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India must respond to Pakistan-backed terrorism

India must respond to Pakistan-backed terrorism

Author: Tunku Varadarajan
Publication: Wall Street Journal
Date: December 19, 2001

Consider dispassionately the following account of events in India last week, and ask yourself two questions. What should India do? And what, if anything, should the U.S. do for India?

Last Thursday, five Islamist terrorists--bent, to a man, on suicide-by-jihad--attacked the Parliament building of the world's largest democracy. They murdered eight policeman and one hapless gardener (shot up in a bed of chrysanthemums, a sickle clutched to his side), before being killed in the intense firefight. Their ghoulish aim had been to enter Parliament and slaughter legislators and members of cabinet. Not since the bombing by the Irish Republican Army of Margaret Thatcher's hotel in Brighton, England, has there been such a brazen attempt to wipe out the political leadership of a democracy.

Subsequent investigations have revealed that the attackers belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammed, or the "Army of Mohammed," an anti-India terrorist group that not only recruits and operates openly in Pakistan, but is funded, trained and incited by that country's Inter-Services Intelligence. This is the same terrorist group that car-bombed the state legislature in Srinagar, in Indian-administered Kashmir, on Oct. 1, killing 40 people.

Unsurprisingly--for he is a charlatan and a dissembler--Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the assault on India's Parliament within hours of its containment. But when faced with evidence of Jaish-e-Mohammed's authorship of the terrorist act, the Pakistani military dictator grew fractious and belligerent, warning India not to engage in retaliatory "misadventure."

For good measure, the general's spokesman called for a "joint investigation" into the events of Dec. 13--meaning, here, that Pakistani investigators, most likely from the Inter-Services Intelligence, would join Indian police in an inquiry into an act of terror in which the ISI had had a hand! Not content, however, with one risible suggestion, he uttered another: that it was India itself that had orchestrated the attack on its own Parliament, and killed its own policemen, in order to tarnish the image of Pakistan.

The tenor of this last assertion should not surprise us. It is, after all, of a piece with the many declarations across the Muslim world made in reaction to the recent Osama bin Laden videotape. Every shred of evidence that discredits an Islamic society--or those who would act in the name of Islam--is an American fakery, done to slander Muslims, or a Jewish counterfeit, or, as here, a monstrous Indian/Hindu trick. ("American kosher deli," incidentally, is the wry phrase employed by Western diplomats in the region to describe the popular Pakistani perception of a hostile, anti-Islamic triumvirate--to wit, the U.S., Israel and Delhi.)

What should India do? After the World Trade Center was attacked, the U.S. asked the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. So India must--and surely will--ask Pakistan to hand over the leaders of Jaish-e-Mohammed for trial. If Pakistan refuses, what is the difference between Gen. Musharraf's regime and that of the Taliban?

India has the right to retaliate in the manner and time of its choosing. While urging restraint, the U.S government has recognized that "India has a legitimate right to self-defense." Naturally, Delhi needs to consider the implications of its actions on the region--retaliatory strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan could ignite a wider, possibly nuclear, war--but that should not provide an alibi for doing nothing. Pakistan must not be allowed to practice nuclear blackmail on India, whereby it bleeds the latter with an undeclared terrorist war, while warning that any Indian riposte--any Indian assertion of self-defense--could lead to a nuclear escalation.

Maybe Delhi might consider taking a leaf from Israel's book and resort to targeted killings of known anti-Indian terrorists in Pakistan. It has undercover agents on the ground and should, by now, have acquired the ruthlessness to set them on its most visceral enemies. The breaking off of diplomatic ties with Pakistan should also be considered actively.

Doesn't the Pakistani regime have a responsibility to ponder the consequences of its actions before conniving in an attack on the heart of Indian democracy? Perhaps Gen. Musharraf has the same contempt for India's democracy as he has for Pakistan's. This is where the U.S. must take India's side. Instead of demanding restraint from India--which has shown that it possesses that quality in abundance--it must order Gen. Musharraf to restrain terrorist cadres that flourish in Pakistan. The matter needs urgent attention now, as hundreds of al Qaeda fighters, having crossed unmolested from Afghanistan into Pakistan, regroup there for a next bout of jihad--against India.

Ultimately, the real threat to India comes from the absence of democracy in Pakistan. Gen. Musharraf and his coterie are accountable to no one. He may be regarded as an ally in the war in Afghanistan, but that war is now near its end. The U.S. should read him the riot act, impressing on him the need to shut down all terrorist activity in his country. India asserts, and the U.S. knows, that the best way to prevent an escalation of conflict in the Indian subcontinent is not to lecture India on restraint, nor even to advise India to sacrifice its democracy on the altar of a prevailing expediency, but to compel Pakistan to mend its uncivilized ways.

Mr. Varadarajan is deputy editorial features editor of The Wall Street Journal. His column appears Tuesdays.

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