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US looks other way on Pakistan

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

Pakistan and India are on the brink of war after Pakistan-based terrorists struck at the heart of Indian democracy and nationhood on Dec. 13 by trying to storm into the Indian Parliament. Fourteen people, including the five terrorists, died in that attack.

Since the start of the military buildup, US newspapers and television programs have been full of the diplomatic to and fro as well as accounts of war preparations in the region. Pakistan has been well represented on television shows. Many of its spokespersons, articulate and well-trained in media presentation, have defended the military dictatorship of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. They keep reminding Americans of the enormous and strategic help that Pakistan has provided the United States in its war against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network.

This week India launched a diplomatic offensive to back its charges against Pakistan with two top-level visits to Washington, DC Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani arrived in the United States on Tuesday at the invitation of Attorney General John Ashcroft and his visit will be followed soon by a visit from Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes. The visits come as Washington is considering appointing a special envoy to ease Indo-Pakistan tensions.

Americans tend to focus on one issue at a time and Washington is equally recognized as a one-issue city. While such concentrated focus is effective most of the time, it can also be dangerous.

In the case of Pakistan and its "help" to the United States, what one is not told clearly is that America has "bought" Pakistan’s help and support. US taxpayers have offered the Pakistanis about a billion dollars in the past three months without any stringent conditions on how the monies are going to be used. That such money and support in the past have gone into the pockets of the Pakistani elite - including its armed forces and the notorious Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence - seems to have been ignored by the Bush administration and lawmakers on the Hill. That the ISI had until recently funneled money and arms into fundamentalist Islamic groups waging jihad around the world should have made us pause, but we were so eager to begin bombing Osama bin Laden’s hideouts that we gave whatever Gen. Musharraf and his strategists demanded.

Pakistan has long escaped being labeled a "rogue state" because it has played its American card with care and cunning. The Pakistani army and the ISI have hunted with the hounds and run with the hare in matters regarding terrorism. A rogue state is one "that puts a high priority on subverting other states and sponsoring non-conventional types of violence against them. It does not react predictably to deterrence or other tools of diplomacy and state craft. In short, such a state requires special treatment and high levels of international pressure to prevent it from wrecking public order, setting off wars and subverting whole areas of the world."

We should note that "rogue states" are so labeled by the United States to help shape US foreign policy and military action against its enemies. At various times, the United States has labeled Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea as "rogue states."

By supporting the United States during the Cold War and by helping funnel US money and arms to the Afghan Mujahedeen who were fighting the Russians in the 1980s, Pakistan has escaped being tarred as a rogue state despite its support, encouragement and funding of terrorist groups and activities. That the Taliban was chiefly supported and funded by the Pakistanis has been under-reported in the American media.

Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism has been known all along and experts have acknowledged Pakistani government involvement in the planning and execution of terrorist actions, material support of terror groups, as well as in harboring terrorists and terrorist training camps within its territory. There is evidence that the weapons sold to the Pakistani military were used in a 1984 hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane.

More spectacularly, the attacks on Indian financial centers in Bombay in 1993 were similarly traced to the Pakistani military. Pakistan’s patronage and provision of safe harbor and training for Islamic militants are similarly well known. Pakistani-trained Islamic terrorists have conducted assassination attempts on the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak and Chechen fighters have admitted to being trained in Pakistan.

The Indian government has shouted hoarse about Pakistan-based terrorist organizations that hijacked an Indian Airlines Boeing 737 in December 1999 and that have waged low-intensity war for more than a decade in the Indian state of Jammu and in Kashmir. It is evident that the modus operandi of those hijackers was the same as the ones linked to the hijacking of the planes that hit the World Trade Center.

Islamic fundamentalist organizations that advocate terror have been linked to the ISI and these include organizations such as the Harkat-ul-Ansar, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Al Badr and bin Laden’s al-Qaida. All these organizations are designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the United States for documented acts of terror. Groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, whose membership and leadership includes retired members of the Pakistani military and ISI, have been documented as receiving overt material support from Gen. Musharraf’s government. The United States - in the Nov. 2, 1999, Senate testimony of Michael Sheehan of the Department of State - has also admitted there is a discernable shift in the sponsorship of terror from Libya and Syria to Pakistan.

Pakistani military personnel, including middle- and high-ranking officers, were directly involved in the fighting in Afghanistan and were airlifted out of Kunduz as that city fell in November. Most of the "foreign fighters" that constituted the Taliban are Pakistani, including the majority of those who were responsible for the prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif that led to the killing of CIA officer Johnny Spann.

Experts believe that after the fall of the Taliban and to forestall the capture of bin Laden and the upper echelon of the Taliban and al-Qaida, Pakistan ordered the attack on India’s Parliament to divert US and world attention from the terrorists to the threat of nuclear war on the subcontinent. Pakistan knows it can force the United States to put pressure on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India by simply arguing that the Indian troop buildup on the India-Pakistan border would force Pakistan to move its troops from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and from the search for bin Laden and his missing "tribesmen."

Despite all this evidence, why is the Bush administration bending over backward to give a clean chit to Gen. Musharraf and asking the Indian government to exercise more patience when India has been at the receiving end of the terrorists for more than a decade?

As Ken Adelman, the former arms negotiator, recently revealed in an interview, Pakistani support of the United States during the Cold War and Indian administrations’ stubbornness and moral grandstanding during the same period - epitomized by India’s first Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru’s snobbishness and his Defense Minister Krishna Menon’s cantankerousness - have skewed US policy in the South Asian region.

Thus, the United States and India, the world’s most powerful and the world’s largest democracies, have been on the opposite sides of a variety of diplomatic battles. It is ironic that the United States continues to harbor suspicions of India when it has embraced its Cold War rival Russia.

But more worrisome than the Bush administration’s and the American media’s playing down of India’s concerns is the US embrace of Pakistan, whose leaders, including its latest military dictator, know well how to flatter Americans.

It is in this context that the Indian leaders’ visits to Washington, DC, assume significance.

Originally published on Sunday, January 13, 2002.

 
     
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