As the United States puts together a broad alliance to avenge the September 11 atrocities, two major candidate-members of the coalition in the region south of Afghanistan are dangerously intensifying their mutual rivalry. Barely two months after their Agra summit, India and Pakistan have again locked horns in ways characteristic of their bitter rivalry during the cold war. Today, in an ironic twist of history, once-nonaligned India and former US ally Pakistan are clashing, although they are on the same side--with the United States.
Military action by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan threatens serious domestic trouble in India, besides plunging South Asia into new uncertainties. If President Bush thinks the coalition offers"an opportunity to refashion the thinking between Pakistan and India" to promote reconciliation, he is likely to be proven wrong. Responses in New Delhi and Islamabad to his September 22 lifting of sanctions imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests have been divergent. Indian policy-makers see this as long expected but "asymmetrical," and as an ill-deserved reward to Pakistan for belatedly breaking with the Taliban. The Pakistanis call it inadequate. They want removal of sanctions imposed after the 1999 Musharraf coup and a further "correction" of the recent pro-India tilt in US policy.
Since September 11, India and Pakistan have been vying to become America's "frontline" partners in Afghanistan--for parochial reasons. India offered full military cooperation to the United States even before there was significant evidence on responsibility for the attacks. Indian policy-makers and -shapers could barely hide their glee at this "historic" chance for an Indian-US "strategic partnership." The United States had finally come around to understanding India's suffering under "cross-border terrorism"--that is, Pakistan's support for Kashmiri-secessionist militants--a rather facile explanation of the Kashmir crisis, which is rooted more in New Delhi's policies and popular alienation than in Pakistan's proxy war.
India's unsolicited offer of support was buttressed by Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee, who echoed Bush's insistence on obliterating the distinction between terrorism and states that support it. Vajpayee demanded that "we must strike at [the terrorists'] organizations, at those who condition, finance, train, equip and protect them...and thus compel the states that nurture and support them." This brazen alignment with Washington disturbed and astonished Indian public opinion. New Delhi was so preoccupied with its self-serving stand on Kashmir that it offered to join forces with Washington without demanding the multilateral approach it is traditionally known for. India has conventionally opposed unilateral action by states or groupings like NATO and insisted that any use of military force be properly authorized by the UN's Security Council under Chapter VII of its charter. India's failure to ask for such a mandate today is largely explained by its Kashmir preoccupation and urge to isolate Pakistan.
For its part, Pakistan made a momentous choice on September 19: It will dump the Taliban and join the US-led coalition, thereby overcoming global opprobrium for supporting jihadi militants. It cashed in on its obvious locational and logistical advantage and its leverage over the Taliban. This produced resentment within New Delhi's ruling establishment. Each establishment is abusing and maligning the other, and parodying its intentions and plans. Musharraf didn't help matters when he announced the decision: Three of the four reasons he cited for it pertain directly or indirectly to India. Two of them, Kashmir and "safeguarding" nuclear weapons, have direct implications for India-Pakistan strategic hostility. Musharraf told India to "lay off" and attacked its "grand game plan" to "win over America to its side" while harming Pakistan's vital interests.
This drew an immediate rebuke from New Delhi. India accused Musharraf of conducting "an anti-India tirade...instead of focusing on terrorism, which is responsible for the present situation," and it held Pakistan responsible for the Taliban's "birth, growth and nurturing." The mutual resentment is likely to grow as Pakistan and the United States "neutralize" and work with Afghanistan's rebel Northern Alliance, which India recognizes as that country's legitimate government and in which it has invested significantly over the years.
Rivalry with Pakistan has blinded New Delhi to the dislocations and implosions the current situation could produce if Islamicist opposition grows in Pakistan. It has been equally insensitive to the domestic need to defend pluralism and secularism as these come under increasing pressure from militant Hindu chauvinists, who see September 11 as an opportunity to malign Islam, paint all Muslims with the jihadi-terrorist brush and present them as a threat to "civilized" countries. Such elements are most strongly represented in Vajpayee's own Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads India's twenty-seven-party ruling coalition. The BJP claims to speak for 80 percent of Indians, who are Hindu, but it holds less than a quarter of the national vote. The coming confrontation in Afghanistan is likely to further disturb Hindu-Muslim relations and aggravate sectarian trends in India. It has already spurred demands for a "tough" line on Kashmir and for draconian antiterrorism laws, which would severely curtail civil liberties.
However, there is rising opposition to this policy not just from political parties--including some within the ruling coalition--but from civil society and India's growing peace movement. This movement questions New Delhi's unconditional and uncritical support of Bush's "you're with the United States, or you're with the terrorists" line (which Indian ministers have described as "brilliant"); demands a proper UN mandate for action against the September 11 culprits; and opposes excessive use of force and "collateral damage" (highly likely in Afghanistan's conditions). India has witnessed small but spirited demonstrations against any unilateral US (or coalition) action. And there is a vigorous public debate over the wisdom of using force, as well as over the US record of military intervention in the Third World, including Iraq.
Above all, there is serious concern about the nuclear dimension of any instability that the imminent confrontation might produce in South Asia--with grim global consequences. The United States, ironically, will have contributed in no small measure to this through its own addiction to nuclear weapons, coupled with its flawed nonproliferation, as distinct from disarmament-based, approach to arms control.
Praful Bidwai is a South Asian peace activist, a columnist with twenty-five Indian newspapers and co-author (with Achin Vanaik) of New Nukes (Interlink). He shared the International Peace Bureau's Sean MacBride International Peace Prize for 2000 with Vanaik.
An overused cliche in the worlds of politics and journalism in America goes like this: "The United States has changed and with it the world will also change!" Like all cliches, there is a large element of truth in it. The scale of destruction wrought and the number of lives taken by the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and Washington's Pentagon are without precedence. While an explicit and covert US response is still awaited, it has already fundamentally altered geopolitics.
The impact of the events of Black Tuesday will be most pronounced on the world of Islam and on Afghanistan and the countries that surround it.
Pakistan is in the middle of where the two circles overlap and it is precisely in Pakistan where the aftermath of the attacks will be felt the most and perhaps for the longest period. How should the citizens of Pakistan and the military government that rules over them respond to the enormous challenge posed
|The real force behind terror is not Islam, but a confluence of factors in the Muslim world; a resentment at economic and political denial.|
|Other nations with difficult histories, in Europe, Africa, Latin America, have found ways to work together. We must do so too.|
Wars have a bludgeoning, brutal, way of creating "consensus." As the
United States' aerial armada repeatedly bombards Afghanistan, three
circumstances put a question-mark over today's "international
consensus". The US has launched this war without presenting to the
world clinching evidence of Al-Qaeda's direct culpability for the
barbaric, thoroughly condemnable, attacks of September 11. This
carnage undoubtedly calls for a punitive response. But a just,
measured, response can only be based on solid, unimpeachable
evidence. What Washington has disclosed won't even stand the scrutiny
of a junior magistrate's court. The British government has tabled a
17-page dossier on such evidence in the House of Commons. But a large
number of jurists and lawyers, including seniors in Ms Cherie Blair's
own legal firm, question its adequacy.
Second, Washington has not secured proper authorisation to use force from the UN Security Council. It only has a pre-September 11 mandate to ask the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden. Yet, it is already threatening to extend its target beyond Afghanistan. Answerability for "collateral damage" to innocent lives thus remains fuzzy. Third, and most important, it is hard to claim that there exists a popular world "consensus" for the Afghanistan reprisals. Many states have entered reservations (e.g. Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Iraq) or caveats about their own participation (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan). There have been spirited protest demonstrations in many cities of the world.
The US must deal with this issue with the utmost sensitivity. Large numbers of citizens--including Muslims, but also others--in 30-plus countries, including even America, see this war as a "crusade," motivated as much by revenge and anti-Islam prejudices as by an urge to punish wrong-doing. They are not convinced this is a just war, or that it is being fought justly. War must only be waged for just ends. The means of fighting it must also be just-proportionate, legal and in conformity with the Geneva Conventions, etc. To meet both these requirements, and assuage popular misgivings worldwide, the US must do more than declare that it is waging a "principled" battle.
America's objectives are both political and military. Terrorist networks are globally dispersed. Isolating them and gathering intelligence demands exceptionally close cooperation with a number of countries. The US has therefore built four concentric circles of allies and friends. The first consists of combatants: Britain, France, Australia and Germany. The second comprises countries that provide intelligence and logistical support, not troops. This includes Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Japan. The third circle consists of countries that provide no logistical support, but political backing with varying commitments, e.g. the bulk of the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar.
