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Volume 2, No. 2 - July 2002

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Nuclear Standoff Tally: Musharraf, Jehadis 1, India, US 0
Subodh Atal, Ph. D.
The much hyped nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan that began in mid-May ended with a tame whimper in early June. India had been threatening, off and on since last October, to attack terrorist bases in Pakistan-controlled territories, from where operations against civilians and security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India are organized. Pakistan, in return, had been threatening to escalate such a conflict, including the use of nuclear weapons, rather than end terrorist sponsorship.

India's demands of Pakistan were analogous to those of the US last year against the Taliban after September 11 - hand over terrorist leaders and disband the terrorist infrastructure, or else. The difference was that the Taliban did not have access to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Thus whether India really meant to carry out its threats was never clear. Pakistan did not back down until the proverbial last moment. In fact, on the weekend of Richard Armitage's "facilitating" visit at the height of the standoff, Pakistan tested three ballistic missiles, all pointedly named after Islamic invaders that had brutalized, massacred and converted Hindus.

During Armitage's visit, he appears to have carried a message to India conveying Musharraf's commitment to "permanently" eradicating the terrorist infrastructure. The Indian leadership meekly acquiesced, and started an immediate process of de-escalation, withdrawing its naval ships that had closed in on the Karachi harbor. There was no historical basis for believing such a promise. Musharraf had after all wreaked Kargil three years ago, and his most recent January promise to withdraw terrorists from Jammu and Kashmir had proven to be an act of blatant international deceit.

India rationalized the de-escalation, despite past experiences with Musharraf, by saying that this time the US and British had guaranteed his commitment. The Indian leadership also proclaimed that it would be watching for serious action on the ground by Pakistan in the next few weeks and months. But one did not have to wait that long to understand the dictator's true intentions. A dead give-away was the proposal by Armitage and Donald Rumsfeld to lay US high-tech ground sensors on the LOC. If the US believed Musharraf's word on ending infiltration, what would be the need for such sensors?

The Pakistan establishment has made a science out of deceiving India, the US, and anyone else that matters. Statements were issued by Pakistani terrorist leaders denouncing Musharraf for stopping infiltration and shutting down camps. Of course none of this was happening. Infiltration continues till today, and at best the camps may have simply been relocated to make it harder for satellites to track. The jehadis were saved to fight for Islam in Kashmir and the rest of India another day. India had backed off, and Pakistan had given nothing in return except meaningless promises.

Many will say that a nuclear catastrophe was averted, and South Asia was saved a horrific fate through US intervention (call it facilitation, mediation, whatever). Given the jehadi mentality of Pakistan's military leadership and its closeness to the Pakistani wings of the Al Qaida, nuclear strikes by Pakistan in event of conventional victories by India are a possibility. However, the US also knew that India was bluffing, and no such conflict was about to start. Its travel warnings and call on US nationals to leave India were thus meant more to pressurize and bully India into falling for yet another set of false Pakistani promises.
A comprehensive propaganda campaign was also undertaken to erode the confidence of the average Indian in taking on Pakistan. The estimated number of Indian nuclear weapons was suddenly reduced in comparison to Pakistan's arsenal in reports originating in the US, and the quality of Indian military equipment was questioned, notwithstanding well known facts about Pakistan's air force and its limited ability to sustain a conventional war.

The US is celebrating its tactical victory and claims that it pulled South Asia back from the brink. However, strategically, both India and the United States have decisively lost this round. Pakistan has called India's bluff, right up to the brink, and now it is even more convinced that its nuclear arsenal will allow it to carry out sponsorship of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir for years to come. In a few years, Pakistan will have hundreds of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. No missile defense system will be sufficient for India in case of war, leaving it increasingly more vulnerable to nuclear blackmail. Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism will spread beyond Jammu and Kashmir and will eventually sunder India, a goal that Pakistani terrorist groups proudly talk of. This is what is in store for India, as a
result of its latest display of meekness.

As for the US, it lost a golden chance to collaborate with India and wipe out the current base of the Al Qaida in Pakistan. It could have threatened Pakistan with dire consequences if the Pakistani terrorist groups were not disbanded. But it did no such thing. The Al Qaida is plotting future attacks on US interests from its Pakistani hideouts, keeping Americans on their toes with constant alerts. The US also failed to understand the international consequence of allowing Pakistan to use nuclear blackmail. Many other rogue nations now look up to Pakistan and sense that the world's sole super power can not stop a determined country from using nuclear threats to back terrorism. Furthermore, the close links between Islamic fundamentalists and the Pakistani military leadership make it inevitable that the Al Qaida will inevitably have access to nuclear weapons sooner or later.

Of course Musharraf won by preventing a war that would have surely destroyed much of his terrorist infrastructure, and gained the confidence of the jehadis by privately allowing them freedom of operation despite US and Indian pressure. His ability to deceive and juggle his anointed role as an "anti-terrorist ally" is invaluable to the jehadis, and they are unlikely to
act against him for that reason. Contrary to popular belief, a more openly extreme leader is more likely to force the US hand against the Pakistani terrorist infrastructure and thus bring about decisive success in the war against terrorism.

Thus the score in this round was Musharraf and the jehadis, 1, and India and the US 0. But don't count on this being the last standoff. The lineup of the adversaries and the issues stays the same regardless of any de-escalation. The final match is yet to start.

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