- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

The recent attempt by Islamic radicals to kill Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan raises the specter of another possible assassination attempt with enormous geopolitical implications for the United States: namely, that of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.

Unfortunately, years of corruption and plundering by Pakistan's elite would undoubtedly leave a power vacuum were Gen. Musharraf to leave the stage for whatever reason. This power vacuum would most likely be filled by either a partnership between the Pakistani army and the influential Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or a radical Islamic party such as Jamaat-e-Islami. Both have longstanding religious and personal ties to many of the leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda and both espouse an agenda that includes a virulent anti-Americanism a la Osama bin Laden. In short, the absence of Mr. Musharraf would lead to the establishment of a government supportive of a far more radical Islamic agenda targeting the United States and its allies in the region.

The scenario outlined above should be a wake-up call to Washington that the United States may wish to consider a new doctrine incorporating the possibility of a nuclear-armed fundamentalist government in Pakistan. Should Islamic fundamentalists take over Pakistan, at least 24 warheads capable of delivery by intermediate-range missiles or aircraft will fall into their hands and, by extension, possibly into the hands of their sympathizers across the world, including those here in the United States. For the record, one of those warheads (12 kilotons) detonated in the Washington metropolitan area would result in thousands of deaths across the initial blast zone, with another few thousand people exposed to high levels of radiation outside of that zone.

Development of this new doctrine would put forth for consideration a much closer alliance between the United States and India. Were the two countries to forge stronger strategic, economic, political and technological ties, they could work in concert to stabilize an extremely combustible region. It is in America's national security interest that we approach U.S.-India relations beyond the old Cold War paradigm of balancing India's power by supporting Pakistan. It is imperative that the United States engages India on a whole range of issues, from combating global terrorism to developing civil societies where the rule of law, not religious fanatics, determine the nature of governments. Washington and New Delhi could begin their new partnership by addressing the most pressing strategic interest shared by both countries. It is imperative that the radical Islamic elements in Islamabad are not able to transfer Pakistan's nuclear know-how to terrorist states like Iran and Iraq or terror groups like al Qaeda or Islamic Jihad.

Few people realize that immediately after September 11, cooperation between the United States and India contributed to the arrest of hundreds of terrorists around the world. According to the State Department, the United States and India have moved in unison to strangle the financial assets of terrorists. This cooperation in fighting global terrorism can expand if Congress considers providing more funding to the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism. This will allow both sides to continue to expand and deepen joint efforts at intelligence-sharing, tracking terrorism funding, money-laundering, and border security, especially along the Pakistan-India frontier.

The most significant step that the United States can take in cementing this long-term strategic partnership with India is to push for India's inclusion as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. As one of the world's largest democracies, India certainly deserves a seat at the table. India had hoped that its newly achieved nuclear power status would bring recognition of its importance on the world stage. While it is true that India has historically sided with the United States less than 22 percent of the time in votes in the U.N. General Assembly, the earth-shattering events of September 11 require bold new initiatives. Detractors will argue that this means rewarding India for becoming a nuclear power, thus undermining a long-standing U.S. position against proliferation of nuclear weapons. But, as we commemorate the one-year anniversary of September 11, the one sentiment everyone agrees with is that the terrorist attacks changed America forever. We must re-evaluate those partnerships we took for granted and give a second look at those previously overlooked countries that responded without hesitation to President Bush's call to stand with America in eradicating terrorism. India has proved during the past year to be such a friend. Friends like India deserve America's reappraisal of its strategic alliances in Southeast Asia.

S. Rob Sobhani is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and president of Caspian Energy Consulting.

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