The fourth circle consists of states which essentially do nothing, but won't disturb US plans either: e.g. Iran, Iraq, and with some qualifications, India, Israel and China. Given this strategy, such differentiation is only "natural." The scheme has only an oblique, even contradictory, relationship to "fighting terrorism."
Indian policy-makers are greatly disconcerted at New Delhi's exclusion from the second and third circles. They are being childishly peevish. The US is not concerned at this stage to fight the whole global range of terrorist groups. Its immediate targets are specific groups such as Al-Qaeda. It doesn't even want to eliminate the Taliban for the moment. But New Delhi is undignifiedly joining the war's sub-continental side-show--by assuming that this is a global war against terrorism. Islamabad has played its cards better-indeed, cynically well from a short-term point of view. But it is likely to lose heavily in the long run.
Islamabad wants to have a say in shaping the regime that will replace the Taliban. Gen Musharraf has secured a categorical assurance from Mr Tony Blair that Pakistan has "a valid interest in ... a future [Afghan] regime," which must give adequate representation to the Pushtun tribal group. His warning that the Northern Alliance must not be allowed to "draw mileage" out of the current bombing campaign promoted this objective.
Put simply, Islamabad would like to keep the bulk of its Taliban supporters intact and decisively influence the formation of the next government in the name of "ethnic balance". Pushtuns constitute about 40 percent of Afghanistan's population. The Northern Alliance includes hardly any Pushtuns. Pakistan can claim that it has more Pushtuns inside its borders than does Afghanistan. However, demanding a say in Afghanistan's fate is an altogether different proposition. Going by past experience, this will become a licence to create an Afghan snakepit of conflicting interests with each external power pushing its own sectarian agenda. That's what the Soviets did between 1979 and 1992 as the Americans played with the Mujahideen. The Iranians did that with the Hazaras, the Pakistanis with the Taliban....
The real trap into which Pakistan is luring the US--and itself--is not Kashmir but Afghanistan--in continuation of its fiendish post-1994 policy. This has already caused enormous political, social and economic damage to Pakistan. As a political-military force, the Taliban are a creation of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The ISI pushed them across the border in 1994 as part of a Grand Design to fill the vacuum left by Najibullah's fall. The ISI hoped the Taliban, its biggest investment, would help it control Afghanistan, and also establish access to Central Asia's huge oil and gas resources. Ms Benazir Bhutto personally approved this devious plan concocted by Home Minister Nasrullah Babar.
There have been differences within the Pakistani establishment on the wisdom of unleashing the Taliban and legitimising its perverse, distorted, form of political Islam. But at the end of the day, the ISI always prevails. It is the ISI that put bin Laden in touch with the Taliban in 1996 and allowed the two to integrate their military structures. Pakistan has thus been complicit in inflicting unspeakable horrors upon the Afghan people through the Taliban.
The Taliban cut through Afghanistan like a knife through butter. It established despotic order in a situation of warlordism, lawlessness and social disintegration. Its first act was to exclude half of Afghanistan's people from public life--women. It closed down girls' schools, made head-to-toe burqa compulsory, as also beards for all men. It consciously practised cruelty as state policy. It set up the Department of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which proceeded to ban television, dancing, music, even kites. The Taliban has concocted a new brand of Islam, an ultra-intolerant, unquestioning, fanatical cult, itself a crude version of Saudi Arabia's Wahabbi fundamentalism. Its destruction of the priceless Bamiyan Buddhas was of a piece with this.
The Taliban are not a political party or state structure, but a misbegotten hybrid-a militia much like the medieval lashkar, with a single line of authority emanating from the self-appointed chief. Its 30,000 regulars are not paid wages, but given bakshish after a battle. The Taliban "government" consists of just three councils or shuras--with less than 35 men. All major decisions are taken not by the shura of 14 ministers, but by the supreme shura of Taliban Founding Members (Kandahar), headed by Mullah Mohamad Omar--the Leader of the Faithful, the Supreme Commander, the sarasanghachalak. Mullah Omar's is always the last word, sometimes the only word. His authority originally derived from his reputation--of being simple, harsh, and incorruptible. Increasingly, his power comes from controlling money and reshuffling commanders--thus making himself indispensable.
The Taliban's "treasury" consists of two tin trunks (one with US dollars) in Mullah Omar's possession. Most of its decrees and laws are hurriedly pencilled notes by one Mullah or other on pieces of paper, including cigarette packets. Under the Taliban, the de-institutionalisation of the state could not have been more complete. Nor could the brutalisation of society. The Taliban have invented only two things: their own shariah, and barbaric forms of punishment which have no basis in Islam or in Pushtunwali (the Pushtun way) or tribal customs. The Taliban have destroyed the tribal traditions and sufi culture that are part of Afghan rural life.
The Taliban represents the world's most retrograde, reactionary, anti-modernist, male-supremacist, inhuman, barbaric state. It is this that Islamabad is still trying to preserve with US collusion--in the hope of retaining influence over Afghanistan. According to The Guardian (London), the ISI plans to assassinate Mullah Omar and replace him with someone pliable. It will try to keep the Taliban's core intact and insert it into a loya jirga (traditional tribal assembly) which could form the next government.
India, for its part, is happily courting the Northern Alliance, some of whose members have a gruesome record of murder, rape and loot. The US too is playing and ducks and drakes in Afghanistan--supporting all kinds of bloodthirsty groups, and creating new monsters to destroy old ones. This is no way to wage a just struggle against terrorism. Indeed, it is a recipe for strife, violence and destruction--not just in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, India and the whole world. Such an "anti-terrorist" war could only breed more terrorism.
Karachi October 15
The US Secretary of State arrived in Islamabad this Monday evening. The national press has been billing this visit as one that is primarily concerned with Kashmir. America is being projected, with official blessings, as being anxious to reducing high military tension in Kashmir and for working towards a final solution of this long festering problem. For the rest, he will try to remove the glitches in the full flowering of Pakistan's US cooperation and the bilateral ties with the US being made friction free. But it is strange that the visit in the Pakistani media has been linked primarily with the supposed US anxiety to help resolve the Kashmir problem, as if this was uppermost in American mind.
Your correspondent's sources outside the Pakistani officialdom, mostly analysts with an ear of higher bureaucracy, say this visit's primary significance is bilateral. The US is fighting a tough war and it has many concerns regarding Pakistan, a new ally, that is desired to play a key role in this war. Kashmir is sure to be discussed. But this will be in the context of America's bilateral ties with Pakistan and not as a big problem in its own right on which the US has large initiatives to propose.
Given the anti-Pakistan psychosis in the Indian media and the BJP government growling at Pakistan, it would be odd if the US were to make far-reaching proposals on Kashmir. America's current interest, it is held by many acute observers, is to lower the military tension in Kashmir and to urge restraint on Indian decision-makers. Recent statements of the Indian PM, Home Minister and Defence Minister all tended to show that they might take more fateful decisions vis-à-vis Kashmir and Pakistan. Pakistani media is sure that India is contemplating military action in Azad Kashmir under the guise of hot pursuit.
Powell is sure to try to cool the political temperature in New Delhi and reduce Kashmir tensions. But that will be more in the nature of a holding operation rather than as a big new initiative. Since the US has to depend on Pakistan a great deal more than is realised in New Delhi, the US, in its own interest, would ensure that its key ally's rear remains safe. Hence it would urge restraint on India, though it will also urge on Pakistan the need for reducing the intensity of what it calls Jehad in Kashmir. It cannot be that the main purpose of this visit to Islamabad is bilateral --- to remove misunderstanding and instill more confidence in Pakistani rulers regarding the helpfulness of the US Administration. It is best to keep American interests in sharp focus where Pakistan is concerned. All its warts, weaknesses and trespasses have to be forgotten for the duration of the war emergency. It has to be enabled to overcome its reservations for playing a more active role in the war than it has been willing so far. What are the US interests?
One would put America's political interests in serial order. It will have to be led by the dire need for intelligence on Afghanistan. Americans believe that Pakistan's ISI knows Afghanistan and all its various militias inside out, much more than any other country's agency. As for Taliban, they are its creation and ISI has ensured their success so far. Without ISI working for them, the American hopes of capturing or killing Osama and toppling Taliban may take years of war without any certainty of eventual success.
But Pakistan is held back by many factors, not excluding its rulers’ earlier perceptions of national interests that regarded a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as vital to Pakistan. Public opinion, fed on Islamic rhetoric usually cynically, for all these 54 years, is now mainly against America and a substantial portion of it --- that part which is under the influence of religious parties and Jehadi organisations --- is solidly for Taliban. They are in full cry. There are daily demonstrations all over the country against America's war and in support of Taliban. They are joined by many others who are mainly anti-Americans. None should forget that Americans are the most unpopular foreigners here. The upswelling of anti-American sentiment shows no sign of abating.
