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'Jihadist Pakistan is India's worst nightmare'

Last updated on: January 19, 2011 11:17 IST

"A jihadist State is not imminent, it is not inevitable, it is probably not the most likely course for Pakistan. But it is possible, and possible in a way it's never been before"

Bruce Riedel, an erstwhile Central Intelligence Officer for over three decades and a senior adviser to four American presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues, warned that if Pakistan became a jihadist State it would pose the "worst possible nightmare" for the United States and the world, but most of all to India. It would torpedo India's chances of ever becoming one of the most successful States in the 21st century.

Speaking to a packed and standing room only audience at the official launch of his newest book, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad, Riedel, currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, said, "A failed, jihadist Pakistan means any hope for a bright, shining India as one of the great countries in the 21st century will never happen."

"You cannot become the most successful country in the world if your neighbor next door is sick, paralysed with political violence and terrorism" and continues to launch terrorist attacks against India, he said.

Riedel who, at the request of President Obama, chaired an interagency review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan for the White House that was completed in March 2009, acknowledged, "It is not imminent, it is not inevitable, it is probably not the most likely course for Pakistan. But it is possible, and possible in a way it's never been before."

"Imagine a jihadist State with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world," he said. "And, if that doesn't scare you at night, you are watching too many horror movies."

Riedel, obviously still privy to much classified information as he continued to be plugged into the intelligence community, said Pakistan, "if not now, soon, it will have the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world, surpassing the United Kingdom."

"And, judging by the new nuclear reactors that are coming on line, and the pace of production, Pakistan is on course to be the fourth largest nuclear weapons State in the world, ahead of France," he said.

He said, "Its nuclear proliferation activities are infamous and famous. It is a unique proliferant State in that it has both been the recipient of other countries' proliferation and a proliferators to third countries." And compounding this was the fact that "Today, it is unfortunately, the home to more terrorist organisations than any other country in the world."

"Pakistan is both victim and patron of terror that is so unique today," he said, and noted that while the Pakistani army today is engaged in fighting jihad terrorism on many fronts in a way unprecedented in its history, "yet at the same time other parts of the jihadist Frankenstein are tolerated."

Riedel implied that it was virtually a no-brainer that the Lashkar-e-Tayiba is one of the Pakistani military intelligence, ISI's most valuable assets and provides intelligence to the former as had been borne out by Pakistani-American and LeT operative and co-conspirator in the horrific 26/11 terror bombings in Mumbai, David Headley.

He said Headley's confessions to both the Indian interrogators and as found in American court records, "paints a picture of a very intimate relationship (between the LeT and ISI) and is very consistent with a lot of other material we have over the years."

Riedel made a strong case for creative diplomacy by the United States to bring about a rapprochement between India and Pakistan and a resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio, arguing that "India, after all, is the issue that has obsessed Pakistan for 60 years."

He said that when Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani -- who he pointed out had described himself as the most India-centric Army chief -- visited Washington a couple of months ago and met with President Obama, he had kept stressing that the US should address Pakistan's strategic imperatives -- meaning India.

Thus, Riedel said, "The United States should try to support the bilateral process between these two countries. Let's try to restart what (then) President (Pervez) Musharraf tried to do in early and mid-2008."

Riedel acknowledged that "the United States cannot make this happen, but it can help with subtle, sophisticated and behind-the-scenes diplomacy because this is the big idea America should stand for in South Asia."

Asked if Musharraf's proposal could be revived and the process re-started, he said, "I believe it's not only possible, but it is imperative."

He reiterated that such a rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad should continue to be pushed and warned if another Mumbai-type attack launched from Pakistan were to occur, India would not show any more restraint and an Armageddon could take place.

"So far, India has shown remarkable restraint and it's not out of love for Mahatma Gandhi, although Indians do love Mahatma Gandhi," he said. "But because India's generals, politicians and diplomats can't figure out a way to strike back against Pakistan" without triggering a full-scale conflict that had the potential to become nuclearised.

Riedel asserted, "That's why I believe so strongly that American diplomacy needs to be preventive. So far, we've been good in crisis management, but crisis management is not a policy prescription that you should rely on. Preventive diplomacy is the policy prescription that we should believe in."

"We've been playing Russian Roulette between India and Pakistan" for too long, he said.

Riedel also warned that "whatever else we do, don't undermine the democratically-elected civilian leadership of Pakistan and, above all, do not undermine the democratic process in Pakistan."

He acknowledged that "the politicians we are dealing with are weak, corrupt and, more often than not, ineffective. But they are the best of bad alternatives."

Riedel said, "It is always tempting to go to the army -- go to the chief of army staff to get a quick and rapid answer. But every time we do that, we undermine the very institutions we are trying to strengthen in Pakistan today."

Riedel also bemoaned that even though Pakistan "is at the top of the list of American foreign policy challenges in the 21st century," it is a country "about which most Americans know surprisingly little and many Americans have many misconceptions about."

"On every issue that matters to Americans, and I would say more than Americans to the citizens of the globe, Pakistan in the 21st century will be crucial. Issues like nuclear proliferation, nuclear war, terrorism, the future of jihad and most importantly, the future of democracy in the Islamic world."

However, Riedel said, "Yet, this is a country which, if you go to the bookstores, you'll find surprisingly few books about, or if you go to library shelves, you'll find very few books about. There's tremendous ignorance."

"Compare the amount of literature that you can find on Pakistan to its two neighbours -- the two Is to the east and west, Iran and India," he said. "Iran and India get far more press than Pakistan does despite its importance."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC