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On the Brink: Will India Follow the U.S. Example and Respond to 'Terrorists' with Military Strikes?

2 January 2002

Pakistan's General Musharraf pleased President Bush this weekend when he announced a crack-down on two Islamic militant groups whom India blames for a December 13 attack on New Delhi's parliament, an attack that killed fourteen.

The U.S. media were quick to play up the "eased tensions" angle. If the crackdown continues, India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has said he'd be willing to meet with the Pakistani leader to discuss the divided region of Jammu Kashmir - the main point of contention between the two, reports the New York Times. The two leaders may even get together this Friday, reports the Wall St. Journal, at a regional trade association meeting in Nepal.

But the coverage of "eased tensions" and Islamabad's crackdown obscures the most critical part of this critical situation: the way in which the U.S. response to the attacks of September 11 may have fatally changed the rules.

Crackdown or no crackdown, it remains the fact that Pakistan - to whom the U.S. has paid half a billion dollars to act as regional ally #1 in the anti-terror war - remains committed to the cause of Kashmiri insurgents against Indian rule in Jammu-Kashmir. In his most recent announcement, General Musaharref ordered the infamous ISI, or military intelligence agency merely to limit their support in Kashmir to "indigenous" (which is to say, non-Arab) guerillas.

Pakistan has fought three wars with India over the divided state of Kashmir, the majority of whose 11 million inhabitants are Muslims. Islamabad's not about to give up any time soon on a cause it considers a "freedom struggle," and certainly not for as long as there are generations of massively-armed Mujahadeen to keep occupied, and a nuclear neighbor-state India to destabilize.

Indeed, two months after an attack on the Kashmir Assembly, militants on Wednesday lobbed three hand grenades at three different points near its main gate, killing a policeman and wounding 12, reports the Times of India.

For its own part, India is not about to reign in its troops in Kashmir. As far New Delhi is concerned, Indian soldiers and paramilitaries there are simply defending themselves and local civilians from "Pakistani-supported terrorists" who've slaughtered Hindus in the thousands. They're right. The British division in 1947 left a scar on the subcontinent as incendiary as the division of Palestine, and of Ireland too. The conflict has cost some 50,000 lives, mostly civilian, on both sides.

The Musharraf government's clamp down on some militants seems to have pulled us all back temporarily from the fourth India-Pakistan war. The Pentagon for one, has reason to be relieved. With the leaders of the Taliban and probably Al Quaeda having returned from whence they came, namely "U.S.-ally" Pakistan, any clampdown on Pakistani militants must look pretty good to the White House right now. (And that might explain the upbeat spin emerging in the U.S. media coverage.)

But a potentially deadly conflict between two nuclear nations remains unresolved, and in terrifying ways the situation is different now. Since September 11 and the U.S. response, nations at conflict have no reason to wait on the lumbering arbiters of international diplomacy, or linger too long on any military brink.

"The U.S. has set a new example," Zia Mian, a researcher on South Asian security issues at Princeton University told Working Assets Radio (1/2/01.) "It established the legitimacy of unilateral action and the use of overwhelming force in response to terrorism."

Both Pakistan and India are accustomed to taking tips from the United States. Pakistan has followed the U.S. model for years, exploiting a pre-existing regional conflict to pursue its own domestic goals and funding Islamic militants and Mujahadeen to do the job. India has followed suit now, sending troops to respond to a terror attack.

There were legal avenues the U.S. could have explored after September 11, but the U.S. ignored those. Now others can do the same.

We can only hope they won't.

Laura Flanders
Published by © 2002 Working Assets Online

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