Mr. Powell arrives in a city that had no people except security forces. The country was observing a bandh on a call from a certain Defence of Afghanistan Council, constituted recently by religious parties and Jehadi bodies. All the boisterous protestors are opposed to the Musharraf government also. The Americans have a problem on their hands: President George W. Bush had already declared that one of his objectives was to stabilise Musharraf Presidency. Hence there is much talk, and more anticipation, of an aid package that Mr. Powell will unfold before his Pakistani interlocutors. The assumption is: if the package is attractive enough --- i.e. if it contains enough debt write offs --- it might reduce some of the objections to Musharraf's switching sides from Taliban to the Americans.
Third, one of the immediate US need is substantial support on the ground for winning the war. They need foot soldiers. Since American public will not abide by looking at arriving body bags the really dirty part of the fighting on the ground requires outside support. The US is encouraging the Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan to go, with allied aid, and topple Taliban regime. This is however not as simple as it seems. Experts think that victory over Taliban requires not only a disciplined army but also the full help of ISI. But it will not be easy for Musharraf. He has to be helped to do that.
Which is why the US officials are intermittently talking about putting the Pakistan-American alliance on a normal (permanent) footing. Hence all the fence mending, safeguarding the rear with India and the aid package. How big or attractive the package is will soon be known. Is it anything more than a temporary bailout as hitherto? Or it frees Islamabad from the recurring nightmares of default? On that may depend the future of Pak-American relationship. Initial indications are mixed: some think that the US officials must have done an attractive job of it while others think that most American experts have grown so used to regarding Pakistan as a near rogue state that they can scarcely be too sympathetic. Well, we will soon find out.
There are some serious glitches to be removed. Kashmir is one. While the US may want more to reduce temperature and military tensions, the Indians want progress, in the here and now, towards ending, or at least sharply reducing, the cross-border terrorism. Pakistan might welcome a reduction in military tension and may go some way toward reducing the intensity of Jehad but can scarcely be ready to end it or promise to do so if there is no prospect of a resolution of the Kashmir problem. It will probably settle for serious-seeming negotiations for want of any hard progress. But will India concede even that much. Some think its present frame of mind is such that it might not resist the temptation to take hard advantage of the turmoil in both Afghanistan and inside Pakistan.
Everything then will finally depend on how the Americans succeed in managing these two South Asian neighbours. The real initiative is not in Indian, much less in Pakistani, hands. The polarisation between the two has reduced the true room for manoeuvre for both New Delhi and Islamabad; both cannot move without seeking an 'understanding' by the Americans. Some statesmanship, that. But that makes the Americans’ task easier of yoking the two in the service of their grand designs for Asia, whether they like it or not.
CHENNAI, OCT. 13. The current geo-political realities in south Asia,
which find India and Pakistan on the same side, offer a ``golden
opportunity'' for both parties to ``initiate a meaningful dialogue,''
the former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) and vice-president,
India-Pakistan Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, Admiral (retd.)
L. Ramdass, has said.
``Even without the Americans, we were trying to take forward the peace process. The dialogue must continue. This has also been reinforced recently by the Foreign Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh,'' the former CNS said here in an interview. At the moment, the U.S. may not want to assume a pro-active role since the Centre was not keen on involving Washington in the dialogue process. But the U.S. would ``certainly'' look forward to a constructive dialogue between the two countries, he felt.
There was a need-based ``convergence'' of interests of both the countries which arose out of immediate ground realities. ``Apart from our common enemies of illiteracy, poverty and socio- economic problems, our other common enemy is terrorism. Extreme fundamentalism is as much a threat to the Pakistan President, Gen. Musharraf, as they are to India,'' he said.
The ``more liberal, moderate leadership'' represented by Gen. Musharraf presented a good chance to address outstanding problems including Kashmir. This was because, Gen. Musharraf, unlike his predecessors such as Ayub Khan and Zia-ul- Haq, understood ground realities better and was much more flexible.
India should not get upset or riled over the fact that Pakistan had again turned out to be America's frontline state. Instead, this should be treated as an opportunity which has presented itself at the right time, he said.
Pakistan might be more receptive to addressing the issue of cross-border terrorism now than six months earlier. ``To that extent, September 11 (terrorist attacks in the U.S.) becomes a watershed (for both countries) to recognise the common threat of organised terrorism irrespective of what source, what medium and what faith these people belong to,'' he added.
Commenting on the various levels of interaction between the two countries, he said when the national emblem gets tagged on, the behaviour of people changes. While people-to-people interactions elicit high hopes and raise mirages of peace, when the nation or the Government element gets added, then everything ``suddenly differs.'' ``It is like a drama - an interesting phenomenon to observe.''
Added to this was the definition of security as perceived by the state. The Admiral said that over a period of time, the state had begun to dictate terms of national security. ``What the state says is national security. If you relate national security to people's security, then many of the false veils will collapse. Then you will be able to relate more freely. In the long run, only these policies will be sustainable.''
On the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan, he said the world had not witnessed ``any reaction of terrorist groups.'' It was possible that some groups might take the bombing as an insult to their religion and prepare to retaliate. ``Violence cannot stop with counter-violence. The best way is to address the root cause such as the Palestinian problem and arrive at a just settlement with U.S. mediation,'' he said.
The war replicates the lessons of Indian history of how conflicting
purposes of Indian prices paved the way for foreigners to dictate the
course and direction of events in the subcontinent. In the brave new
Asia to emerge after this war, we will see the stature of at least
Pakistan and India lowered even further than it was before the war
The emerging differences between Pakistan and the US over the conduct of the war with Taliban are real enough, though of not much consequence. The way President Bush contradicted with his characteristic finesse, the Pakistan President's claim that he had been assured that the war, or rather the bombing campaign, will be short in duration, well targeted and maximum care will be taken to minimise collateral damage to the innocent Afghans, is illuminating.
The US will not share its actual war plans, virtually said Bush, with President Musharraf. The US will do what it has already planned or what it may find expedient in the light of experience. The allies will have little influence, he implied. It will certainly be mortifying for the Musharraf government to be publicly ticked off, reiterated more politely by Secretary of State Colin Powell. But that can changes nothing on the ground. Pakistan having promised full co-operation to the US authorities can only watch how do the Americans make use of its air space and its logistics support. Stationing of ground troops or their operating out of Pakistani bases is certainly not out of the question. Indeed it is likely and may have begun by the time these lines see the light of the day.
The differences between the two unequal allies are over the acceptability of Taliban regime. While the US still has no hard position on Taliban, it is incensed with their politics, particularly over their refusal to make over Osama bin Laden. If they had done that early enough, there might not have been this war, or at least its shape might have been materially different. Pakistan is quite upset about the mounting evidence that the US plans to help the Northern Alliance to capture Kabul and more or less replace Taliban regime, with the icing at the top of ex-king Zahir Shah.
Pakistan says that that will mean anarchy and mayhem - a not unreasonable prognostication considering what the same set of warlords did in early 1990s in Kabul. Ask Robert Fisk. But just as the US President says his generals are not in the habit of showing their war plans to "others" - this being the status of America's allies - events have certainly overtaken both Pakistan and Taliban. Taliban will have to be replaced now. Whatever Pakistan's remonstrations about Pushtuns being 60 per cent of all Afghans and Taliban being Pushtuns are the best ruling material for the Afghans, it is likely to be heard.
Islamabad's case may be reinforced by America's earlier assurances to Pakistan regarding its 'valid concerns' in the government-making - which was conceded by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair just the other day. That might not avail it. In the rush of events during wartime, it is clear that Taliban are going and that Pakistan's 'valid concerns' might remain valid in theory but the practice is sure to be dictated by the exigencies of war - and the ultimate purposes of the US.
People of the subcontinent, by being bitterly divided, have more or less written themselves off. Others' wishes will count more - also by default of certain others. However three general points emerge from the war in Afghanistan. First, the US is only too conscious of having extracted full co-operation from a reluctant Pakistani regime by threatening to bomb it into the Stone Age. India had already offered all its military facilities to the US in the fond hope that Pakistan would refuse and that India will have the opportunities of a life time to join the US to destroy Pakistan's military facilities and 'strategic assets'. This hope was however dashed quite soon as Musharraf did not take long to decide that climbing the American bandwagon in time was the only feasible option for him. Like India's motivation of doing down Pakistan, the latter's motive too was to frustrate Indian designs.
To both sides, the mutual animosity comes before objectively examining as to how is Asia going to be transformed by the Anglo-American moves, especially with a view to assess the prospects for India, Pakistan and the rest of South Asia from a longer-range viewpoint. Would the stature and weight of India or Pakistan, be higher or greater at the end of this Operation Infinite Justice, whenever it comes to an end?
