Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
Misreading Musharraf

Misreading Musharraf

Author: Jim Hoagland
Publication: Washington Post
Date: May 23, 2002

India and Pakistan are three to four weeks from a foreseeable war that the United States has done too little to prevent. By misreading Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Bush administration has contributed to a dangerous confrontation between South Asia's two nuclear-armed rivals.

Troops the two sides have deployed in and around the Kashmir theater total 1 million. They balance on a razor's edge. The winter snows that immobilized them for four months are gone. Extreme heat and then monsoon conditions will arrive in a month or so in the region, limiting India's logistical capabilities and campaign predictability. India's politically faltering government faces a choice of going to war before that moment -- or enduring the embarrassment of backing down from a costly and seemingly pointless   bilization.

India of course does not have to wait until the last moment and give up the element of surprise. Another incident in Kashmir like the May 14 guerrilla attack on defenseless Indian women and children in the city of Jammu could easily trigger immediate Indian retaliation.

"The country is ready for war," Indian officials say confidently to diplomats. Pakistan's tightly monitored press is featuring usually taboo reports of deployments of troops and weapons such as surface-to-surface Shaheen missiles.

Musharraf's aim presumably is not a full-scale war. He cannot conquer India. But the Pakistani military ruler has shown in the past two months that when it comes to the half-century conflict over Kashmir, he is an extraordinary risk-taker. He has dared India to fight. And he has just as boldly reneged on a promise to the Bush White House to shut down terror camps in Kashmir. The two steps are part and parcel of his brinksmanship.

After internal debate, the U.S. intelligence community now accepts that Musharraf allowed the 50 to 60 guerrilla camps in Kashmir that harbor some 3,000 fighters to come back to life in mid-March after two months of quiescence. Two other Musharraf promises -- to prevent cross-border terrorism from Pakistan or Pakistani-controlled territory, and to dismantle permanently Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalist organizations that preach violence -- have also withered as American attention has been focused on the Middle East.

"The debate about what is going on has been settled," says one U.S. official involved in the contentious discussions here about Musharraf's abandoned pledge to cut off help and training that this intelligence services and military give to terrorists in Kashmir and India. "The rate of infiltration into Indian-occupied Kashmir is above the rate of a year ago. What is still being debated is Musharraf's intention. Is he unable or unwilling to prevent what is happening? And what do we do about either case?"

The effect of Secretary of State Colin Powell's intense and successful diplomatic intervention last winter to ease tensions has been washed away by U.S. inattention and failure even to acknowledge Pakistan's subsequent backsliding. "America is either with us or with the terrorists," Omar Abdullah, a rising star in India's political system, said mockingly in Parliament last week as details of the grisly Jammu raid spread.

The attack on an Indian military family housing area by three guerrillas identified in the Indian media as Pakistani citizens could hardly have been more inflammatory. Wives and children of Indian soldiers were butchered. A 2-month-old baby was machine-gunned to death. By coincidence or design, the attackers went to the very limit of the Indian military's tolerance.

Musharraf's own assessment of the consequences of such acts remains murky. He may believe that India does not have the will to attack. Or he may believe that Washington needs him too much in the war on al Qaeda and the Taliban to let India come after him. U.S. officials have given him grounds for thinking that.

Or Musharraf may be quite willing to see limited clashes begin in hopes of provoking international intervention that will aid his position in Kashmir, much as Yasser Arafat seeks to draw outside powers into his conflict with Israel.

In 1971, Pakistan launched attacks along India's western frontier that had no chance of military success. Pakistan's military rulers, humiliated by India's easy conquest of their forces in the eastern territory that was to become Bangladesh, went to war in a desperate and forlorn bid for outside intervention to save them from defeat or at least from disgrace.

Managing Musharraf and Pakistan's role in Operation Enduring Freedom is a tricky task. But Powell and his chief aides have devoted too little time and energy to that demanding job since mid-February. They have let events drag them back in belatedly to separate two nuclear-armed antagonists.

Pakistan helped create and foster al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has long used terror as an instrument of state policy to try to break India's hold on two-thirds of Kashmir that New Delhi controls. Confronted with anything less than unrelenting pressure, Musharraf will keep on gambling, up to the brink and -- in a matter of days from now -- perhaps beyond.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements