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    India-Pakistan Ties Appear Headed For Tougher Times

    India-Pakistan Ties Appear Headed For Tougher Times

    By Brahma Chellaney, The Virtual Forum on South Asia Security, November 1999

    Pakistan's self-appointed "chief executive", General Pervez Musharraf, should be a mightily pleased man: Despite defying U.S. warnings not to stage a coup and barefacedly going against the international democratic trend, his military junta is already being seen in Washington, Paris, Tokyo and elsewhere as the only answer to Pakistan's dire travails. International response, despite Britain's and Canada's sharp reaction, has been mild, and the new Pakistani dictator has even undertaken a visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, major financiers of Pakistan and Afghanistan's Pakistan-backed Taliban regime.

    The world's first military coup in a nuclear-weapons state, however, has brought new chill to relations with India. New Delhi views with concern the rise to power of a general with a propensity to reckless action. When faced with choices, Musharraf opts for the boldest, highest-risk option. In one case, the Pakistani invasion of the Kargil area of Indian Kashmir, such a course of action boomeranged, but in another case - the overthrow of an elected government - Musharraf has come out the clear winner, at least so far.

    Long years of military rule in Pakistan have exacerbated hostilities with India. The 1965 and 1971 wars and start of assistance to Indian Sikh and Kashmiri militants happened under Pakistani military dictators. When not in power, the Pakistan military has dictated to the elected government the India policy it should follow. Failure to do so led to the dismissal of the first Benzair Bhutto government. At the root of the coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was an India-related action - withdrawal from Kargil.

    With the Pakistan military on the political saddle again, the consequences for regional security are likely to be negative.

    Not only does it strengthen the hand of those that saw the withdrawal from Kargil as an undoing of a "military victory" under U.S. pressure, it makes it possible for the Pakistan Army to deepen its links with the rabidly fundamentalist Taliban. The Afghan-Pak border region has emerged as the world's main breeding ground for terrorists and arms and drug traffickers. To India, the Pak Army-Taliban nexus is a major threat to its internal security.

    Indian policy-makers are deeply concerned over the West's benign attitude to the Musharraf regime. Pakistan today is most vulnerable, needing external credit support to stay afloat economically, yet the coup d'etat has not triggered the kind of international response Musharraf and his corps commanders had been warned about. Behind the rhetoric and symbolic actions is a growing Western willingness, despite Britain's and Canada's discordant notes, to do business with a regime headed by a dismissed Army chief who has employed brute force to seize power and place the elected Prime Minister and his appointed successor under arrest.

    The most strident advocates of democracy have implicitly set aside the issue of legitimacy of political power on grounds that nuclear-armed Pakistan is a special case and that its military is the only institution which can prevent the failing state from falling apart.

    The United States has shown that when faced with a

    country's resolute action, it quickly accepts the new reality. In congressional and other discourse, it has

    even blamed itself for the Pakistani coup.

    The world powers that until recently were telling India that Nawaz Sharif was its "best bet" are now conveying that Musharraf's regime is best for New Delhi because it could bring order and stability in Pakistan and prevent the internal problems from spilling over the borders. They are already urging New Delhi to make "improvements" in Kashmir and offer other concessions that could help Musharraf to stabilise his position within the faction-ridden Army. In the words of a Western policy-maker who spoke on condition of anonymity, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee government "won the war and the election" and can be magnanimous.

    New Delhi, however, has little latitude: Having been taken for a ride once, the last thing it can afford is to have its hand wolfed while providing succor to the masterminds of Kargil. The coup has brought to power elements who showed in Kargil that they are determined to take on India through Afghan-style tactics. Musharraf masterminded the Kargil invasion, a plan hatched much earlier but which his predecessor publicly stated he threw "out of the window" when it was presented to him. The coup leader belongs to the commando Special Services Group, which has played the main role in training and arming Indian Sikh and Kashmiri separatists.

    As incidents of cross-border terrorism continue unabated, Musharraf has publicly pledged "unflinching" support to Kashmiri militants.

    To India, the coup poses a cruel dilemma. Pakistan has always exploited India's moments of vulnerability to wage overt or covert war. The Kargil invasion, for example, sought to exploit the political vacuum created in India by the fall of the Vajpayee government in a parliamentary vote in April. Vajpayee was re-elected prime minister recently in fresh national polls.

    With its defensive approach, India is loath to emulate Pakistan and exploit its rival's present vulnerabilities. But it cannot aid Musharraf, an inveterate India baiter. Military rule in Pakistan has always been inimical to Indian interests.

    If Musharraf consolidates his political control, the Pakistan problem could come to haunt India with a vengeance. India thus can only view with unease the West's readiness to give a chance to the new military regime to deliver against militant Islamists. That effectively allows Musharraf, a religious zealot who has played to the Western gallery by citing Kamal Ataturk of Turkey as a model, to entrench himself firmly in power. Musharraf has already shown his gift for public-relations gimmicks by announcing with

    fanfare what is normal peacetime practice - no regular Army troops along the international border with India.

    One way Musharraf can cozy himself with the United States will be to get Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden captured or assassinated. That would free his hand against India.

    Holed up in the Taliban-ruled section of Afghanistan, bin Laden has emerged as America's No. 1 international enemy, charged with plotting the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in August 1998. The United States last year fired missiles at bin Laden but not at his main sponsor, the one-eyed jackal who heads the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar. The Taliban, which recently engaged in scorched-earth tactics against entire towns and villages north of Kabul, is seen as a major threat by all countries of the region except Pakistan because of its export of drugs and terrorism.

    As long as the Taliban, propped up by the Pakistan military and fattened by heroin trade and Saudi and UAE petrodollars, remains in control of large parts of Afghanistan, the Pakistan military will enjoy the strategic depth and resources to bring India's internal security under pressure. The Islamabad-Taliban axis has strengthened the narco-fundamentalist-terrorist combine and brought India's internal security under increased pressure, particularly in Kashmir.

    To fight this combine, India has to pursue a multi-pronged diplomatic strategy that seeks to put the international spotlight on these purveyors of drugs and terrorism, prod Saudi Arabia and the UAE to cut off their funding of the Taliban, highlight the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles in the hands of military-ruled Pakistan, and build pressure on China and North Korea to halt strategic transfers to Islamabad. The successful pursuit of those goals demands the support of the United States, which reared the narco-fundamentalist-terrorist forces that have now come to haunt it and those in the region. Unless Washington stops hedging and declares open war on the Taliban, it will difficult for India to achieve all those goals.

    The United States, however, has declared war on bin Laden, but not the Taliban. If it gets bin Laden dead or alive, it is going to claim victory against the narco-fundamentalist-terrorist combine. But in reality that act would do little to tame the combine, which was reared by the U.S.-backed Pakistan military regime of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, killed in a 1988 plane crash.

    India, the biggest victim, continues to pay for past U.S. policy actions in the region. Mullah Omar and bin Laden, who recently declared a "jihad" or holy war on India, are products of such actions. The question now is whether U.S. policy, by publicly applauding Musharraf's dedication and patriotism and seeking to bail him out, is in danger of creating yet another Frankenstein.

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