Secondly Mr. Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, will soon be in India. He will talk, among other things, about Kashmir. And what is he likely to say? To be sure, he would fully agree with India that 'cross-border-terrorism' should speedily end and is sure to promise that he would turn the screws on the military government in Islamabad for the purpose. Is that all? He is also likely to urge resolving the core problem of Kashmir - the definition of which being what he has in mind. He is sure to desist from offering American mediation. But he would urge resumption of dialogue with Pakistan. His 'facilitation, nudging and coaxing' the Vajpayee government for resuming the Agra Process would look to outsiders very much like mediation. And New Delhi, if it has not already decided to send Jaswant Singh to Islamabad, would do some such thing pretty soon thereafter. The point is New Delhi cannot defy the American will the way it could some years ago.
Thirdly, despite the kind of romancing now going on between the US and India, the latter's ability to convince America on India's core concerns about Kashmir and to carry the Bush Administration with itself has not at all increased. American recommendations on Kashmir are still likely to look uncommonly like what New Delhi abhors. The US had to more or less spurned the enthusiastic Indian offers of co-operation because it was more realistic for the US to inveigle Pakistan into the Alliance and use its facilities next door to Taliban
The moral from this experience should be easy to draw; it replicates the lessons of Indian history of how conflicting purposes of Indian prices paved the way for foreigners to dictate the course and direction of events in the Subcontinent. In the brave new Asia to emerge after this war, we will see the stature of at least Pakistan and India lowered even further than it was before the war had started.
AS the United States gets ready to launch a "new kind of war" against
"terrorism" in South Asia's immediate periphery, the region's two
biggest powers begin a new phase of mutual rivalry. America's war is
likely to be a prolonged, complex operation, involving high
technology as well as low-level covert operations, manipulation of
the Taliban's rivals (for instance, the Northern Alliance) and its
close friends (such as Pakistan). India-Pakistan hostility will also
be played out on many planes: over Kashmir and nuclear weapons,
through despicable courting of Washington, and Machiavellian
manoeuvres to influence power balances in Afghanistan. It promises to
be no less dirty, and no less menacing to South Asia's peoples.
Today, a decade after the Cold War ended, once-Non-Aligned India and former U.S. ally Pakistan are clashing, although they are on the same side - with the U.S. Nothing could be more ironical. Nothing could be more dangerous for the future of this region. To start with, it should be plain that the possibility of a thaw in the half century-long India-Pakistan 'hot-cold war' opened (admittedly shakily) by the Agra Summit is now dead. This happened well before the October 1 bomb attack in Srinagar. Its demise can be traced to New Delhi's and Islamabad's unseemly moves after September 11 to establish an intimate "strategic partnership" with the U.S.
Jaswant Singh, to the Indian people's abiding collective embarrassment, offered unsolicited, unlimited military cooperation to the U.S., including the use of airbases. General Pervez Musharraf too, soon offered to be America's critical ally - provided India and Israel are kept out of that alliance. Musharraf's September 19 televised address to his nation and Atal Behari Vajpayee's riposte declaring that neither he nor Jaswant Singh would visit Pakistan "in the foreseeable future", only formalised the beginning of a new war of words. Since then, the two establishments have been abusing and parodying each other's intentions and plans.
Behind these moves lie incompetent and naive miscalculations, devious designs, but above all, an attitude of servility towards the U.S. India's foreign policy and security establishments have misunderstood the fundamental causative factors in the September 11 attack, which are rooted in extreme discontent and popular anger with U.S. policies towards political Islam (especially the question of Palestine, but also Iraq and other countries), as well as the appalling injustices of today's world order.
Going by all available evidence, there exists today a unique overlap between militant political Islam and popular anti-U.S. sentiment in West, Southwest and South Asia. The key link is U.S. support for Israel's terrible policy of repressing the Palestinians, and its brazen breach of the Oslo peace agreements. India's policy-makers have also profoundly misunderstood U.S. motives, which go beyond fighting "terrorism", itself ill-defined. Pakistan's rulers have been less naive, but cynical in looking for temporary gains. They have shrewdly cashed in on Pakistan's obvious locational and logistical advantages, and its leverage over the Taliban. But they seriously underestimate the huge risks involved in collaborating with the U.S. to fight monsters of their own creation. These risks are both external and internal.
NOTHING exemplifies India's miscalculation better than Jaswant Singh's shocking conduct. He remains undeterred by widespread domestic criticism, including from within the ruling National Democratic Alliance, and the entire Opposition, of his offer of "cooperation" weeks before evidence had been presented of Osama bin Laden's culpability for September 11. Unconcerned about democratic decency, he went to the U.S., Britain and Germany to beg the West, especially Washington, to support India's plea for criticising Pakistan and banning Kashmiri militant groups. This meant granting to the U.S. a role as the global hegemon and ultimate arbiter of Kashmir - in violation of India's position opposing external mediation in this "bilateral issue," and its support for a plural world order.
Jaswant Singh was, expectedly, more than satisfied with his "full round" of discussions with U.S. officials, especially George W. Bush, although all he could extract by way of public support was a statement by Secretary of State Colin Powell, which condemned the Srinagar bombing as a "terrible terrorist act," but carefully avoided mentioning Pakistan. The State Department briefing only said: "We have continued to maintain a policy on Kashmir that looks to everybody with influence to reduce the violence and to try to see the situation there is resolved peacefully." Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld too ducked specific questions about Pakistan harbouring terrorists. He merely said: "We've had discussions about a number of countries and the issue of terrorism..." As of now, a full-scale U.S. ban on Kashmiri "terrorists" seems unlikely. Its utility seems even more doubtful.
Equally breathtakingly, Jaswant Singh also said that the U.S. had "shared ... with India and me" evidence linking bin Laden to the September 11 carnage. This was declared by an adoring section of the media as proof that India has now "joined the select club of nations," including those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, that has "been shown [this] convincing evidence". He went on to say, with characteristic pompous flourish, that in any case the real evidence is "the evidence we have been living with all these years" - in Kashmir. This echoed the observation by other Indian Ministers that it is the U.S. that has now joined India's struggle against terrorism, not the other way round.
Jaswant Singh alone is not guilty of serious miscalculation. Vajpayee too stands indicted. His October 2 letter to Bush is an eloquent mix of obsequiousness towards the U.S. and hawkishness towards Pakistan: "Pakistan must understand that there is a limit to the patience of the people of India..." He chose extremely unfortunate words such as "our supreme national interest," used in declarations of war or of solemn intent to withdraw from multilateral treaties in exceptional circumstances that threaten the very existence of a state. This was fully consistent with the exuberant reception by senior BJP Ministers, including L.K. Advani, to Bush's September 21 address to Congress, in which he imperiously told the world: you are either with us or with the terrorists. (Jaswant Singh called it "brilliant".)
At work here is the calculated dismantling of the entire rationale of non-alignment and the edifice of an independent foreign policy, and subjugation of India's national vision to U.S. war plans, driven as much by revenge and a desire to draw blood as by wanting to bring the guilty of September 11 to justice. It is hard not to detect the despicable communal slant in official policy that goes with this. The most explicit manifestation of this is the proscription of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The government banned SIMI just when it should have bent over backwards to defend pluralist secularism, now under attack from prejudices that equate Islam with a distorted notion of jehad and with terrorism itself.
THE official case against SIMI is full of holes. A major charge is that SIMI works "for an international Islamic order." Now, this may not appeal to many, just as the RSS-VHP's (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Vishwa Hindu Parishad) Hindu supremacism does not. But holding such beliefs is not a crime. SIMI is also charged with being "in touch with militant outfits". But the Home Ministry has been "in touch" with the secessionist National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) and the Hizbul Mujahideen. The only substantial charges pertain to specific activities: for instance, SIMI's alleged collusion with the Hizbul Mujahideen in bomb explosions since February. These charges do warrant action under various laws. But they do not justify an outright ban unless it is proved that SIMI's entire structure is terrorist and threatens India's security.
This has never been established. On the one hand, the government accuses SIMI of having published pro-Al Qaeda pamphlets after September 11. On the other, Home Secretary Kamal Pandey asserts that there is no connection between its post-September activities and the crackdown. Regarding bin Laden as a hero of "the global struggle against America" is detestable. But it is not a crime. The SIMI charge-sheet is based mostly on unproved suspicions and surmises. None of these has stood legal scrutiny for 20 years.
The official double standards are appalling. Deputy Home Minister I.D. Swamy admitted in a Star-TV programme ('Reality Bites') that the Bajrang Dal and the VHP are guilty of hate crimes, but must be exonerated because they "glorify our ancient past". SIMI is not a secular or democratic organisation. It is probably fundamentalist. But it is not terrorist. Tarring Islamic groups with the terrorist brush, while letting off Hindu communalists, reeks of communal bias.
