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The Hawks Circle South Asia.


The Fifth Afghan War, now slowly coming to a close, has changed the rules of international engagements. The Bush doctrine against terrorism stated that the US or any aggrieved party would retaliate for acts of terror not only against those who perpetuate the violence, but also against those who harbor terrorists.

In other words, the US accepted the Israeli military technique that inflicts as much pain on the Palestinian leadership as it can, even as the Palestinian Authority denies its hand in the acts of terror conducted by other anti-Israeli forces (most of whom are indeed based in the PA).

But the Bush doctrine, we now find, is not for universal usage, but only to be adopted by the US at its discretion and by the Israelis (who crafted it in the first place).

When a group of terrorists drove up to the main gate of the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001 and attacked security personnel there just as the upper house (the Rajya Sabha) went into recess, the Hindu-Right led Indian government willed that it too wanted to go after not only the terrorists, but also the state that harbored them. The US said no.

Foiled by a miscalculation, the men could not enter the building nor could they create the mayhem that they had so astutely planned. Gunfire and grenades, as well as a suicide bomb blast, killed nine people and the five terrorists themselves.

Half an hour later, the Indian streets buzzed with this information and the media began the inevitable parallels with 9/11. We heard immediately that 13/12 was our 9/11 and that we must do something to respond. In truth, the streets remained open and most ordinary people went on their way as before. It takes a lot to shake a country this size.

When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated here in 1984 the first reaction was disbelief, until her Congress Party engineered the massacre of at least four thousand Sikhs. The mood on the streets did not reflect 1984, nor did the people feel a sense of dread that the pogroms may begin any minute.

In truth, the assault on Indian Muslims is ongoing: a massive campaign against the poor Muslim population of the city in 1993 has been repeated in small doses ever since. Even as it was possible that the terror gangs of the Hindu Right may take to the streets, it seemed unlikely. A cricket tour by England in India had the attention of many people, as others continued their pursuit of a struggled living.

But the chattering class went into action. The Hindu Right leadership took refuge in the Israeli-US logic enunciated clearly by the Bush doctrine. The Hindu Right spoke of an attack on Pakistan in retaliation for 13/12 as the investigation by the authorities began to show that the men might have come from groups headquartered in that state.

Jaish-e-Mohammad and Laskar-e-Toiba, two insurgent groups formed to create mayhem in Kashmir in the name of freedom, are certainly a grave threat to the mild stability that prevails in the subcontinent, even as the Indian and Pakistani armies exchange fire routinely across the Line of Control in Kashmir.

JeM and LeT are based in Pakistan, now banned by the US, and given the same kind of shelter by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that was given to the mujahidin of the anti-Soviet Afghan war and to the Taliban. The police arrested three men accused of being accomplices of the terrorists, just as the leadership of the JeM and LeT claimed that the Indian state had conducted this attack itself to manufacture a provocation against the Pakistan-based organizations.

The Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, offered his sorrow for the attack, but defended the Pakistan-based groups as freedom fighters.

Just as the Hindu Right followed the Bush playbook, Musharraf offered words that mimicked those of George Shultz before Congress in 1986 to defend the US support of the Nicaraguan Contras (“The Contras in Nicaragua do not blow up school buses or hold mass execution of civilians”; while this was not true of the Contras, it is also not true of the JeM and the LeT, both of whom are indiscriminate with violence against noncombatants – itself the weakest definition of terrorism).

Mimicry was the order of the day. Just as Bush spoke of Good and Evil, and claimed all Good for any action of the US, so too did the Indian Home Minister L. K. Advani tell Parliament that “the struggle is between the civilized society and barbarism. It is also the struggle between democracy and terrorism.”

India, he said, stands on the twin pillars of secularism and democracy, while Pakistan does not. This Advani is the man responsible for the assault on India’s secularism and he is the prime mover of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), a mimicked version of the USA Patriot Act and of the British Terrorism Act. His claim to secular democracy is as true as Bush’s to goodness.

The two sides moved troops to forward positions and the entire region smoldered in the tension of troop mobilizations. War seemed likely, except that the powers did not want the engagement to happen. And this had little to do with the fact that both these regional powers possess nuclear weapons.

The US did not want the war because it would mean that the Pakistani military would not do its border duty on the Afghan-Pakistan border and stop the flow of al-Qa’ida fighters out of the reach of US guns. Furthermore with US troops posted to Pakistan, an Indian attack would jeopardize American lives. All the blanket morality of Bush fell by the wayside when the Indian government attempted to use his logic against Pakistan.

Domestic compulsions pushed the brinkmanship. Musharraf feels the heat of an emboldened Islamic Right within, one whose manpower has been increased by the fleeing al-Qa’ida and other such fighters from Afghanistan.

Furthermore, the failure of Pakistan’s forward strategy into Afghanistan (viz. support for the Taliban) has forced its ISI to push harder for a forward strategy into Kashmir, even as this too would be fated to fail.

Meanwhile, the Hindu Right is eager to win a majority in the crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh, whose assembly elections will be in February. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh was one of the main hawks on behalf of the BJP, and Prime Minister Vajpayee reserved his strongest speeches for his visits to that state. Culturally cruel nationalism combined with a belligerent foreign policy may help the electorate forget the collapse of the economic destiny of the many as well as the corruption of the BJP in power.

The powers asked the two sides to negotiate, to dialogue – strange words after the muteness that preceded the Fifth Afghan War.

Musharraf banned the two terrorist organizations, arrested their leadership, and asked the ISI to close down its cell that foments terror in Kashmir. The latter was a startling admission, because Pakistan has until now denied its obvious presence in the Kashmir troubles.

When Musharraf went and forced a hand-shake with the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee at the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu, Nepal on January 5, 2002, the Indian PM replied that these gestures of friendship must be matched by actions.

When Vajpayee went to Lahore in 1999 for the “bus diplomacy,” he said at the opening day of the SAARC, he was “rewarded with aggression in Kargil and the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu.”

Musharraf did condemn terrorism, but then halted with a defense of the mehmen mujahidin in Kashmir: “it is equally important that a distinction be maintained between acts of legitimate resistance and freedom struggles, on the one hand, acts of terrorism, on the other.”

Kashmir is indeed the pawn at the center of this power struggle, but let us not also forget the irresponsible situation created by the adoption of the Israeli logic by the US government and generalized as a response to terrorism.

Cooler minds cannot sort out the Kashmir matter if we all act like the IDF. Tony Blair comes to India as Bush’s ambassador, a man who represents a country unable to deal with the troubles in Ireland, and yet able once again to lecture that darker peoples about their problems.

Both India and Pakistan are mature countries that need to provide a framework within which the border disputes and the Kashmir matter can be settled. The Bush doctrine and the Blair tourism is no solution, even as these acts by accident have helped stem what seemed to be an inevitable war.

Vijay Prashad has recently published “War Against the Planet: The Fifth Afghan War, US Imperialism and Other Assorted Fundamentalisms” (New Delhi: Leftword Books, 2002). To order a copy, contact LeftWord at [email protected]

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