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Terrorism: the South Asian dimension - I
By Syed Shahabuddin

South Asia – the only active theatre so far of the US-led global war against international terrorism – has during the last 4 weeks, experienced a psychological trauma, seen States with well-concealed motives wrangling largely for an upper hand, and the surfacing of sub-conscious fears and hopes, explosion of old enmities and equally ancient solidarities with inevitable accusation of betrayal and deception sometimes supplemented by cross-border vituperation.

South Asia has 40 percent of the world’s Muslim population. Afghanistan is 90 percent Muslim with old ties of kin-ship, commerce, religion, language and culture with the Central Asian republics to the North, with Iran on the West, with Pakistan (and India) to its South and China to its East. Little information is available about the reaction among the Muslims of what is Chinese Turkistan and what was once Russian Turkistan. China has given silent support to the US war in Afghanistan but kept on urging internationalization or UN action which will give China, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, a role in the Great Game. Russians are backing the ethnic minorities under the banner of the Northern Alliance which is recognized by all relevant member-States of the UN (except Pakistan) as the legitimate government of Afghanistan though it controls only 10 percent of its territory and has not recorded any advance since the bombing began. Being dependent on Central Asian and, therefore, Russian support it had the potential of marching to Kabul and breaking through the Taliban lines and demolishing the Taliban regime with Russian tanks and American bombers but the US, as a matter of policy, cannot possibly back the restoration of Russian influence in Afghanistan. After all it invested heavily in the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan, the destruction of pro-Russian governments and the decisive victory of the Taliban over its rivals in the civil war and the installation of its regime in Kabul. It is another matter that the USA failed to obtain the economic advantage it had hoped for – particularly the facilities and concessions for transporting the Central Asia gas to the Arabian Sea, through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Neither does Pakistan, which created and nurtured the Taliban forces, armed and trained them, wish to own them. In the name of having a national, multi-ethnic government with due representation of the Pushtuns, who comprise 40 percent of the Afghan people. Pakistan continues to look for ‘moderate Taliban’ and deny the Northern Alliance a monopoly of power. Ex-king Zahir Shah has been tried and found unwilling and inadequate. Pushtu rebellion against the Taliban has become an impossibility as they have always closed ranks when the country faces attack and even the Pushtuns of Pakistan have rolled out in their support, accusing Pakistan of deception and betrayal.

Immediately after 11 September, India was the first to express its solidarity with the USA. Prime Minister wrote to President Bush and offered all help and cooperation in destroying the menace of international terrorism. After all India had been at the receiving end of the terrorist stick for close to a decade and knew that apart from Pakistan, the Taliban regime had trained and armed the militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir. India hoped that USA would immediately appreciate the convergence of both their immediate and long-term interests, stop playing the parity game and recall the record of Pakistan in promoting and organizing across-border terrorism. What enthused India was the declared intention of President Bush to fight global terrorism to the last terrorist and to ends of the world. No doubt communal perceptions also played a role. The time had come to crush Pakistan, caught as it was in the trap of siding, with the USA or with the Taliban. The time had also come to expose the ‘pan-Islamic mindset’ of the Muslim Indians, not just their sympathy for Pakistan but their linkage with Islamic Terrorism, label them as terrorists en mass and punish them all!

The initial euphoria soon slumped. Tempers rose and carping and complaining became natural in a situation of unrequited passion, of unacknowledged love, after the USA made its deliberate choice. The simple fact is that for reasons of territorial contiguity, ethnicity, knowledge of the terrain and funds of military intelligence, India could not compete with Pakistan for USA’s favour. So India lost the race in the unseemly competition. With his diplomatic finesse, foreign minister, Jaswant Singh tried to cover the visible rupture. So did the USA. Neither denied the possibility of extending the theatre of anti-terrorist operation to Kashmir, but in the next phase. So a military dictator became a democratic hero – nothing unusual in the annals of US foreign relations: a state on the point of economic collapse was restored to reasonable health through scrapping of sanctions, generous loans and mobilization of World Bank and IMF credit, not to speak of liberal payments for logistic support to the US military action. Its political sensitivities were respected by limiting ground presence of the USA to two distant airbases, away from the public eye, by refusing air support to the Northern Alliance for capturing Kabul, by looking for the ‘moderate Taliban’ of Pakistan’s choice, thus virtually conceding to Pakistan decisive influence and say on the post-Taliban dispensation. Yes, under Indian pressure and overwhelming documentation of linkage with Al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad have been placed by the USA on its terrorist list but Hizbul Mujahideen, which though largely Kashmir-manned, draws its arms and money from Pakistan has not been. Pakistan has been permitted, unlike Saudi Arabia and UAE, to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban and its ambassador regularly uses the Pakistani facilities for broadcasting the views and reactions of his government. The armed forces have been purged out of suspected ‘fanatics’. Some nuclear scientists have been interrogated and then handed over to the USA for further questioning on the possibility of arms deal with Osama. The religious establishment has been kept under control after the initial outburst and, wisely, given the freedom to protest. No doubt the people of Pakistan are restive, having been brought upon a steady diet of pan-Islamic solidarity for a century, having swallowed Pakistan as the key to worldwide Islamic resurgence. But the elite are happy. Forget the section of the rabble-rousing religious establishment, they have generally supported Musharraf. No opinion-maker, no strategist, no analyst has found fault with his line of action. Musharraf is stronger today than he was on 11 September, 2001. Even Israeli foreign minister prays for his health and long life every night. Pakistan has been saved both from political anarchy and economic collapse, at least for the present. Musharraf has survived the shock; he has been lined up but rewarded. He may not be the popular hero that he was on return from Agra but he is likely to emerge stronger, if Afghanistan sees a short war with acceptable level of collateral casualties, as the Americans put it.

There are reports that the US managed to line up Pakistan through blunt talk and steel claws wrapped in velvet gloves. But did Pakistan have an option? Objectively, Musharraf had none. One must admit he has played his cards well. Apprehensive of facing India and the USA, of being locked in a strategic corner, he has killed the possibility of an anti-Pakistan alliance between the two. Pakistani analysts may carp that Musharraf sold his support for a song but he was operating in a buyer’s market. He could not have asked for more. 
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