SIMI's hounding comes at a time when anti-Islam prejudices are growing the world over. This juncture demands a strong defence of secularism. If the government really wants to punish the spreading of communal prejudice, it should also target the VHP, the RSS and the Bajrang Dal, with their record of the Babri Masjid demolition, Graham Staines' killing, attacks on Christians, hounding of M.F. Husain and Deepa Mehta... Instead, the government is alienating the Muslim community.
Pakistan too has been playing dangerous games. It wants to retain its influence over the Afghanistan regime, by hook or by crook. It stiffly opposes the Taliban's exclusion from a future ruling coalition in Afghanistan. (Hence the sharp exchange with India on the issue of "broad-based" coalition and Musharraf's demand to "lay off". Hence also the change in Washington's line on a "regime change".) The Guardian's Jonathan Steele reports that Pakistan has plans to assassinate Mullah Omar and replace him with a more pliant leader. Other reports suggest that the U.S. will rely heavily on joint covert operations with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.
The U.S. is far from Simon-pure in all this. It has done all manner of shady deals with the Taliban. After the August 1998 bombing of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, it tried to get the Taliban to surrender bin Laden. Earlier, it came close to recognising their regime in return for favours to an American oil company, Unocal, then in fierce competition with the Argentinian firm Bridas over a proposed pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. A galaxy of American officials, both serving and retired, were involved in this New Great Game over oil and gas in Central Asia, including Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Robin Raphael and Richard Armitage (currently Deputy Secretary of State). (See chapters 12 and 13 of Ahmed Rashid's excellent Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, I.B. Tauris; London and New York.)
Devious manoeuvres might give Pakistan some temporary advantages in its northwestern hinterland. But things could easily get out of hand. Any significant weakening of the Islamabad regime or a rise in domestic fundamentalist militancy could make Pakistan vulnerable to pressure for "neutralising" its nuclear weapons capability. This could further deepen its internal crisis. Once it is done with its own parochial agenda, the U.S. could as easily drop Pakistan as an ally as it recruited it, leaving behind an all-but-collapsing state. Prolonged U.S. presence in the region could cramp Islamabad's freedom of action and invite extreme resentment. Even within the cynical calculus of Machiavellian realpolitik, Pakistan is AOS (all options stink) land. All of South Asia could soon become that.
A truly non-aligned India, acting on solid political principles, could have played a crucial role in averting this. As a country with the world's second highest population of Muslims, India could have set a marvellous example by building a pluralist-secular political consensus in favour of bringing terrorists to justice without unleashing vengeance and mindless violence. India could have contributed significantly to the construction of an international bloc which counsels restraint and sobriety and makes the U.S. accountable to the global community through the United Nations and other multilateral instruments. A secular India committed to a just and equitable world order could have urged long-term solutions to the many festering problems that underlie the growth of terrorism.
Regrettably, India under the present regime is not such a state. The role it could have played (but did not) now falls upon the global peace movement and progressive political and civil society organisations. These alone can provide the intellectual and moral leadership the world sorely needs if it is not to become a much worse place under the coming war than it already is. South Asia's own peace movement has a pivotal role here. This must not be underestimated. But to play this, it must set its sights high.
HE WAS JUST 15 when he walked over to the other side. "I was cutting
grass when some boys going across asked me to join them," says the
young Kashmiri. "I looked at the gun they were carrying--it had this
lovely reddish glow--and I felt good. So I went."
Over the years, thousands of men and boys like Javed Ahmed Lone have walked over to Pakistan from the Indian side of the line that divides disputed Kashmir. There, they are trained to use guns and sent back across the line with orders to kill as many Indian soldiers as possible.
Lone was lucky. Returning armed with an AK-47 after just 15 days' training, he realised he was probably going to die, and surrendered instead.
Ten years on, death still haunts him. But now, as a deserter from the cause, he is mortally afraid of being killed not by Indian soldiers but by Islamic militants, most of whom come from outside Kashmir. Come nightfall, the 25-year-old labourer leaves his wife and two infant sons in his village of Dardpora, and heads for the security, however tenuous, of a police camp.
"Today's militants are full of the fervour of jihad (holy war), and they're better fighters," he ruefully acknowledges. "In our time, we were not even clear what 'independence' meant."
Since partition in 1947, Kashmir has been the scene of a bitter battle for control by India and Pakistan. Full-scale wars have been fought in these mountains. Over the past 12 years, a Pakistan-backed insurgency has gripped the region. The scars run deep. Since the insurgency began, some 30,000 lives have been lost, while thousands of families have lost husbands, sons and fathers.
In recent years, the insurgency has taken on a new complexion, driven ever more by the mehmaan mujahideen, the highly motivated non-Kashmiri "guest militants" from Islamic outfits based in Pakistan. Their fundamentalist vision is sharply at odds with Kashmir's liberal brand of Islam. But a growing hardening of attitudes among ordinary Kashmiris has given them a vital foothold. And when they can't win over moderate Muslims through friendly means, there's always the other option: Intimidation and murder.
Today, as calls for jihad echo around the world, the presence of these militants risks sweeping up Kashmir into a much greater conflict--one that can only add to its people's suffering.
NESTLING IN THE HIMALAYAS, Dardpora is the last place you reach before the Line of Control that separates the armies of the world's newest nuclear powers in Kashmir. From here, it's just a three-hour walk to what locals call paar--the Pakistan side.
Just two months after they were married in 1998, 17-year-old Naseema Bano's husband disappeared. She says he left without explanation. But she, like any of Dardpora's 100 other widows, knows what happened. When young men suddenly leave home here, everyone knows where they've gone--paar, to pick up a gun and fight the Indian soldiers camped above the village.
A year ago Bano's husband died fighting soldiers.
There are many reasons why a young man would leave his pretty bride and head for insurgent-training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It could be the desire for revenge--two of Bano's brothers and a brother-in-law had been killed by Indian forces before her husband also took up the gun.
It could be to escape the desperate poverty and unemployment of a village like Dardpora, which has no electricity, no high school, no hospital. Insurgent groups may not be ideal employers, but they pay well. Lone says the money for a village recruit has shot up since his time, from 300 rupees to the present 100,000 rupees ($2,100)--a fortune in a place like this.
It could be also that he shares the growing sense among ordinary Kashmiris of alienation from India, which is widely seen as an occupying force that has held several phoney elections but has denied Kashmiri Muslims the right to determine their future, be it independence or merger with Pakistan.
Or it could simply be an all-consuming passion for jihad, commonly taken to be a holy war against the non-Muslim world.
In Dardpora, they have heard of the schoolboy jihadi Affaq Shah, Kashmir's first suicide bomber who, fired by religious zeal, drove an explosive-laden car into Srinagar's army headquarters in April last year and blew himself up along with several soldiers.
And of course they have heard of the young jihadi's hero, Osama bin Laden, the man whom the United States says was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Just five days later, in the first insurgent strike in Kashmir since the attacks, two young men lobbed grenades into a dilapidated bungalow not far from Dardpora that housed members of an elite provincial police force, killing nine officers and men. One of the attackers escaped; the other was caught, but still managed to avoid arrest: He blew up himself and the policeman.
But it is another recent death in Dardpora that most vividly highlights the horrible dilemma now confronting Kashmir's moderates.
Nobody knows who killed the imam, or Islamic prayer leader, of Dardpora's largest mosque. Or nobody wants to tell. But these are the facts: Shortly after sunset on August 20, 45-year-old Mohammed Akbar Bhatt was walking home for a quick meal before returning to the mosque to conduct the evening's final prayers. He was shot and killed as he crossed a wooden bridge over a mountain stream that slices through the village.
"He had no enemy," says his widow, Zarifa Begum. "I fail to understand who could have shot him, and for what." Bhatt was a self-made imam. Unlike the jihadis, he never went to a religious school. He was a tailor who taught himself Arabic so that he could read the Koran. Three years ago, when the imam of the mosque near his house was shot dead, Bhatt took over. An imam's income may be modest, but it's an undemanding job. Still, he must have known the risks: In Dardpora, as in so many villages across Kashmir now, imams have become a soft target for anyone wishing to terrorize the community.
Several imams have been killed over the past two years, and people in Kashmir believe that these hapless religious figures are caught in the crossfire between the foreign jihadis and the Indian security forces, especially the state police's Special Operations Group, or SOG.
Muslims gather in the mosque to pray five times a day, making the imam an important arbiter of public opinion. He is also a disseminator of Kashmir's relatively liberal brand of Islam, which is greatly influenced by Sufi mysticism. If he declines to be converted to the purist view of Islam, he becomes a target for jihadi groups. On the other hand, if he becomes a propagandist for the insurgency, he provokes the ire of SOG officers.
