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October 24, 2001

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G Parthasarathy

Emerging trends in the American war

On September 28, 2001, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1373. The resolution requires all member states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist organisations, deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts, and freeze their funds without delay. Member states are also required to suppress the recruitment of terrorist organisations and eliminate their weapon supplies.

All UN members are required to prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls and co-operate in criminal investigations involving terrorism. And they are required to report compliance with the provisions of this resolution within 90 days.

Most importantly, the provisions of the resolution are mandatory under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Those who do not fulfil its provisions or violate them can face international sanctions. General Pervez Musharraf can no longer claim that armed groups operating from Pakistan and crossing the Line of Control or the international border for terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere in India are "freedom fighters" involved in a jihad.

Shortly after the resolution was adopted, members of a group linked to the Mumbai underworld figure Chhota Shakeel were arrested. It was found that they were planning to assassinate Home Minister L K Advani. This should have come as no surprise, given the strong stand Advani had taken when he told General Musharraf recently that India expected Pakistan to extradite all those involved in the Mumbai bomb blasts, including their leaders like Dawood Ibrahim and Shakeel, to India. These persons now live in luxurious splendour, barely a few blocks away from General Musharraf's own house in the Defence Housing Society in Karachi.

This is not all. Terrorists from Punjab belonging to groups like the Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation live in plush localities in Lahore. They have indulged in activities like the assassination of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh. Activists of Northeastern terrorist outfits like the ULFA and the NSCN regularly visit Pakistan and receive arms, funds and training from the government. The hijackers of IC-814 and those released by us in the wake of the hijacking in Kandahar thrive in Pakistan under the benign eye of the ISI.

It has been established that Syed Omar Sheikh released by us at Kandahar actually remitted $100,000 to Mohammad Ata, leader of the hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Centre. Finally, all the terrorist groups operating in J&K made up primarily of Pakistani nationals from its Punjab province collect funds and are armed and trained in Pakistan. Their infiltration across the LoC and the international border is facilitated by the ISI.

One would have normally expected New Delhi to prepare a comprehensive compendium of all Pakistani activities that violate the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1373 and present it not only to the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi, but also to all those involved in the implementation of the resolution.

We have a right to demand that Pakistan stops violating the provisions of this resolution. We should have made it clear that if Pakistan persists in proceeding on its present course, we reserve the right to act against those who perpetrate terrorism, just as the Bush Administration is proceeding with its 'crusade' against Al Qaeda and the Taleban. We should then have told Colin Powell and Tony Blair that the underlying cause of terrorism, whether in J&K, Central Asia or Chechnya, is not "rivalry" between India and Pakistan or the Kashmir issue, but a struggle between those who believe in democratic pluralism and those who seek to promote mediŠval religious extremism through resort to violence.

The United States is today so engrossed in its own concerns that it is not in a mood to even accommodate the views of a close ally like Israel. It should have been obvious that Powell or Blair would not be receptive to our concerns on cross-border terrorism or say anything that could embarrass their newly found beacon of democratic freedoms, General Pervez Musharraf. Expecting them to respond to our concerns at the present moment was about as realistic as expecting the pope to embrace Islam. But what any self-respecting Indian finds demeaning is the manner in which we repeatedly ask the Americans to fight our battles for us and get rebuffed.

We have to realise that in pursuing its campaign in Afghanistan, the United States has not given up its larger strategic objectives of containing Russian influence and marginalising the role of Iran in oil- and gas-rich Central Asia. Thus, while we should cooperate with the United States as it seeks to destroy Al Qaeda and the Taleban, we should have no doubt that in this effort our natural allies are the Northern Alliance, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the countries of Central Asia. It is ludicrous to refer to the United States as a 'natural ally' in the present situation.

It is now obvious that the United States is finding it very difficult to reconcile its military compulsions with its political and diplomatic imperatives. The US wants to accommodate some "moderate Taleban" elements in any future setup in Afghanistan to please General Musharraf. The Taleban commander, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has maintained longstanding links with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is said to be one such "moderate Taleban".

Yet, even as he was speaking to his Pashtun brethren in the NWFP in the midst of the US air strikes, Haqqani pledged his allegiance to Mullah Omar. He said Mullah Omar would not step down merely because George Bush wanted it. "We don't like George Bush. Why doesn't he step down?" the learned "moderate Taleban" asked.

Describing the Soviets as a "brave enemy" and as being tougher than the Americans, Haqqani labelled the Americans "creatures of comfort". He added: "They will not be able to survive the harsh conditions that await them. We are eagerly awaiting the American troops to land on our soil, where we will deal with them in our own way." The Taleban expects that just as no sophisticated gadgetry could counter the bombings of September 11, the winter weather and terrain in Afghanistan will enable them to hold out against American firepower and technology.

It is clear that the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA are currently pulling in different directions in the US campaign in Afghanistan. The Pentagon would have no qualms arming the Northern Alliance and providing them extensive close air support. This would, however, upset Powell's bosom buddy, General Musharraf.

Because of their close relations with Uzbekistan, the Americans seem to be far more receptive to collaboration with Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum than with the Russian-inclined Tajik leader General Fahim. Dostum has a track record of changing sides and being at loggerheads with the Iran-backed Shia Hazaras and even his own fellow Uzbek generals.

It is no surprise that the offensive to capture Mazar-e-Sharif has stalled. It is imperative for us to liaise with Iran and Russia to see that such factors do not affect the battle against Taleban-ISI-sponsored terrorism. It is also important for us to see that the Pashtun leaders that former King Zahir Shah co-opts in his proposed Supreme Council do not include those who have served as Pakistani surrogates.

But to achieve all this we should not be perceived as supplicants of the United States. India and the United States can and should be natural strategic partners. But this need not be at the cost of our self-esteem or our own strategic autonomy.

G Parthasarathy

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