Don't Hold India Back

As nearly one million Indian and Pakistani troops eyeball each other across the "Line of Control" that divides the disputed territory of Kashmir, the United States is again engaged in crisis diplomacy.

High State Department officials are due to visit India, following a reported phone conversation last week between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee. This latest crisis was sparked by a May 14 terrorist attack on an Indian military camp in Kashmir that killed over 30 Indians. The terrorists had movie theater tickets and other items that proved they had come from Pakistan.

Unlike previous terrorist incidents, it appears that India’s restraint is ending. The bad news for U.S. policy makers is that this latest terrorist attack on India could spark a larger and potentially nuclear conflict. But this same attack also can serve to strengthen U.S.-Indian strategic cooperation and give Washington, New Delhi and Islamabad more reasons to combat the sources of terror in Pakistan.

This current crisis, however, requires both moral and strategic clarity from Washington: if war between India and Pakistan is to be avoided then terrorism must be defeated. If India decides to attack terrorist training camps in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, the U.S. should support India’s action.

So far, India has exercised commendable restraint. In October 2001, terrorists killed 40 people in an attack on the legislature in Srinigar, Kashmir. And on Dec.13, five Kashmiri terrorists entered the Indian parliament in New Delhi and killed seven people before being killed by Indian guards. For Indians, the Parliament attack was as heinous as Osama bin-Laden’s strike against Manhattan and the Pentagon was for Americans.

It is appropriate to view the defeat of terrorist sources in Pakistan as the necessary compliment to the U.S.-led campaign that eliminated Afghanistan’s bin-Laden-allied Taliban regime. This is necessary because radical Islamic forces in Pakistan--including elements of Pakistan’s powerful Inter Services Intelligence organization, and the Pakistani military which provided aid and support for the Taliban and bin Laden-- also support the terrorist networks waging war against India in Kashmir.

Defeating terrorism in Pakistan is also necessary to break the power of radical Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, if it is ever to resume democratic development.

Following longstanding Indian complaints that the U.S. did not view India’s war with Kashmiri-Pakistani terrorists through the same lens as Washington’s war with bin Laden and other terrorists, the Dec. 13 attack served to bring some balance.

In late December, President Bush blocked the assets of two Pakistani groups, the Lakshar-i-Taiba, a terrorist group, and the Umma Tameer-e-Nau, an ostensible chairity group that had in fact given nuclear weapons information to al-Qaeda. Bush’s decision was brave given the need for Pakistan’s cooperation in the War on Terrorism. To be sure, the defeat of the Taliban was also a defeat for the ISI and the supporters of radical fundamentalism in Pakistan. But for that cooperation, Pakistan is slated to receive $145 million in U.S. economic and military aid.

However, the unstable government of General Pervez Musharraf has increasingly pulled its punches. Al Qaeda terrorists now regularly use sanctuaries in the mountainous border regions in Pakistan to conduct operations in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have balked at letting U.S. forces pursue al-Qaeda members in Pakistan. Indeed, if he is alive, the most popular guess is that Usama bin-Laden is in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, radical Islamic groups in Pakistan are turning to domestic terrorism, and Islamabad refuses U.S. extradition requests for the murderers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Instead of counseling New Delhi to exercise restraint, it is time for Washington to tell Musharraf that his unwillingness to fully dismantle terrorist networks in Kashmir will serve to justify a defensive Indian response. So far, India’s demands of Pakistan have been eminently reasonable: turn over to India more than 20 people in Pakistan accused of terrorist activities. To emphasize its determination, starting in December, India undertook its largest military mobilization since the 1971 war with Pakistan.

Naysayers will quickly whine that even a limited Indian strike could lead to a nuclear exchange. A former Clinton Administration official revealed in a paper recently that in 1999, President Clinton had to directly intervene with then Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif to prevent a possible Pakistani nuclear strike. Musharraf has sought to perpetuate this threat and in recent days has put 750km-range Shaheen 1 missiles in firing position, and may test his newer 2,400km-range Shaheen II missile.

However, it is also noteworthy that none of India’s and Pakistan’s three wars have led to strikes on civilian targets. Nevertheless, it would be wise to warn Musharraf and Pakistan’s politically dominant military that any offensive use of nuclear weapons will doom their regime to the same fate as the Taliban.

For Washington, the last year has seen relations with India finally break free from their Cold War shackles that limited cooperation between the world’s largest democracies. India has provided intelligence support for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and the U.S. and Indian militaries are in the process of building an unprecedented level of cooperation. New Delhi and Washington are well on their way to building the strategic partnership that Clinton once wished with the dictators in Beijing. China, meanwhile, remains the major source of technology for Pakistan’s nuclear weapon and Shaheen missile programs.

In this latest crisis, and in the future, U.S. interests lie with India. The U.S. should not prevent an Indian strike against terrorist groups in Pakistan. Washington should view such operations as a compliment to its own hard-fought war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who have been aided by the same radical Islamic forces in Pakistan that that have struck India.

Richard D. Fisher, Jr., is an Adjunct Fellow with the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C.