- - Thursday, October 3, 2019

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the 1947 partition created the two states; two of the three were over Kashmir. None of those wars occurred when either country possessed nuclear weapons. 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the United Nations on Sept. 29 and threatened to change that. Mr. Khan took the 15 minutes of speaking time allotted him and went nearly an hour, using the entire speech to speak of “jihad” over Kashmir and rail against his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Nehendra Modi. 

“Jihad” is not a word the world wants to hear from a man atop a self-described Islamic republic that owns more than 100 nuclear weapons. 

Mr. Modi is on a strong run. He was re-elected this past spring in a landslide. He has made significant changes regarding Kashmir’s status under the Indian constitution, changes which the Western media mostly misread or label “annexation.” He also addressed the United Nations the same morning as Mr. Khan, and spoke on Kashmir as well. Prior to the U.N. address, Mr. Modi visited Houston, Texas.

Mr. Modi attended the largest ever rally for a foreign leader on American soil. Fifty thousand tickets for the event, at the massive NRG Stadium, sold out quickly. Indian-Americans traveled to the “Howdy, Modi!” event from as far away as both coasts.

Not only was Mr. Modi warmly received by the crowd in Texas, he invited and appeared with a special guest: President Donald Trump. In his address, Mr. Trump stressed the growing importance of the nearly 3 million Indian immigrants in America — and the growing importance of the U.S.-Indian relationship.

As if to underscore this burgeoning relationship, India inked a deal with an American company to buy $2.5 billion in Texas natural gas. This massive deal links India to the United States for fuel it needs to power its growing economy, and at the same time weakens Russia as an energy power. As natural gas replaces coal to generate electricity worldwide, the Texas deal will help reduce emissions and help the environment. The United States and India win from the relationship — but the likely loser is Pakistan. 

That may be what is really behind Mr. Khan’s threats. Kashmir is one of the world’s deadliest and most intractable issues, and Mr. Modi’s recent changes to Kashmir’s status have surely alarmed Pakistan (though China, which also holds part of Kashmir, has said little about it). 

For decades, the United States and Pakistan were allies, while India stayed closer to the Soviet Union. These relationships are all changing. The Soviet Union is dead. Pakistan has been found out as a source of global Islamist terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation. It was Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan (no relation to the prime minister) who sold Pakistani nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. 

But it is the fact that 9-11 terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden was living within a stone’s throw of the Pakistan Military Academy (their meager version of our West Point), for years, that most severely strained U.S.-Pakistan relations. It is simply not plausible that Pakistan, which is to a great extent controlled by its military, was unaware of the mass murderer in its midst. The most positive spin possible is that Pakistan was merely a grossly incompetent ally — if it wasn’t actively harboring bin Laden, which it very probably was. The Pakistani doctor who aided the Americans, Shakil Afridi, in the successful final search for bin Laden remains in Pakistani prison on nebulous charges. His imprisonment appears aimed at keeping him quiet. 

“Howdy, Modi!” must have rattled Islamabad and personally annoyed Mr. Khan. He rode to power as a national sports hero. Mr. Khan was the captain of Pakistan’s 1992 world cup-winning cricket team. Cricket is to Pakistan what the NBA and NFL are to American sports fans, combined. Mr. Khan is accustomed to puffball media interviews, adoring crowds and a hero’s welcome wherever he goes. But there was his Indian counterpart and historic enemy, standing on a stage in an immense modern stadium in a state where everything is bigger, with 50,000 Indian ex-pats shouting his name and the leader of the free world standing right by his side. The images and the relationship they portend may render Pakistan a footnote. 

While Kashmir is an issue the world claims to care about, the reality is that there are no black and white good vs. evil issues there. Kashmir is an extremely complex issue with far too much history and animosity built into it on all sides. There are allegations of brutality on India’s part after the August status change, but there are also allegations that Mr. Khan’s Pakistan is deploying Islamist terrorists into Indian Kashmir. 

From an American point of view, India may be, at the very least, the least bad option for Kashmir. Pakistan is unreliable and harbors the worst of the worst terrorists. It persecutes Christians. It is unstable and prone to internal violence. Mr. Khan himself works closely with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, long a thorn in America’s side. Together, they and Malaysia are collaborating on a global news network patterned after the BBC but which will, in their own words, “counter Islamophobia.” Mr. Khan et al may want to consider the obvious: The best way to counter Islamophobia is to stop threatening jihad and running terrorist ratlines into contested territory — especially when you hold an arsenal of nuclear weapons. 

Pakistan is deeply problematic, from an American point of view. China is a direct competitor and an open threat to America’s democratic East Asia allies, including South Korea and Japan. Meanwhile, India poses no threat to America, and America doesn’t threaten India. The two are strong democratic countries, one the world’s largest, the other the world’s oldest. Both pledge to fight Islamist terrorism. The possibility of greater trade and bilateral strategic relations exist and are likely to grow. 

Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump have at least one thing in common that leaves Mr. Khan on the outside looking in: They have shown themselves capable of breaking out of calcified historic patterns. Where history suggests the United States should just stick with Pakistan and keep India at a distance, because that’s the way it has always been, both Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi see no reason this should always be. Both men are deal makers, and they seem to see a deal possible that will benefit Americans, Indians and global security for the world’s democracies. 

• Shak Hill, the owner of Guiding Light Books, LLC., is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former combat pilot. He ran for the Republican nomination for Congress in Virginia.

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