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September 19, 2001
Amberish K Diwanji
India should stay away from the looming war
Twenty two years after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and focused the world's attention on that region, that country is once more at the centre of the world's attention. In 1980 the US only backed the Mujahideen against the Soviet forces; this time, the US is preparing to launch strikes against the Taleban, the rulers of most of Afghanistan.
India has declared it will support the US in its actions against the Taleban. It is important to note that India is against the Taleban, with its unacceptable interpretation of Islam and its support for terrorists across the world and especially in Kashmir, rather than Afghanistan itself or the Afghans themselves.
It is, of course, utterly tragic that some political parties should question the ruling National Democratic Alliance's decision. The Congress reminded the NDA that India is a non-aligned country. That is utter rot. India was non-aligned when the world was split between the capitalist and communist economies. How can India be non-aligned between terrorism and counter-terrorism when India itself is the victim of terrorism in Kashmir and across the country? And even if it is (and I hope I am wrong) a case of seeking Muslim votes, surely no one in India accepts the Taleban's version of Islam?
And if we don't back the US today to fight the terrorists, why on earth should they support us tomorrow when we fight terrorists in Kashmir. But this also raises a question: What are we going to get for aligning with the US-led coalition? The immediate apparent advantage is it is a war against terrorism, which will lead to a payoff in the context of Pakistan's support to terrorists operating in Kashmir. But, here we must be careful.
Strangely, both India and Pakistan support the US and thus find themselves on the same side of the trench. The last time this happened was in the 1962 Sino-Indian war, when the US backed India while Pakistan was part of a treaty arrangement with the US. Pakistan leader Ayub Khan would later regret that he did not take advantage of the Chinese attack to grab Kashmir.
If news reports are to be believed, Islamabad has demanded its pound of flesh in supporting the US against the Taleban, a move that could (and probably will) have massive repercussions in Pakistan. These demands include wiping out its international debt, and active US/UN intervention in the Kashmir dispute. Perhaps they may even have asked that the 'training camps' in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir be left untouched (after all, Islamabad has always claimed that militants are not mercenaries but disaffected locals who are rebelling against New Delhi, an argument that Washington may chose to accept in the present situation where it is solely focused on Osama bin Laden).
New Delhi has categorically denied these reports. Yet, it is inconceivable that Pakistan will accede to US demands without getting its price, and we all know that Pakistan really only lusts after Kashmir. Did General Musharraf buy off the jehadi forces by saying he was sacrificing the Taleban to get Kashmir? How will this affect the US stand on Kashmir? The people of India need to know what the payoff is.
And let us be clear, the despite all the US hype about a war against terrorism, Washington is primarily concerned with anti-US, anti-Israel, and anti-West terrorists. India as a priority is still low down despite the burgeoning India-US ties. No way will the US ever get involved in anti-terrorist activities if American lives are not involved. At most it will provide moral and logistic support.
Which means that when it comes to Kashmir, India is still on its own, though, hopefully, in a more conducive world environment. India can, and must, take advantage of the anti-terrorist fervour that has gripped the world and strike at the terrorists and at the roots of terrorism in Kashmir. It is our best chance after 1971. And if the US and Pakistan have struck a deal on Kashmir, perhaps our last chance.
New Delhi will have to be careful about its involvement in the looming war. The biggest question mark is how will the average Afghani react once the US starts bombing him? Much as the common Afghani probably hates the Taleban, war might just unite them all together. Afghan history is witness to the fact that every time foreign invaders entered, the various tribes got together and beat the hell out of them. Will they now unite to fight the US and perhaps Pakistan (incidentally, Punjab has been the traditional rival -- and hunting ground -- of the Afghans)? If India too supports the coalition, with logistics, it remains to be seen how that will impact upon us?
Despite these grim forebodings, there is a reason for a half smile. If at the end of the war, the Northern Alliance replaces the Taleban, then at least one can expect a friendly Afghan government, which in turn will preoccupy Pakistan and help India fight militants in Kashmir. And if the war ends with the Taleban (minus bin Laden) still in place, Kabul is unlikely to forgive given Islamabad's duplicity in a hurry. This in turn will force Pakistan to worry about Afghanistan and not just Kashmir. That too would suit India just fine.
Thus, despite apprehensions of a US-Pak deal, something to cheer about!
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