- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

The Bush administration has attempted an even-handed approach to the India-Pakistan crisis. It has urged restraint on New Delhi in the wake of the bloody Dec. 13 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, while pressuring Pakistan to crack down on the groups thought responsible for the assault.

Washington is in danger, however, of tilting toward Islamabad because of Pakistan's support for ongoing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Such a tilt would be a strategic error with long-term negative consequences for the U.S. position in Asia.

Pakistan has given important aid to the American war effort; allowing the use of Pakistani airspace, deploying troops to seal the border with Afghanistan and providing intelligence on the Taliban and al Qaeda. Yet, it should be remembered that the Taliban movement was largely the creation of Pakistan, especially of its Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Osama bin Laden also trained Muslim guerrillas in support of Pakistan's campaign against India in Kashmir.

There was plenty of evidence to add Pakistan to the list of states supporting terrorism. With the United States on the warpath after September 11, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf needed to act fast to save his country and his regime. He dumped the Taliban. Mr. Musharraf then boldly asked Washington for trade preferences, debt relief and an end to the sanctions imposed in the 1990s in response to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and his own military coup.

Pakistan's strategic position has not changed, however, so Islamabad's core policy has not changed. Pakistan wants a friendly government in Kabul to protect its western frontier, so it will intrigue against the current interim coalition.

Pakistan remains committed to the "liberation" of the Muslim majority in Kashmir. To Indian Hindus, Kashmir is the center of their Aryan culture and they will not give it up. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's founding father, was a Kashmiri Brahmin. Thus violence will continue, with the ever-present risk of escalation.

The deeply rooted animosity between India and Pakistan has led to three full-scale wars, continual skirmishes and a nuclear arms race. Eric S. Margolis, in his book "War at the Top of the World," quotes a Pakistani officer as saying: "Siachen is hell on Earth. We are fighting the bloody Indians to prevent them from grabbing what we say is our rightful part of hell. That's how much we hate each other." The Siachen glacier is at the junction of Pakistan, Kashmir and Tibet where troops are dug-in at elevations as high as 15,000 feet.

While Pakistan was helping the Taliban before September 11, it should be remembered that India was helping the Northern Alliance. The new head of the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, though a member of a prominent southern Pashtun tribe, went to school in India. His father was assassinated in Pakistan by agents many believe were working for the ISI.

When Mr. Musharraf visited Washington in November, he persuaded the Bush administration to oppose a quick capture of Kabul by the Northern Alliance. This subsequently proved embarrassing to the White House. The struggle between India and Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan will continue, and will likely turn violent again. At Kandahar, most of the Taliban fighters and leaders were allowed to escape by the pro-Pakistan southern tribes. U.S. Marines and paratroopers have had to take up the pursuit.

The suicide squad that stormed the Indian Parliament was wiped out, but they left behind a trail of bodies; and with India's top Cabinet ministers inside, it could have been far worse.

In principle, it was no different than bin Laden's attack on Washington, where the Capitol was thought to have been a target. The New Delhi attack was intended to send a message to India that Pakistan has weathered the Afghan storm and is stronger than ever due to its rapprochement with Washington.

The United States must not appear as Pakistan's protector against India's legitimate wrath. Public outrage in democratic India is similar to the American outcry after September 11. Terrorism prompted the U.S. to launch strikes at its enemies half way across the globe. The threat to India is just across its border.

Washington must apply strong pressure on Mr. Musharraf not just to eradicate the terrorist networks in Pakistan, but to renounce Islamabad's aggressive policy in Kashmir. Any Pakistani compliance will, however, only be under duress. Islamabad cannot be expected to abandon its ambitions. It must be deterred from acting on them.

With tensions rising, Mr. Musharraf spent five days meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Beijing, Dec. 20-24. They discussed military cooperation, as well as Afghanistan and Kashmir. On Jan. 2, Mr. Musharraf made another sudden trip to Beijing, where China announced it was "a steadfast friend of Pakistan." Beijing and Islamabad have long been allies against India, with Beijing providing substantial help in developing Pakistan's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. As revisionist states, the China-Pakistan axis poses a threat to peace and to American security interests.

In contrast, India is a democracy whose long-term national interests are more in line with those of the United States. An American alignment with India is both morally and strategically the better option than any further entanglement with Pakistan.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Educational Foundation.


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