calcutta not to travel around the (border) area, so of course we don't."

Vinod Mishra, another East-West Center fellow, comes from north India, somewhat closer to the hostilities. He just returned from India at the end of March and last talked to his brother in Delhi on Thursday.

"His take on it is that the chances of war are no more than 50 percent," Mishra said. "Maybe that's his wishful thinking. My personal take on it is that India is a very responsible country. I don't think they will use nukes, unless it is used on them."

Mishra said the order to send home U.S. citizens is probably a "precautionary" measure but is likely to delay work on international projects, such as the public-health population survey he is working on.

Saleem Ahmed is president of Milun, a Hawai'i group promoting South Asian culture. An American citizen, Ahmed was born in India but later moved with his family to Pakistan and now has relatives on both sides of the border.

Although those relatives are "concerned," Ahmed said, he is convinced that "sanity will prevail and there will not be war."

"There's far too much at stake," he said. "I think probably the heating of passions on both sides is for local consumption," aimed at scoring political points for leaders in both countries.

Several Hawai'i observers believe the current conflicts in the border province of Kashmir are a departure from the tensions that usually erupt in the summer months.

Chanel Khan, a Pakistani-American who has worked in Pakistan as a freelance journalist, said the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. have catapulted Pakistan into the role of a global player. India hopes the international community will act to stop the cross-border militancy, she said, while Pakistan wants support in solving the dispute over Kashmir control.

Additionally, Swamy views the U.S. move to call home its citizens as anything but an overreaction. He said that India is left with little choice but to escalate military actions in ways he was unwilling to predict.

"The only thing that has prevented war right now is that India knows it can go nuclear," he said. "For India, the current situation is unacceptable: continued militancy in Kashmir with clear evidence of Pakistani support.

"India cannot afford politically not to respond. There's not a whole lot of places to go except to follow through. If they don't follow through, nobody would believe any threat they would make. They've deliberately backed themselves into a corner to make Pakistan believe they will act."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.