- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2000

While a "cold peace" seems to be settling in over centuries-old animosities between Jewish and Islamic interests in the Middle East, a new front in the wars of religious intolerance seems to be taking its place across South Asia. While the suicide bombings and hijackings of the 1980s and 1990s have abated, the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet across Nepal, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan harkens back to a time when such heinous acts of extremism were commonplace.

In the wake of this act of cowardice, India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has asked Western governments to join him in declaring Pakistan responsible for this latest act of terror. India's claim is that by providing safe harbor and operational freedom to the manifold terrorist groupings within Pakistan to stage their assaults, the military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf is a complicit and willing sponsor of terrorism. Though the government of India has yet to produce its smoking gun condemning its Pakistani neighbor, circumstantial evidence clearly weighs heavily against Pakistan.

Though little is known about the escaped hijackers, their demand, that India release three senior members of the Pakistan-based group Harakat ul Mujahedeen, implicates them in a series of anti-Indian assaults conducted in Kashmir and carried out against Western interests. Formerly known under its original name, Azhar ul Mujahedeen, after its just-released founder and head Masood Azhar, the group has been on the State Department's terrorist watch list since 1997. Central to this listing is the group's responsibility for the 1995 kidnapping of six Western tourists, one of whom was beheaded while four others remain missing.

Active throughout the subcontinent, Harakat is only one of a number of similar terrorist cells operating in clear view of their government protectors and with a single-minded hatred for non-Islamic "infidels." Much like the notorious "blind cleric," Abdul Rahman, who masterminded the World Trade Center bombing, Maulana Masood Azhar, a self-described holy man, prays on the cultural backwardness and economic hardship of local youth to coerce them into lives of terrorist thought and activity, all under the guise of "finding religion." In his first public announcement since hijackers won his escape from an Indian prison, Azhar this week railed from a Karachi mosque, "I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India."

Similar groups, like the Lashkar-e-Tayyba, whose membership and leadership include retired members of Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), are so much a part of the unofficial body politic in Pakistan now that they enjoy open material support from the Musharraf regime. At that group's annual meeting last November, Lashkar's chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed ranted that "Issues cannot be solved without introducing the Islamic system. The Jehad is being organized under the leadership of Lashkar-e-Osama [Soldiers of Osama bin Laden]. In this fight, the United States is the biggest terrorist. Its diplomatic missions here patronize us!" Even more unsettling than the fact that this speech was made exactly one week prior to the attack on the U.S. mission in Islamabad, is that this conference received a permit and security protection from the Pakistani government.

Faced with such complicity, what recourse does the United States have in combating and preventing future attacks against its territory and its citizens? In his Senate testimony, Michael Sheehan, the State Department's new coordinator for counter-terrorism, identified a shift in the center of terrorism "from Libya, Syria, and Lebanon to South Asia in particular, Afghanistan and Pakistan." As a result, the United States has had to press, plead with and cajole Pakistan, its former Cold War ally, "to end support for terrorist training in Afghanistan, to interdict travel of militants to and from camps in Afghanistan, and to prevent its own militant groups from acquiring weapons." Under successive "democratic" governments, this was done to little avail. Now, faced with a military junta whose own ties to these Islamic fundamentalist are already well-established, the United States must proceed with a policy of containing this regime and its terrorist allies while engaging the only responsible power left in the region: India.

An initial and highly important first step towards this end was taken last month when U.S. and Indian intelligence officials concluded their discussions on the formation of a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism. While material and intelligence support by the United States will enable our Indian allies to better combat those terrorist elements at work on its borders and with the capacity to strike our own territory, more must be done to demonstrate U.S. resolve in this fight. U.S. officials should join the Indian prime minister in declaring Pakistan a terrorist state and subject it to the same sort of pariah status as Afghanistan and Iran. To not do so violates the spirit of this country's tough stand on terrorism.

Timothy Towell was United States ambassador to Paraguay from 1990-1994.

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