In recent years, the SOG has become the main focus of Kashmiri anger and hatred. Set up in 1992 as a locally recruited force to fight the rebels, its ranks have swollen over the past two years as it has taken the lead in fighting the insurgency. But along with rising firepower has grown a reputation for extortion, custodial deaths and extra-judicial killings.
"SOG has no respect for human life or human rights, it is openly involved in extortion and killings," charges Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, a leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference which represents nearly two dozen Kashmiri political groups.
If the objective is to use the SOG to snuff out the insurgency, it is proving counterproductive. The hardline force is in fact seen as the primary cause for the sudden increase in the number of young men joining insurgent outfits during the past two years. Last month, a newspaper highlighted complaints by Kashmir's respected health minister, Mian Altaf, of alleged SOG excesses in his constituency. In one instance, a young man was found dead the morning after the SOG had picked him up, and villagers blockaded the strategic road from Srinagar to Kargil for several hours.
"No doubt there is growing resentment among the people against the SOG," says Altaf. "The Kashmiris are badly trapped between the guns wielded by different sides." But Kashmir Inspector-General of Police Ashok Bhan, with whom Altaf has had a public spat, categorically rejects the allegations. "Whoever is successful in controlling militancy gets blamed. It's the SOG's turn now," says Bhan. "We don't encourage custodial killings."
EVERYBODY IN KASHMIR can recognize the villains; it's identifying a hero that is posing such a problem. In July, popular hopes suddenly coalesced on a well-known figure: Pakistan's President Pervaiz Musharraf. His aggressive articulation of the Kashmiri cause during summit talks in India turned him into an instant hero for Kashmir's Muslims.
But last month, after Pakistan agreed to join hands with the U.S. in the wake of the terrorist attacks, Musharraf was being reviled in the bazaars and Kashmir was looking for a hero again. On September 21, a clutch of militant groups owing allegiance to the Taliban in Afghanistan called a successful general strike protesting against any military offensive in that country. The faithful poured out of Srinagar's grand mosque, shouting, "May Allah bless the true jihadi Osama bin Laden."
"If Osama comes to Kashmir, he'll be welcomed, we'll give him sanctuary," says businessman Mohammed Ayub.
The multi-party Hurriyat, wary of being branded a terrorist body and hopeful of U.S. support during future talks on Kashmir, opposed the strike call. And two leading insurgent groups, including the largely indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen, stayed away from the street frenzy.
"There's confusion now about which road to take, but the intelligentsia still stands by Musharraf," says Abdul Rashid Hanjoora, who heads a group that assists widows of insurgents.
Perhaps, but they may find they are no match for Kashmir's angry young men. For more than a decade now, they have waged their war, armed physically with surplus guns from the Afghan war and mentally by the example of the mujahideen routing the mighty Soviet forces, and more recently fighting alongside their brethren jihadi from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Now with the U.S. set on a collision course with Afghanistan, the idea of jihad faces its ultimate test in the region. There is the danger that Kashmir may descend into chaos and more bloodshed. But there is also the real promise that it may finally emerge from the crucible of violence, as all three combatants--Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiri Muslims--recognize the awful dangers of not finally resolving the fate of Kashmir.
New Delhi, October 9:
As the US-led coalition bombs targets in Afghanistan with high-technology weapons for the third day, India and Pakistan are jockeying for power and influence in the emerging coalition of forces in that country. Both hope to make maximum gains from rapid shifts in Afghanistan's complex military balances and want a prominent role in any coalition that would replace the Taliban.
The two South Asian rivals are likely to emerge locked in greater mutual hostility from their Afghan manoeuvres. Already, their contradictory positions on the issue of Kashmir have launched a whole new sideshow in the "anti-terrorist" drama now being played out.
Most recent attempts to cap India-Pakistan rivalry have been unsuccessful. The latest was a Monday night telephone call from Pakistan's president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to Indian Prime Minister Atal BehariVajpayee. This sought to allay Indian concerns about Islamabad's involvement in an October 1 suicide bomb explosion in Srinagar, which killed 40 civilians. It is doubtful if Musharraf succeeded.
Just hours earlier, in an Islamabad press conference, Musharraf had raised the issue of a post-Taliban arrangement. He warned against favouring the Northern Alliance (or United Front). The NA, comprised of numerous guerrilla groups, including forces of the recently assassinated commander Ahmad Shah Masud, bitterly opposes the Taliban and has fought it fiercely over the past seven years. The Alliance right now controls just about a tenth of Afghanistan's land area, but has wide representation of ethnic groups, barring the Pushtuns, who are about two-fifths of the Afghan population.
This was Islamabad's first public demand for a future role in Afghanistan. Talking of a power "vacuum" as the Taliban regime unravels, Musharraf demanded that the NA should not be allowed to fill it because it represents only "10 percent of Afghanistan". He asserted that Pakistan's Pushtun interests must be duly considered in the formation of a post-war government. (There are more Pushtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.)
Musharraf's insistence that the Northern Alliance must not "draw mileage out of" the current anti-Taliban campaign derives from the Pakistani state's keenness to retain decisive influence over any regime that succeeds the Taliban.
Two days before the aerial bombing began, Musharraf extracted a categorical assurance from British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Pakistan has "a valid interest in ... any arrangement for a future regime" in Afghanistan which must adequately represent the Pushtuns. (The Taliban is almost entirely Pushtun in composition.)
By all available indications, Islamabad would be loath to destroying the Taliban apparatus, consisting of 30,000 guerrillas fighters and its top hierarchy, many members of which were trained by its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.
It would much rather retain the core of it, including leaders of the three apparatuses that really matter--the 9-member military high command, and the Kandahar and Kabul shurras or councils headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar. "The Guardian" (London) reported that the ISI plans to assassinate Mullah Omar and replace him with someone more pliable.
Islamabad would certainly want to preserve much of the Taliban organisation and personnel. The ISI has invested heavily in the Taliban. It has been the Taliban's main source of military training, arms and finance. It militarily insinuated the Taliban into Afghanistan in the first place. Seven years ago, the Taliban's troops overran Kandahar with ISI support, and have since grown through its patronage.
According to well-documented accounts such as Ahmed Rashid's award-winning book "Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia" (I.B. Tauris), the ISI also put the Taliban in touch with Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network in 1996.
This collaboration is important, indeed organic, to both groups. Al-Qaeda's own 5,000 fighters, called Brigade V-55, have been integrated into the Taliban's operational forces. Within Afghanistan, the two are militarily inseparable.
However, Musharraf would like to limit the "war against terrorism" to destroying the Al-Qaeda network but in such a way that the Taliban is not decimated, but accommodated in power. Within the US-led alliance, his strategy appears to have prevailed over genuinely "anti-terrorist" approaches.
No broad-based coalition in Afghanistan can afford to ignore the Pushtun group. But nor can it afford to ignore the other 15 ethnic groups, especially the northern and northeastern Tajiks, the central and western Hazaras, and the northwestern Uzbeks, who account for 60 percent of Afghanistan's population.
The Northern Alliance has said it will soon convene a broad-based assembly or loya jirga of different tribal groups. But it is not clear which Pushtun groups--and there are many--will join such a council, leading to a new government. Much will depend on the pace at which the Taliban regime collapses, and the military advances the NA makes.
The NA is supported by Russia, Iran and India. (Russia is its main source of armaments.) Today, it is coordinating its military plans with the US-backed coalition using the bombing campaign as air cover for its own ground troops.
It is on this NA link which New Delhi wishes to build its strategy. It wants the NA's role enhanced. It is a sure bet that both India and Pakistan will want to be in any future condominium of states that determines or guarantees the future of Afghanistan, through, or independently of the United Nations.
Other features of the India-Pakistan rivalry have also been accentuated by recent developments. New Delhi is greatly disconcerted at Pakistan's inclusion into the US-led coalition as a "frontline" state. Pakistan is in the "inner" concentric circle close to the states conducting the military attacks. Pakistan's airspace and intelligence support are vital to them.
India is in the "outer" circle, beyond the peripheral ring of Islamic and Arab states the US is wooing. India regards Pakistan as a sponsor of "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir. And it has itself been courting the US to become its "most allied ally" in South Asia, and a potential "counterweight" to China.
New Delhi was extremely upset at the October 1 Srinagar bombing, claimed by the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, whose leaders are based in Pakistan. A week ago, India warned Pakistan that its "patience" was running out. It lobbied the US, the UK and France against Pakistan's support to Kashmiri militants.
