- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

It is not since the Cuban missile crisis that the world has come so close to nuclear war. Rising tensions between India and Pakistan following the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament have created a scary scenario. Defusing South Asian tensions has, therefore, become an American priority. However, these tensions can be defused and the world saved from the horrors of nuclear confrontation if the Bush administration fully comprehends the political and nuclear issues involved in the crisis.
There are basically two political issues that affect India-Pakistan relations. The first is the territorial dispute over Kashmir. Without going into the history of the dispute, it would be salutary to remind ourselves that the self-definitions of the two nations are inextricably intertwined with this issue. India considers Kashmir to be a touchstone of its secular and civic nationalism. The presence of 140 million Muslims in India, of whom barely four million or five million live in Kashmir, means that New Delhi cannot accept another partition of India on the basis of religion. Doing so would reopen the issue of the status of Muslims as Indian citizens and refresh the wounds of partition.
Similarly, Pakistan cannot afford to give up its claim to the only Muslim majority state in India without forfeiting the "two-nation" theory that Hindus and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent form two different nations, on which it is founded. The corollary of this theory is that no Muslim majority region can legitimately form a part of the Indian Union. The separation of the majority of Pakistanis from Pakistan in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh has not disabused the Pakistani political elite from this idea. It has made them even more strident in their demand that Kashmir should be detached from India and attached to Pakistan.
The Pakistan-supported insurgency beginning in 1990 and the subsequent infiltration of jihadist elements trained and armed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the latest phase in Pakistan's attempt to change the status quo in Kashmir. There is convincing evidence, known not merely to the American intelligence community but to reporters of the national dailies and their readers as well, of Pakistani complicity in the insurgency-cum-terrorism in Kashmir. The terrorist attack on the Indian parliament on Dec. 13 has been the latest demonstration of this complicity and has escalated tensions to the current high level.
Terrorism, therefore, is the second political component of the problem. Terrorist groups based in Pakistan and armed by Pakistanis, with close ideological links to al Qaeda, have become the main vehicle for the anti-Indian campaign in Kashmir for the past five years. The terrorist attacks of September 11 have finally awakened the American administration to the threat such groups pose, not only to India, but to the United States as well. This has led to pressure on the Pakistani government by Washington.
However, Pakistan's Gen. Musharraf has attempted to get the best of both worlds. While cooperating under duress with the United States in the latter's war against terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan has attempted to build a firewall around jihadi groups operating in Kashmir. The attack on the Indian parliament and the subsequent Indian military mobilization, however, have changed the terms of the terrorism debate. Although Gen. Musharraf has taken cosmetic steps, such as arresting the leaders of two terrorist outfits in Pakistan, to demonstrate his commitment to the anti-terrorism cause and deflect Indian anger, this is not enough. Pakistan must cut off all support to insurgents and terrorists in Kashmir before its sincerity can be accepted.
Escalating tensions in South Asia have the dangerous nuclear angle built into them, and this requires active American involvement. This involvement has to go beyond the diplomatic for two reasons. First, the United States must distinguish between the perpetrator of terror and its victim. Pakistan should be put on a very short leash and should be threatened with sanctions if it does not reverse its present very dangerous course of supporting terror in Kashmir and in other parts of India.
Second, the nuclear postures of India and Pakistan are very different. India is committed to a no first-use policy. An authoritative study by RAND published last year corroborated that India's policy of no first-use is confirmed by its current nuclear posture. RAND's Ashley Tellis, currently senior adviser to the U.S. ambassador in New Delhi, defined this posture as one of a "force-in-being" which stops well short of the actual deployment of nuclear weapons. Moreover, India does not need to use its nuclear capability in a war with Pakistan except in retaliation to a Pakistani nuclear attack.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is unwilling to subscribe to a no-first-use doctrine. Consequently, the only way to make South Asia and the world safe is for the United States to have a strategy in place to forcefully decimate Pakistan's rudimentary nuclear capability if the crisis worsens to a point where war becomes inevitable. The existence of such a contingency plan and the sending of clear signals to Islamabad that it may be put into operation should be enough to persuade Pakistan to reverse course, both in terms of nuclear bravado and its support for terrorism in Kashmir.
South Asia and the world would be a much safer place if Washington made it clear to Islamabad that its support for terrorism and the deliberate uncertainty surrounding its nuclear posture will be tolerated no longer. Furthermore, it must make clear that if Pakistan continues down this road it may be faced with disastrous consequences. Averting a nuclear catastrophe should take precedence over the hunt for bin Laden in American strategic calculations.

Mohammed Ayoob is university distinguished professor of international relations at Michigan State University.


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