President Bush has moved forcefully to address the deteriorating situation along the India-Pakistan border, telephoning Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday to urge him to “eliminate” Kashmiri terrorists who launched a murderous attack on India’s parliament earlier this month. While Mr. Bush expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s “continued support” for the U.S.-led military campaign against Osama bin Laden’s terror network, he made clear that Gen. Musharraf’s government must end its backing for the Kashmiri terrorists, in particular the Jaish e-Mohammed (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT), the groups believed responsible for a Dec. 13 attack in which 14 people (nine Indians and all five attackers) were killed. Mr. Bush “urged President Musharraf to take additional strong and decisive measures to eliminate the extremists who seek to harm India, undermine Pakistan, provoke a war between India and Pakistan and destabilize the international coalition against terrorism,” a White House spokesman said. In a telephone conversation Saturday with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Mr. Bush denounced the attack as “a strike against democracy” and emphasized that Washington is “determined to cooperate with India in the fight against terrorism.” Secretary of State Colin Powell announced last week that the JEM and LT would be added to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
While India, a majority-Hindu nation, has behaved in a brutal, heavy-handed manner in its administration of Kashmir (most of whose residents are Muslims), the lion’s share of the blame for the current crisis lies with the Kashmiri radicals and their longtime supporters in Pakistan like Gen. Musharraf. It is no secret that since the 1980s, Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have strongly supported Islamic extremists in neighboring Kashmir and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a report issued April 30, the State Department’s counterterrorism office noted that “Pakistan’s military government, headed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, continued previous Pakistani Government support of the Kashmiri insurgency, and Kashmiri militant groups continued to operate in Pakistan, raising funds and recruiting new cadre. Several of these groups were responsible for attacks against civilians in Indian-held Kashmir, and the largest of these groups, the [LT], claimed responsibility for a suicide car-bomb attack against an Indian garrison in Srinagar.” Moreover, the report noted that the United States “remains concerned about reports of continued Pakistani support for the Taliban’s military operations in Afghanistan. Credible reporting indicates that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with material, fuel, funding, technical assistance and military advisers. Pakistan has not prevented large numbers of Pakistani nationals from moving into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. Islamabad also failed to take effective steps to curb the activities of certain madrassas, or religious schools, that serve as recruiting grounds for terrorism.”
In the wake of September 11, Washington threw down the gauntlet to Gen. Musharraf so far as the Taliban (and by extension, bin Laden) are concerned, forcing the general to choose between between his relationship with Washington and his relationship with Taliban terrorists. A prudent man, Gen. Musharraf wisely decided he would be better off siding with the United States. Since that terrible day, Pakistan has been a key player in the coalition that drove the Taliban from power and now has bin Laden on the run. The sharply contrasting tone of President Bush’s messages to Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf on Saturday strongly suggests that Washington is about to do the same thing with regard to Islamabad’s support for Kashmiri terrorist groups like the JEM and LT. This would be a very important move, especially in a region of the world with two nuclear-weapons states. Pakistan needs to understand that to continue support for Kashmiri terrorists would be the height of folly. It is essential that Islamabad get completely out of the terrorism business.