One result of this has been Western pressure on Musharraf to drop the head of the ISI, Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmed on Monday. Ahmed is said to have been close to the Taliban. A critical input into his sacking appears to be his failure to warn against the October 1 attack, and his suspected link with Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Jaish-e-Mohammed militant who is believed to have remitted $100,00 to Mohammed Atta, the prime suspect in the World Trade Centre bombing, just before September 11.
Western goading also persuaded Musharraf to telephone Vajpayee on Monday to convey his concern about the Srinagar bombing, promise an inquiry into it, and offer to resume the now-interrupted India-Pakistan dialogue. Whether this leads to more friendly exchanges, or greater suspicion, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the danger of any escalation of tension between South Asia's nuclear rivals is only too clear. Questions have arisen over the fate of the Musharraf government, which faces far-from-controllable mass protests. Increased strife or civil war in Pakistan, and a weakening or collapse of the regime, could suddenly destabilise the entire region.
It is about time that Pakistanis took stock of their situation,
making a dead reckoning. There is common realisation that military
captains of this ship have ran it aground: the captain today is
defending are not his own; he was left no option. Some sort of a
major corrective action is needed for which we all should examine
what has gone wrong.
The immediate provocation was the apparent crisis resulting from the emerging signs of Islamabad's divergence from the Americans over the fate of Taliban regime: Uncle Sam would like to see Northern Alliance, with some help, defeat and replace Taliban. Pakistan has warned of dire consequences if this were to happen. Having agreed to "full cooperation" with the US - the only feasible thing to do - it was a little odd for Pakistani leadership to later disagree with the US knowing that the initiative is not with them and their opposition is unlikely to be decisive. Perhaps it was damage limitation, a sort of political rearguard action.
To be sure, Pakistan's failures or ineffectiveness characterise all major fields of endeavour. Take Kashmir, the core issue that has determined most policies since virtually the beginning. This preoccupation has cost the country dear. The rise of the military's influence and power in politics is largely the consequence of Kashmir being called the main national cause. That democracy collapsed is not unrelated to the rise of generals' prestige. The country has become bankrupt largely because of Kashmir. Pakistan went nuclear chiefly because of it. Pakistan continues to run the risk of being declared a terrorist state; except for the post-September 11 weeks, it has been badly isolated. The list goes on.
And yet Kashmir is still, 53 years on, firmly in Indian control. It can now be asserted that following the thoughtless and rather emotional decision to go nuclear, the old India-Pakistan dispute over J&K State has been frozen dead. If the theory of deterrence works, neither side can take a military initiative in any situation (for fear of the other's nukes). And if it fails, a war would break out and, on the basis of Pakistan's oft-repeated doctrine of first strike, a nuclear exchange will ensue. That will render the Kashmir issue irrelevant, beside much else. The outlook for 'Kashmir becoming Pakistan' is bleak.
Pakistanis, as a nation-to-be, have been quite unlucky. They have been, over 54 years, unable to evolve a consensus on what kind of state they want to have. Constitution making has been a long and frustrating affair; they are still divided over what kind of a constitution will suit them. Democracy continues to elude. It broke down in the first seven years and 140 million people have not been able to put this humpty dumpty together since. A general is still ruling them and if President George W Bush succeeds in stabilising the presidency of General Pervez Musharraf, as he claims he wants to, then they may have 10 more years of the general, as all US-supported generals lasted 10 years at least.
In consequence Pakistanis have low self-esteem. Long before September 11 this year, carrying the green passport entitled one more to hostile stares, suspicion and some unfriendly discrimination at all airports and sometimes even in flights. During cold war Pakistanis were contemptuously looked down upon as stooges of America. Few sensitive Pakistanis can forget their experiences at international conferences with third world representatives. Pakistanis low self-esteem has many causes, ranging from what they made of the opportunities provided by independence. Pakistan's instability was a byword - made more conspicuous by India's stable political system next door. Series of military coups, apart from rending national unity and integrity, did not fail to diminish aware citizens.
At one time, World Bank proclaimed Pakistan to be a 'model developing country'. Well, one of its dictators celebrated a Decade of Development. Insofar as the number of mills and factories, irrespective of their efficiency and productivity, goes, a fair number have been set up. Some agricultural growth is undeniable, though a lot of it was dependent on subsidised imports of modern inputs and machinery and of course weather. But look at the state of the economy today. The first whiff of real competition saw some 50 percent or more of industrial units shut down. Today, with maximum exports of $9 billion, Pakistan goes on importing up to $12 billion worth of goods and services. It has to service an annual debt burden of $6 to 7 billion plus some hidden expenditures. No wonder, the country has been living on IMF bailouts and looks unable to get out of this rut.
There were scenes of mass jubilation over the 'achievement' of exploding six nuclear bombs in reply to India's five in May '98. Nuclear weapons now need protection; Musharraf had had to seek protection from the US in its likely campaign against Taliban. What a contrast from the exultations of that year. Instead of being the bedrock of Pakistan's prowess and security that should deter others, the security of strategic assets has to be requested from outsiders. Strategic assets, indeed! They can do nothing for Pakistan - in Kashmir or in an accidental war. The mere upkeep of these useless toys is sure to be costing a pretty penny. And to what end?
Pakistanis have paid for America's 1980s Islamic Jehad in Afghanistan through the nose in the shape of heroin and gun culture, over two million refugees who did not go back, a rich crop of armed Jehadi militias and the whole politics having become topsy-turvy with a dangerous symbiosis having developed between the Army and the Jehadis. The religious Right has been given undue influence and prestige by the Army-coordinated Jehad in Kashmir that can still lead the country to be declared a terrorist state.
What can be conceded is that the US did reward Pakistan with the authority to make and break governments in Kabul. Pakistan after experimenting with two Islamic governments finally installed Taliban. Their politics has made Taliban the betes noirs of the whole civilised world. Within Pakistan except for the Rightwing, including a part of secular Right, nobody loves Taliban. Let no one forget that Pakistani people never gave all the religious (Islamic orthodox) parties more than 8 percent of their vote in six general elections. Taliban and the Mullahs were however the darlings of the Generals - for use as instrument of pressure on India to force it to negotiate which had been refusing to do so for 10 years and may yet go on being blind to Kashmiris' human rights. Pakistan's prowess is irrelevant to any worthwhile purpose.
The simple and obvious point is that the Taliban experiment has proved to be even more of a grievous mistake. They have put Pakistan itself in jeopardy. If Musharraf had refused cooperation with the US - specifically aimed at Taliban - Pakistan would have been the first objective of the US-led war against terrorism. Even otherwise, it was mighty unwise to have done what Pakistan has been doing since 1973 in Afghanistan. Pakistan is an unstable third world country with a rickety economy. It had no business becoming one of the big boys in the renewed Great Game. An imperial role sites ill on an aid-addicted second rank third world country. If only, Musharraf would get off this hook - telling the truth as it is.
The writer is a well-known journalist and freelance columnist
Unless the US is restrained by an international body like the
Security Council, it may rain wanton destruction upon Afghanistan.
America's leaders are baying for blood. Revenge is in the air as the US prepares to settle scores with those it suspects of having triggered off the unspeakably brutal terrorist acts of September 11. Blind rage and calls for retribution to "teach the terrorists the lesson of their life," have all but replaced the horror, pain and anguish Americans felt at the stunning savagery of that day. Initial descriptions of the attacks as crimes against humanity--which they undoubtedly were--are giving way to a different language: attacks against "Western civilisation", "our way of life", and against Western "prosperity," presumably symbolised by the World Trade Centre.
Coupled with this shift from the universal language of humanity to Western parochialism is a transition from metaphor to literalism. By describing the ghastly September 11 attacks as "war", the US is proceeding to declare "war" on global terrorism in "self-defence"--without accountability to the international community. It now threatens unlimited destruction upon its ill-defined "enemy" even before its official agencies have collected compelling evidence linking the suspects with Osama bin Laden, now wanted "dead or alive." The US has been less concerned to substantiate suspicions than to counter force with force, terror with terror, claim an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth... However, as Martin Luther King said, "an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind."
As America besieges and blinds itself with fear, suspicion and hatred, civil liberties and individual freedoms--on which its constitution rightly prides itself--take a beating. Paranoia competes with hate speech. As sales of US flags increase tenfold, vile abuse is equated with "patriotic pride." "I'm angry," fumes a grandmother in suburban Atlanta, "I'm hoping we wipe these people out and... wipe out [their] country.... Just get rid of them all..." Another patriotic American demands: "Justice should not take precedence over vengeance.... We ought to turn [the culprit country] into a glowing desert."
