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Comment and Analysis

Slouching Toward Annihilation

The war against terrorism has radically altered the India-Pakistan dynamic-- and not for the better.

June 09, 2002|AHMED RASHID | Ahmed Rashid is the author of "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia."

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Despite the continuing shuttle diplomacy that aims to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan, it's not difficult to imagine how war on the Indian subcontinent would begin--and, more frightening, how it would end.

India might launch punitive airstrikes and commando raids on the camps of Kashmiri and Pakistani militants based in Azad, or Pakistani Kashmir. Pakistan, in turn, could retaliate, hitting army bases in Indian Kashmir. After weeks of fighting, with neither side able to claim an advantage in the mountainous terrain despite raids and counter-raids across the disputed Line of Control, one side might attempt to break the logjam by crossing the international border and invading the other. Or India's navy might blockade Pakistan's only artery to the outside world, the port of Karachi.

India's huge advantage in soldiers and armor would quickly win it territory, which could force a desperate Pakistani military to use tactical nuclear weapons on concentrations of Indian forces. The world's first nuclear war could begin as easily as this.

The two countries' 55-year-old dispute over Kashmir, a legacy of the partition of British India in 1947, has led to two wars, many crises, military mobilizations, threats and counter-threats. This history has lulled the international community into believing that the current crisis is just a repeat of the previous shadow dances. In truth, never has the situation been so fraught with danger.

The radical new element in this crisis has nothing to do with the territorial dispute over Kashmir. Rather, it is the post-Sept. 11 world and the international war against terrorism.

India is furious that the world has ignored Pakistan-based Islamic extremists who have continued to stage bloody acts of terrorism in India and Kashmir since Sept. 11. New Delhi says it cannot join the world in fighting Al Qaeda when the world pays no attention to these attacks on its soil. At the same time, India believes that it can continue to ignore the plight of the Kashmiri people, who have suffered more than 40,000 dead over the last 13 years of conflict. It is using the global war on terrorism to further push back any serious dialogue with the Kashmiris and a possible resolution to a conflict with its own people.

Pakistan's military regime believed that it could comfortably carry out a policy U-turn: drop its support for the Taliban and join the U.S. alliance to topple the Taliban and the world and India would look the other way while it backed Kashmiri and Pakistani militants, who have turned the Kashmiris' genuine political struggle for self-determination into a jihad. The Pakistani army's refusal to understand how much the world had changed after Sept. 11, coupled with its failure to articulate a new strategy that would enhance the political struggle in Kashmir, rather than militancy and terrorism, gave India the opportunity it sought to finally deal with Pakistan.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf divides militants into three camps: Al Qaeda and the Taliban; the sectarian extremists inside his country who have butchered thousands of innocent Pakistanis; and the "freedom fighters" of Kashmir. The world now tells him that there are no such distinctions. This reality should have been clearer much earlier. The Pakistani militant groups that fight in Kashmir also fought for the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The 29 Arab Al Qaeda operatives arrested in Pakistani last month were given sanctuary by the largest Pakistani group fighting in Kashmir. The fact is, all these groups are now closely interlinked, no matter how hard the Pakistani state strains to differentiate them.

Its military's poor tactics have turned the entire world against Pakistan, although the real victims are the poor, hapless people of Kashmir, whose political struggle is now equated with terrorism. By serendipity, India has won the international community to its side and isolated Pakistan, but that has not made it more amenable to reducing tensions because for many Indians there is a wider agenda.

The hard-line Hindu fundamentalist wing of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has long contended Pakistan has to be beaten militarily so it will never again rise to question India's hegemony in South Asia. For these hard-liners, the issue is not merely terrorism: It is also beating Pakistan into final submission.

To his credit, moderate Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has twice taken major initiatives to talk to Pakistan. His failure has strengthened the Hindu fundamentalist wing. The BJP's recent electoral defeats in regional elections and the killing of some 1,000 people--mostly Muslim--in Gujarat state by Hindu fundamentalists have further weakened Vajpayee's influence on the power brokers in New Delhi.

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