Friday, December 5, 2003

It’s not often that India and Pakistan agree on something. When they do, it becomes cause for congratulatory phone calls from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the foreign ministers of both countries.

Mr. Powell called the ministers on Nov. 25 to discuss a cease-fire agreement between India and Pakistan. The South Asian neighbors agreed that their troops, massed along the tense border, would stop shooting at each other as of Nov. 26, which was the Muslim holy day of Eid this year. For the first time since 1989, guns fell silent along the border in a region former President Bill Clinton once famously described as “the most dangerous place in the world.”

The cease-fire covers the 143-mile section of the international border in Kashmir, the disputed 472-mile Line of Control, and the line of actual contact in the northern Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield.

However well-intentioned the move, many analysts are skeptical of the efficacy of this cease-fire proposed by Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and accepted with alacrity by his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Stoking this skepticism was a statement from a Pakistan-based militant group saying the cease-fire would not affect its activities.

“The fact that the cease-fire doesn’t cover Islamic militants or the Indian security forces creates a huge loophole,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Anyone who has watched India and Pakistan over the years knows enough to reserve judgment over any bilateral agreement.”

“We’ve been through this before,” agreed Dana Robert Dillon, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “I am hopeful, but pessimistic.

“I just don’t think there is enough agreement between India and Pakistan on the main issue — Kashmir,” he said, referring to the Himalayan territory over which the two neighbors have fought two wars and teetered on the brink of a third. “Neither side is willing to compromise” on Kashmir.

The Indian government’s decision to honor the cease-fire is conditional on Pakistan’s clamping down on militants crossing over into India.

Similar concerns about cross-border terrorism have been raised in Washington, where senior State Department officials say terrorist groups have been using Pakistani territory as a base for their operations in and around Kashmir, “poisoning relations between India and Pakistan.”

Some members of Congress are more vocal in their criticism of reputed Pakistani support to terrorist organizations. At a recent joint hearing on Capitol Hill of the subcommittees on Asia and the Pacific and International Terrorism, Non-Proliferation and Human Rights of the House International Relations Committee, Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Democrat, said Pakistan was one of his main concerns in the war on terrorism. “Besides being a front-line state in the war on terrorism, they are a hot bed for extremists and terrorist activity,” Mr. Crowley said.

Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, said it was clear that incursions across the border were continuing, despite Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s stated commitment to end them.

“And it is not just a matter of porous borders,” Mr. Sherman added. “There is significant evidence that the Pakistani intelligence service provides critical support to terrorists operating in both India and Kashmir, and in the rest of India. The U.S. cannot solve the Kashmir problem, but it can do more to impress on our Pakistani friends that their opposition to terrorism must be universal and apply to its relationship with India, not just its relationship to the United States and its concerns in Afghanistan.”

Sumit Ganguly, a political science professor at Indiana University and author of “Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947,” said the cease-fire is nothing more than a “PR stunt” by Gen. Musharraf.

“Who cares for a cease-fire in the winter?” asked Mr. Ganguly, noting that infiltration across the border drops to insignificant levels as snow falls on the high Himalayan passes. “The cease-fire is a good way for General Musharraf to keep his ammunition dry and show Washington what a good boy he is. … New Delhi is playing along.”

Pakistan’s supporters in Washington have not forgotten the critical role Islamabad played in the CIA-sponsored war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. And more recently, they cite the capture of September 11 masterminds Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al Shibh by Pakistani forces as an example of Gen. Musharraf’s commitment to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

“Pakistan’s cooperation in counterterrorism efforts has been excellent since 9/11,” said a senior State Department official. “Despite skeptical public opinion and bitter criticism from a coalition of opposition parties, President Musharraf has maintained Pakistan’s policy of supporting U.S. operations, with practical results.”

Ironically, Gen. Musharraf’s detractors use the same example to corroborate their concern that members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, have found haven in Pakistan.

Bush administration officials privately concede they are concerned that extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed — both listed as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department — pose a serious threat to Pakistan, to the region, and to the United States, and that despite efforts to ban them they have re-emerged under new names.

The question is, how successful can Gen. Musharraf be in his efforts to clamp down on terrorists, said Mrs. Pletka. “You can always question the determination of the Pakistani government in curbing cross-border terrorism, because they see it as the most important bit of leverage in their relations with India. But even with the best intentions in the world, this will be a border that will be very hard to control. As many governments associated with terror groups have learned, it is far easier to let terrorists out of the bag than to put them back in again.”

Mr. Dillon echoed this opinion. “I think Pakistan released the genie when it started supporting terrorists. Now they have made an attempt to stop terrorists from crossing over into India, but success has been limited. Unfortunately, General Musharraf’s word is not law in Pakistan.”

The success of the cease-fire hinges on the militant groups operating in Kashmir, said professor Walter Andersen, a former State Department official now at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). “These groups have a vested interest in trying to upset things.”

Washington’s interest in maintaining peace in the region was underscored by Nancy Powell, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, in a recent address to the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations:

“Simply put,” she said, “what happens in South Asia matters to the United States, and it matters to the world. The population of this region is vast; and so is the amount of weaponry — including nuclear — that exists,” Miss Powell noted.

New Delhi is opposed to the United States — or any other country, for that matter — playing the role of mediator in a conflict it considers purely bilateral.

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan will get an opportunity to meet on the sidelines of the Islamabad summit next month at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

“As a forum, SAARC is supposed to avoid any political issues, so the India-Pakistan dispute will not be talked about formally, but it may happen on the sidelines of the summit,” said Mr. Andersen of SAIS.

In times of crisis between the two neighbors, Washington has stepped in and played the role of a firefighter.

“We’ve come in and put a Band-aid on the problem … but we’ve never really fixed it,” Mr. Dillon said.

The Bush administration has invested a lot in ensuring peace in South Asia. During Gen. Musharraf’s visit to the United States in July, President Bush offered Pakistan a $3 billion aid package.

Washington also supports counterterrorism efforts in the region by providing money for enhanced border security, including training, equipment, road building and logistics support. Over $37 million was spent on Anti-Terrorism Assistance in South Asia in fiscal 2003, which ended Sept. 30.

“As long as the war on terrorism is on the top of our agenda, the U.S. will continue to be involved in the region,” said Mr. Andersen. “We are extremely concerned about the revival of cross-border terrorism and the Taliban. There have also been reports of Arab fighters belonging to al Qaeda operating in Kashmir.”

Mrs. Pletka also predicts a continuing role for Washington in the region.

“The Bush administration has done more to develop relations in South Asia than any past Republican or Democratic administration,” she said. “Thankfully, the situation between India and Pakistan is not a front-burner issue at present, and let’s hope it does not get to the front burner.”

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