October 15, 2001


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Brahma Chellaney

Powell will get an earful in New Delhi

The subcontinental tour of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, close on the heels of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit, and the various US sanctions waivers, underscores the strengthened pairing of India with Pakistan following the events of September 11. Never before has such pairing (and balance) been devised to heap rewards on Pakistan for mercenary cooperation and to advise India to stay cool and let the United States take care of its concerns.

Like Blair, Powell is coming to New Delhi to deliver an important message -- India should not do anything that could unsettle Pakistan's current role in the US-led counter-terror offensive in Afghanistan; rather, India should listen to Washington and restart 'peace' talks with Pakistan just the way Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were persuaded post-September 11 to talk to each other.

Powell, like Blair, will, however, find his message has no taker in New Delhi. India's anger over Islamabad's continued sponsorship of terrorist forces and the manner in which Washington has overnight portrayed Pakistan, a frontline sponsor of terrorism, as a frontline opponent of terrorism is reflected in New Delhi's outright rejection of Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf's invitation for new 'peace' talks. Pakistan has urged that if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee cannot travel to Islamabad, he should "as soon as possible" send his foreign minister, Jaswant Singh.

To Vajpayee's credit, he has publicly rebuffed US pressure, ruling out resumption of talks with Islamabad as soon as Washington first proposed that idea. His office has reiterated India's rejection of talks despite Musharraf's US-instructed 'peace' overture to Vajpayee in the form of a telephone call.

The United States is concerned that India, which feels pushed against the wall by the October 1 terrorist attack on the Jammu & Kashmir state legislature, might begin to apply against Pakistan the same logic that the Americans are applying against the Taleban -- by attacking Pakistan-based terrorists where they train. Vajpayee is under growing pressure from his Cabinet to act tough, not merely talk tough, at a time when Musharraf has consolidated his hold on power by replacing his top military and intelligence commanders. In the process, Musharraf has also made himself more vulnerable in Pakistan's highly combustible political climate.

To assuage Indian feelings, President George W Bush, Powell and Blair have made statements that their offensive will target terrorism in all its forms, including terror in Kashmir. The Americans have also held out the promise of a symbolic action -- including the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayiba in Bush's list of terrorist groups whose assets are frozen. But Washington has offered no explanation why these groups were not automatically included in Bush's list when it was released three weeks ago, given the evidence it already had about their terrorist activities.

It is significant that Musharraf's conciliatory call to Vajpayee came a day after he fired his Inter-Services Intelligence chief, Lt Gen Mehmood Ahmed. The Americans want New Delhi to believe that Ahmed was fired for the Srinagar attack. The message is that since punishment has been meted out for that attack, India should not strike back but talk to Musharraf, who has emerged in recent weeks as Washington's pet dictator.

The reality is that Washington and Musharraf had their own reasons to send Ahmed into premature retirement. Musharraf, aware of the timing of the first US military strikes on the Taleban, was quick to seize the opportunity to purge the military of rival generals who played a key role in installing him in power in a coup exactly two years ago. The Americans wanted both to strengthen Musharraf's hands and to oust a general who shared little intelligence on the Taleban with them. They were really offended that Ahmed passed on stale intelligence to them.

Musharraf is celebrating the second anniversary of his military coup with full US backing. How quickly events have helped catapult him to the international centre-stage can be seen from the fact that when President Bill Clinton reluctantly and briefly stopped in Islamabad in March 2000, he deliberately avoided shaking hands with Musharraf in public. But a smiling Blair, who had led the international campaign to ostracise the Musharraf regime and suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth, was seen shaking hands with Musharraf and exchanging pleasantries at an Islamabad reception.

Unlike India, which offered its unconditional and enthusiastic support to the United States from the start of the anti-terrorist campaign, Pakistan was forced to co-operate at gunpoint. As Musharraf publicly acknowledged, Pakistan would have been treated as a target itself had it not fallen in line behind Washington. But having double-crossed the Taleban, Musharraf is now reaping rich dividends. To mollify public opposition to the military attacks in Afghanistan, Washington wants to show Pakistanis that there are tangible rewards for their country in the form of US economic and perhaps military assistance.

The United States, by helping Musharraf tighten his grip on power, is building up a fiendish general whose concrete record of covert and terrorist operations against India parallels the mythologised record of Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden's terrorist exploits. More than Ahmed, Musharraf is accountable for the murder of 40 people in the attack on J&K's embodiment of democracy.

There is no way Vajpayee can reopen talks with a murderous dictator who publicly gloats about the "freedom struggle going on in Kashmir" and then a few hours later calls up to suggest 'peace' negotiations. The Americans should realise that Vajpayee has no desire to commit political harakiri.

The Americans should also recognise that India's patience is indeed running out. If they don't want India to act on its own, they will have to match their words with concrete, not symbolic, actions. They need to compel Musharraf first to rein in his terrorists operating against India and then to begin dismantling Pakistan's state-run terrorist complex. The internal pressure on Vajpayee to strike back indicates that India can no longer sit idly by and hope that one day Washington will act on Indian concerns or good sense will prevail on the Pakistani leadership.

As a frontline victim of terrorism, India is naturally concerned that US policymakers may be forgetting the lessons of the past in their war on terrorism and again being guided by short-term objectives and political expediency. The array of frontline allies the United States has lined up in this war ranges from regimes that bankroll militant Islamic fundamentalism overseas, such as those of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to the tyrannical Central Asian autocracies run by Soviet holdovers, and the terrorism-exporting junta in Islamabad.

The terrorist forces the US-led coalition is seeking to combat were unintentionally reared by past American policy. Today the United States is tightening the noose around the Taleban as part of its plan to dislodge it from power in Kabul. But barely five years ago, the United States was the only international power to hail the Taleban's rise to power. In fact, Laden was one of the 'holy warriors' President Ronald Reagan proclaimed at a White House ceremony in the mid-1980s as the "moral equivalent of the founding fathers" of the United States, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Today, there are deep-rooted links between the Kashmir terrorists, the Taleban, Laden's Al Qaeda network, and the ISI. The United States, however, wants to tackle the problem of terrorism by going after the child fathered by Pakistan, the Taleban, but not the procreator.

That is why Powell, like Blair, will get an earful in New Delhi. The message for India is clear: Just as the United States is fighting its war on terrorism, it needs to wage its own war against terrorist forces and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Brahma Chellaney

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