As this ugly mood for massive retribution prevails, the US is actually threatening horrible excesses and wanton damage to civilian life in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on earth. Deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz has declared that the aim of the coming war is "not to capture a few terrorists and hold them accountable; it is removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism." There couldn't have been a more open threat to destroy what remains of Afghanistan--surely an excess disproportionate to the bin Laden menace, however grave.
Such action is bound to produce a terrible reaction, creating an unending spiral of violence, terror, counter-terror and further violence. The colossal folly of an overpowering, and probably indiscriminate, US response--as distinct from the use of measured, moderate, force to bring the culprits to book--will be further compounded if America acts unilaterally under the cover of an "international coalition", or cynically manipulates the Security Council into giving itself or NATO blanket power to use military force.
There is every likelihood that the US will get away with such unilateral action if it persists with the literal and legal use of the metaphors "war" and "self-defence," and cites Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which permits the use of armed force by a state in "self-defence" alone. It is hard to understand how "war" may be declared against a method or tactic or form of violence--this would be akin to Roosevelt declaring war not on Japan, but on "bombing", after Pearl Harbour--but nobody is asking questions. President Bush has armed himself with unprecedented Congress authorisation to use force wherever and however he likes. Blanket authorisation from the Security Council too, under Article 51, will give him the power to unleash overwhelming force.
Bush must be restrained. But that can only be done if crucial provisions of the same Article 51 are invoked: "Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council... to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security." It is far from clear if any major state or group of states will do so formally--despite the reservations that Russia and China, and some NATO allies, have expressed about US unilateralism.
Arrogance of power has blinded the US to many home truths. It simply cannot comprehend why there is so much hatred against it in Palestine, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, even Pakistan. Americans are rightly horrified at the New York attacks which have probably killed 6,000 people. But they don't even register the deaths of over four million people in US military interventions or covert operations in four continents: from Angola, Argentina and Brazil, through Cuba, Dominican Republic and Greece, to Vietnam, Timor and Zaire. They are unconcerned that half a million children have perished in Iraq alone under cruel, mindless sanctions which brought that "middle-level human development" country (with far higher levels of literacy and nutrition than India) to its knees-to a point where major surgical operations had to be performed without anaesthesia. Americans are equally blind to their government's complicity in Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, or its role in the Sabra and Chatilla massacres of 1982--which left 17,500 dead--, engineered by Ariel Sharon.
The confrontation imminent now is not (underline not) a war between democracy and terrorism. The mass media, and the Indian government, constantly remind us that the Taliban is a creation of Pakistan. But they suppress the fact that bin Laden is himself the creation of the US. His al-Quaeda was fathered and funded by the CIA as part of America's holy war against the USSR. The Vajpayee government dutifully joins Washington in condemning "terrorism", but it conveniently forgets that the US has for decades bred terrorists and trained sadistic generals and right-wing guerrillas in methods of sabotage and torture in facilities like Camp Peary, next door to Washington.
We must never forget that terrorism comes in both state and non-state varieties. The use of indiscriminate violence by governments can be infinitely more destructive than the sub-state terrorism of militants and guerrilla groups. Hiroshima will remain the worst act of terror in history. Sub-state groups' violence pales beside state terrorism. The US is the wold's mightiest and most militarised state, with a 1.4 million-strong regular army and another 1.1 million in reserves. Yet, this could not protect it against the pocket-knives and cardboard-cutters used to overpower four civilian airliner flights. The $30 billion it spends on intelligence gathering could not even warn it against determined fanatics enraged by the arrogance of American power, and especially by the ruthless repression of the Palestinian intifadah. Instead of reflecting upon its policy failures and the stupidity of reliance on purely military and physical means for security, the US has set out to compound its epochal follies.
India, to its disgrace, has offered to become a willing, if unsolicited and unrequited, collaborator of the US. It was among the first states to offer it military cooperation and use of strategic bases--even before NATO. This was before (underline before) US agencies had collected significant evidence on responsibility for the attacks. Many Indian policy-makers and -shapers could barely hide their glee at the "historic" possibilities that September 11 opened up for a new Indo-US "strategic partnership". The VHP and important RSS-BJP leaders like Narendra Modi spoke of the "historic opportunity", India's "finest", to act as America's main "anti-terrorism" ally. Our security "experts" salivated: here was India's chance to "vindicate" its one decade-long stand on "terrorism" and be drafted as a frontline state in America's war. Their reaction was no different from Israeli hardliners': "From the perspective of the Jews, [September 11] is the most important public-relations act ever committed in our favour", a writer said in Maariv daily!
Prime Minister Vajpayee too went on air to reiterate his Pakistan obsession: "We must hold governments wholly accountable for the terrorism that originates from their countries ... [T]he world community must get at their organisations, at those who condition, finance, train, equip and protect them ...it must isolate, and... compel states that nurture them... The world must join hands to overwhelm them militarily..." This echoed Bush's own intemperate early remarks, obliterating the distinction between terrorism and states which breed it, or which support or condone it--a morally and legally untenable proposition, which would be repugnant to the jurisprudence that has evolved with the Nuremberg trials, with all its distinctions between direct responsibility and degrees of complicity.
Vajpayee & Co are sorely disappointed that the US has chosen Pakistan as its "frontline" state--for understandable, if cynical, reasons: the US is not waging a noble war against an international evil; it is basically seeking revenge. As far as Afghanistan goes, Pakistan's logistical and intelligence advantage as well as leverage over the Taliban, far outweigh India's. The US has graduated Pakistan from a state to be "given a chance" to join the anti-terrorist battle, to a state that has "stepped up" to a responsible position. On September 19, Musharraf equally cynically linked Pakistan's support to the US to Kashmir, nuclear weapons and to India's exclusion.
America's choice of Pakistan and its understanding of its "sensitivities" has thrown its would-be Indian collaborators off balance. Some of them peevishly complain that India has "missed the bus." Vajpayee has turned positively sullen, witness his remarks to "The Times of India" (Sept 20). Meanwhile, Jaswant Singh has proposed another laughable idea: that a "concert of democracies" should conduct the anti-terrorist operation, after the UN holds a conference against terrorism. Interestingly, India is not insisting on a proper Security Council mandate. The "concert" is no more than a tactic to isolate Pakistan and build an exclusive relationship with the US, coupled with a sophomoric, semi-academic conference proposal. It is based upon the illusion that democracies are irrevocably opposed to terrorism or won't behave in ways that create and strength it. This is dangerously untrue, as the US's own history--and as Kashmir and Sri Lanka--show.
With bankrupt and foolishly tactless "alternatives" like these, reinforced by servile pro-US attitudes, India will be in no position to resist hegemonic pressures for a bloody, brutal war in and around Afghanistan. Pakistan too is drifting into this, with a little trepidation, but equally motivated by the "chance"--of becoming America's "frontline" ally and overcome the opprobrium that derives from its "failing state" status and its support to the Taliban.
This course is deeply fraught. Such is the strength of the Islamicisation process in Pakistan's armed forces, under the encouragement of a bankrupt leadership, that it won't be easy for Musharraf to pull off any joint operation with the US against "Islamic" forces such as the Taliban. (His September 19 appearance betrayed diffidence and confusion, not self-assurance.) Many perceptive observers such as Tariq Ali fear a mutiny in the army. At minimum, Pakistan will witness horrible social turmoil and further destabilisation and destruction of its already fragile institutions. There is a limit to how much force the Musharraf regime can use. The more it is identified with the US, and the deeper the US gets into the Afghan morass, the higher the likely social discontent. Pakistan could conceivably undergo some of the some processes that led to Afghanistan's collapse--albeit under a more centralised authority. This could have horrifying consequences for that society--and for India itself. A nuclear power collapsing on our borders is a nightmarish prospect.
This prospect is not as fantastic as it might appear. By all indications, bin Laden has an extensive military network with reinforced bunkers. Breaking into it will need substantial land-based operations, with high casualties. Afghanistan's terrain is extraordinarily hostile and the infrastructure non-existent. There are no high-value strategic assets, such as industries or power stations, damage to which can ensure the adversary's quick surrender. The temptation to inflict high personnel casualties will thus be greater. The 45,000-strong Taliban militia mixes with and floats among the civilian population. Thus, "collateral damage" will be high. US troops will be extremely vulnerable to fierce attacks on the open, rugged terrain. The danger of use of mass-destruction weapons and disproportionate force by America is very real.
All these circumstances are conducive precisely to the kind of unbearable pressures that generate cracks in state structures and implode societies. Inviting America into our region could be a suicidal course. To avert this, the US must be tamed-through the only available international body, the Security Council. Instead of doing this, the Vajpayee government is kowtowing to America. It is also doing little to counter the equation of Islam with jehad and terrorism, or to protect the minorities and defend pluralism and secularism at this critical juncture. Terrible times lie ahead of us.
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