Musharraf’s Big Move

Sunil Dasgupta
Sunil Dasgupta Former Brookings Expert, Director - University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Political Science Program at the Universities at Shady Grove

January 17, 2002

U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell was greeted in Islamabad yesterday by a Pakistani leader taking substantive steps to rid his country of homegrown terrorists and foreign groups such as al Qaeda. Since presenting his new anti-terrorism measures to the public on Jan. 12, President Pervez Musharraf has begun the difficult task of closing down radical organizations, arresting their leaders, cutting off their funds and purging the ISI, or military intelligence, of radical elements. At least at this time he appears to be living up to his promise to crack down on Islamic radicalism and prevent Pakistani territory from being used for terrorism of any kind, including attacks in Kashmir.

Nonetheless, the Indian army still stands menacingly on the international border and along the line of control in disputed Kashmir. But the imminent threat of another Indian-Pakistani war seems to have passed. Secretary Powell, who travels to New Delhi today, has praised President Musharraf’s recent efforts and the Bush administration has indicated a greater willingness to nudge India toward resolving the Kashmir dispute. Before Washington embarks on this worthy pursuit, however, it should take time to draw the right lessons from the latest episode of brinkmanship in South Asia so that it may craft an appropriate long-term policy for the region.

First, the war clouds may have broken, but India is by no means pacified. While Pakistan’s longstanding support for terrorism in India has contributed to the Subcontinent’s continuing conflict, India has set the pace of confrontation following the Dec. 13 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. If the two Pakistani groups blamed for the attack, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, continue the use of terrorism—as they have promised—India may return to a war-like posture in an effort to achieve its goals.

What are those goals? First, force a Kashmir deal whereby Pakistan publicly forgoes its claim on the state. This, while the ideal scenario for the Indian leadership, is unlikely to happen, as President Musharraf’s frequently voiced commitment to Kashmir shows. Second, India would like to force the Pakistani army to sever its ties with the jihadis, including purging the ISI of radical elements. This appears to be happening, but India’s leadership remains skeptical. President Musharraf, after all, is still a general in the Pakistani military, with strong ties to the ISI.

India welcomes U.S. influence to help attain these goals and knows the surest way to maintain the pressure on President Musharraf is to keep the pot boiling slowly and deliberately. Indian leaders are not in a hurry and know they are setting the pace: The last time India went to full-scale war with Pakistan in 1971, its military build-up took eight months.

Failing the above, India may choose a strategy for retaliation against acts of terrorism similar to Israel. A “hot pursuit” action—hitting terrorist training camps in Pakistani-controlled territory—might catalyze a small war against Pakistan. But New Delhi appears to have calculated that with American forces on the ground in the country, Pakistan would not be able to escalate to nuclear threats. One indication of an impending war would be if U.S. troops actually pulled out of the region.

But this is by no means a one-way street. It is also in the long-term interest of the U.S. that India continue to push the Pakistani leadership to eliminate Islamic radicalism in the country. Since Sept. 11, the U.S. war on terrorism has carried an implicit threat to Islamabad: If Pakistan does not want to join the international coalition, the coalition would enlist India. This incentive still holds. Absent a serious threat of war by India, Pakistan would be unlikely to jail the Kashmir jihadis.

As the next phase of the war on terrorism moves to Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries that have been the real sources of Muslim malcontent, pressure from countries affected by terrorism is going to be a key factor in maintaining the global coalition. Therefore, the U.S. and India might not agree on the exact timetable or the tools, but the U.S. and India share these goals. Thus far, both American and Indian interests have been met, and short of a real war they are likely to continue to be met.

That said, it is clear that President Musharraf will have to continue to produce results, including extraditing some of the suspected terrorists demanded by India. The Louis XV self-justification—aprés moi, le déluge,—has been used by every Pakistani leader, but it does not apply here. There have not been any serious protests against Pakistani support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan or even against the arrest of radical activists, including the leaders of terrorist organizations such as Jaish, Lashkar and the Sipah-e-Sahaba. For India, the one sure sign of President Musharraf’s break with terrorism would be the extradition of 20 suspected terrorists to India. Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian mafia don fingered as the mastermind of the 1993 serial bomb blasts in downtown Mumbai, is a deserving case for extradition.

Once it is clear that President Musharraf is no longer—tacitly or actively—supporting terrorism in Kashmir, the Bush administration should pressure India to undertake the real political reform in Kashmir that can be the only basis for a permanent solution to the conflict in the troubled state. Ultimately, Washington will have to climb down from the universalist perch and define terrorism in a more politically sensitive fashion that allows for some armed protest against governments. Incumbent governments that seek to destroy terrorism must distinguish terrorists from political dissidents with whom they can negotiate. The world should not be a place where all acts of political struggle automatically become terrorism.

Ultimately, a lasting peace requires public and unambiguous U.S. commitment to the region and to being a guarantor in a South Asian peace process—just as it has done in the Middle East for 25 years. There are a number of advantages to launching a public initiative. First, it will demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region itself. In the past, even during the present war on terror, U.S. interests in South Asia have been motivated by larger geopolitical concerns. Once South Asians see that the U.S. has recognized that it has interests specific to the region, they will be more likely to take the U.S. presence seriously and as a long-term variable in their relations with each other.

Yet it appears as if the Bush administration, at least for the time being, remains unwilling to take a lead role in brokering a Kashmiri peace-agreement, something New Delhi has historically opposed. Before arriving in Islamabad, Secretary Powell told reporters, “This problem of Kashmir is only going to be solved by direct dialogue between the two sides.” Perhaps his current trip will convince him that a more prominent U.S. role is needed.