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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 11, February 28, 2009

US Options to Restore Security in South Asia after 26/11

Monday 2 March 2009, by Neha Kumar

It has been almost three months since the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai generated tension between two nuclear neighbourhoods in South Asia. Pakistan was reluctant to accept Kasab as a Pakistani national and take appropriate action to curb the terrorist organisations which are operating from its soil. A lot has happened during these months—from Pakistan’s mobilisation of troops and the Taliban declaring its support to Pakistan’s Army in case of any conflict with India. The question is: what is the US doing to prevent such a conflict in South Asia? The US played a positive role in preventing a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan during the Kargil war of 1999 and after the 2001 Parliament attack in New Delhi. However, the US is currently facing the dilemma of balancing between its strategic partner (India) and its close ally in the Afghan war (Pakistan).

The US, interests are indirectly involved in the Mumbai attack. As the tension between India and Pakistan rose and Pakistan began deployment of troops on its eastern border, it had to cut down on the number of troops deployed on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This adversely affected the US-led war against the Taliban in that region. In such a situation, the main aim of the US should be to prevent war and to press Pakistan for taking action against the terrorist organisations. Only arresting some people will not solve the matter. However, such kind of diplomatic pressure is not coming from the US. The US Secretary of State paid a visit to India and Pakistan after the Mumbai attack. She told India that there was “no doubt that the terrorist attack in Mumbai was perpetrated by individuals who came from Pakistan and whose controllers are in Pakistan”. Condoleezza Rice assured her interlocutors that the United States “stands in solidarity with the people of India”, and she pledged full cooperation in bringing the perpetrators to justice and ensuring that future attacks are prevented. However, in Pakistan she said the Pakistan Government was fully committed to fight terrorism and did not want itself to be associated with terrorist elements. The truth is different from what has been stated by Ms Rice. This shows that the US is trying to satisfy both the countries and is making statements accordingly. Such an attitude will not help to solve the problem between South Asia’s largest neighbours. Also, there has been no response from the side of the US when the Taliban declared its support for Pakistan’s Army in the fight against India. If the Pakistan Government does not want itself to be associated with terrorist organisations, then why is the Taliban supporting its Army? The two statements are indeed in contradiction with each other.

The US is left with four main options. First, do nothing and continue to have Pakistan’s support in the war on terror. Second, compel Pakistan’s civilian government to take some bold action against terrorist organisations operating in Pakistan’s territory. Third, declare Pakistan as a terrorist state under United States law and impose sanctions on Pakistan. Fourth, combine initiatives with India and other friendly countries and take military action against Pakistan. If the US pursues the first option it can never win the war against terror as these organisations will continue to wage terror not only in neighbouring South Asian countries but could also target the US or its allies in future. The US cannot apply the second option because the civilian government in Islamabad has little control over what is happening. The real lever of operation is still in the hands of the Army. This was clear when the Pakistan PM first agreed to send the ISI chief to India in the aftermath of the 26/11 and than declined to do so. Probably General Kayani was not in favour of sending him to India. This shows that actual power still rests with the Army. The third option can result in pressure on Pakistan’s government to a certain extent so that some action is taken against the terrorist organisations. If this option fails, then the US would have to take military action against Pakistan in its own national interest. This involves surgical operations against terrorist organisations operating in Pakistan’s territory. India is reluctant to take unilateral military action against Pakistan because of its inefficacy in carrying out successful surgical strikes. Another reason is that India is deterred by the nuclear weapons of Pakistan. Pakistan has the ‘first-use policy’ and could retaliate in case of any unilateral action by India. Also, China is supportive of Pakistan. India cannot handle both its neighbours if it decides to carry out unilateral strikes against Pakistan. Therefore, it needs the support of the US and the rest of the international community.

The central aspect of the US policy in South Asia is to prevent any interstate conflict that could destabilise the region and lead to a nuclear war. The US action should be in line with its above mentioned policy in South Asia. The US should stop giving any kind of support to and engage Pakistan in the war against terrorism until it shows a clear commitment to fight against terrorist organisations. The US should understand that it cannot get any help from Pakistan in its war on terror as the latter‘s government establishments are themselves involved with terrorist organisations. In 2008, the US also recognised the fact that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is the largest intelligence service in Pakistan, has links with terrorist activities. India has been saying this for the last two decades. The linkage between terrorist organisations and the government is ominous as Pakistan is a nuclear armed state.

Since the 9/11 terror strikes, the US is facing the dilemma of forging its the strategic partnership with India and winning Pakistan’s support in its war against terrorism. India has suffered a lot due to the terrorist activities of Pakistan but no strong action has been taken on the part of the US. This shows that either the US is not concerned about terrorist activities in India or is ready to forget every misdeed of Pakistan as it needs Islamabad in its war in Afghanistan. In both such cases, the US cannot fulfil its aim of turning India into its strategic partner.

The time has come when the US has to spell-out its priority in South Asia. Pakistan is a weak and failing state with nuclear weapons in its armoury. On the other hand, India is an emerging power which can not only help the US in the global meltdown but can also emerge as a close ally of the US in its war against terrorism. New Delhi has recently signed the biggest arms deal with Washington worth $ 2.1 billion for eight Boeing P-81 long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft for the Navy. India is also planning to sign a deal for 126 multi-role fighter aircraft which is estimated to be $ 10 billion. These show that India is turning out to be a huge market for the US and this will benefit both the countries. Additionally, India has a good record in non-proliferation activities and can help the Obama Administration to achieve its aim of ‘global zero’. The US should understand that any action taken against Pakistan will ultimately help in the war on terror and achieving security in the South Asian region. In the absence of any action, Pakistan will be reduced to a fundamentalist and terrorist state much to the dismay of its own citizens and this will have its global ramificatious.

The author is a Research Associate, Centre for Strategic Studies and Stimulation, United Services Institution of India, New Delhi.

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