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India's turn to ask U.S.: Are you with us or .?

India's turn to ask U.S.: Are you with us or .?

Author: Gitesh Desai
Publication: Houston Chronicle
Date: May 21, 2002

After Sept. 11, India was among the first countries in the world to offer its unconditional support to the United States in the fight against terrorism declared by President Bush. Being a victim of terrorism itself, India knows very well what kind of pain and suffering, death and destruction the scourge of terrorism can bring. India has been bleeding from the perpetual specter of terrorism by Pakistan-based and -supported terrorist groups for several years.

In the last decade, jihadi forces have killed thousands of innocent people in India. The terrorist attack of Oct. 1 on the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly and the Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament last year could have wiped out the entire Indian political leadership.

Although one-half million Indian troops have been deployed at its border with Pakistan for the last few months after the Parliament building attack, India has shown remarkable restraint despite repeated provocations. India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has undertaken many diplomatic efforts to defuse the tense situation.

India has been saying for the last few months that it is running out of patience. Last week's devastating terrorist attack on an Indian army camp in the state of Jammu and Kashmir that killed 34 civilians -- including more than 20 women and children -- crossed the threshold. It appears that India is preparing to bring its war on terrorism to its "logical conclusion."

At the request of the Bush administration, India has waited long enough not to strike any terrorist targets based in Pakistan and, as a result of that, has continued to suffer a heavy death toll. India refuses to wait any longer. India expelled Pakistan's ambassador from New Delhi on Saturday. It appears that both countries are heading for a war as most of the channels of communication between the two neighbors have broken.

U.S. assurances given to India have changed nothing in curbing infiltration across the border from Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan promised to take action against Islamic militants in his famous Jan. 12 speech. He arrested nearly 2,000 men linked to terrorists under international pressure. This crackdown on militants was a sham. Most of the militants that were arrested are now free. After Musharraf made a U-turn and claimed to stamp out all forms of terror originating from his country, violence and terror from Pakistan have continued against Indians in Jammu and Kashmir.

India's ruling coalition and opposition leaders both expressed deep anguish in a Parliament debate on Saturday and urged Vajpayee not to wait for Washington's permission to take action. India's Home Minister L.K. Advani, who is considered the power behind the throne, said he is angry with Pakistan but disappointed with the United States. India's deputy foreign minister was not as polite. He thundered, "It is time to tell them the same thing that President Bush said: `If you are not with us, you are with the terrorists.' If this is the support we are going to get from the international community, then please take your support back -- we don't want it."

India has rightly criticized the U.S. stance over terrorism because so far the Bush administration has only offered lip service and has not pressured Pakistan enough to clamped down on militants. India perceives the United States as having double standards and doubts Washington's intentions in supporting the global war against terrorism. India does not need assurances; it should be given the United States' open support in taking tough, punitive action against terrorists in Pakistan.

India's military generals have briefed the Indian government and as a result, Vajpayee has canceled his vacation to weigh his options. This is a signal to both Pakistan and the West that India is serious about doing whatever it takes to bring terrorism to an end and will not submit itself to Pakistan's nuclear blackmail. In such an eventuality, the United States must side with democratic India and not dictatorial Pakistan to crush acts of terror.

Bush and Vajpayee established last November a significantly new bilateral relationship between India. They agreed to fight terrorism and its sponsors everywhere in the world. They emphasized that there is only one choice and only one outcome: Terrorism must be fought and it shall be defeated.

(Desai is a Houston-based free-lance writer and an activist in the Indian-American community here.)

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