International Security, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Winter 2001/02), pages 94-116
Fighting terrorism in Southern Asia: The Lessons of History
The upsurge of international terrorism in an age of globalization and information revolution is a reminder of the integrating and dividing force of the present trends. At a time of greater international fluidity and uncertainty, the coexistence of religious orthodoxy, ethnic or local affiliation, jingoism, and even xenophobia in some societies with supposed internationalism and a single "global village" raises troubling questions about international peace and stability. So does the location of four-fifths of the world’s oil resources in politically troubled areas when international competition for oil and other natural resources is sharpening.
Terrorism could become even a bigger scourge in the coming years without greater international cooperation and sustained antiterror operations. First, the diffusion of advanced technology is facilitating acts of terror and rearing new forms of terrorism. Second, regimes that murder, maim, and menace the innocent are employing export of terrorism – like classical national power projection – as an indispensable component of state power. Third, sub-state actors, some promoted by regimes and some operating with the connivance of elements within the national military, intelligence, or government, will continue to employ religion or ethnic or sectarian aspirations to justify their acts of terror. Fourth, terrorists and their backers will always seek to rationalize their actions as a response to an asymmetrical situation so inoperably weighted against them as to preclude conventional methods. Fifth, the growth of extremism in authoritarian Muslim states is linked both to the lack of avenues for expression and debate and to the sense of disillusionment over the widening technology and knowledge gap between the Islamic world and the West. Earlier, the oil boom of the 1970s created an "illusion that power had come to the Islamic world."
Before terrorists struck with a vengeance against the United States in September 2001, terrorism had not received serious international attention, with some analysts even claiming that its threat was being exaggerated. A global antiterror campaign was long overdue, but just as a strong police and a strong military do not stop crime and aggression, this offensive does not mean that terrorism will cease to be a cost-effective political tool for those unable to deal directly with their perceived adversaries. The antiterror campaign, by the manner it defines, serves, and sustains its larger goals, can institute new organizing principles and priorities for international relations and, in the process, help delineate a new world order. State sponsorship of or collusion with terrorism, and the rise of intrastate war, are already challenging the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of another nation.
This article analyzes the likely trends in southern Asia, the center of transnational terrorism. It first examines the terrorism challenges there and then, in separate sections, evaluates the impact of the antiterror campaign on India’s and Pakistan’s security. In the final section, the article deals with the longer-term implications of the war on terrorism and what it will take to accomplish major objectives in that campaign. The article argues that the fight against terrorism in southern Asia will prove to be a long and difficult one, spurring further instability and violence, before a sustained campaign can bring a satisfactory degree of order. It also contends that it will be difficult not only to reunite the ethnically fragmented Afghanistan but also to establish a stable, broad-based, multiethnic government in Kabul that can exercise authority over the entire landlocked nation. Afghanistan’s ethnic separatism and violence could damage the unity of Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
Terrorism in southern Asia
Facing mounting terrorist violence, Asia already accounts for 75 percent of all terrorism casualties worldwide. With the world’s fastest-growing markets, fastest-rising military expenditures, and most serious hot spots (including the epicenter of international terrorism), Asia holds the key to the future global order. Much of Asia’s terrorist violence is concentrated in its southern belt, which in the past decade emerged as the international hub of terrorism. This southern part of Asia, encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Chinese-ruled Xinjiang and Tibet, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Burma, is wracked by terrorist, insurgent and separatist violence in a manner unmatched elsewhere in the world. The number of annual fatalities in terrorist-related violence in southern Asia far exceeds the death toll in the Middle East, the traditional cradle of terrorism. To be sure, the entire expanse from the Middle East to Southeast Asia is home to militant groups and troubled by terrorist violence, posing a serious challenge to international and regional security. The radicalization of Muslims in Southeast Asia, where Islamist groups are becoming increasingly entrenched, is, however, a more recent phenomenon.
The spread of militancy and terrorism in southern Asia is linked to the Afghan war of the 1980s and the U.S. and Saudi funneling of arms to the anti-Soviet guerrillas through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. The Afghan war veterans have come to haunt the security of India, the United States, and several Muslim states. Many returned to their homelands to wage terror campaigns against governments they viewed as tainted by Western influence. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination, for example, was linked to such terror. Large portions of the multibillion-dollar military aid given to the anti-Soviet Afghan rebels by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was siphoned off by the conduit – the ISI – to ignite a bloody insurgency in Indian Kashmir after the ISI failed to trigger an uprising in India’s Punjab state despite arming Sikh dissidents beginning in the early 1980s.
Substantial quantities of U.S.-supplied weapons, in what was the largest covert operation in the CIA’s history, also found their way into the Pakistani black market, promoting a jihad culture within Pakistan and spreading illicit arms and militancy from Egypt to the Philippines. Afghan war veterans, or elements associated with them, were held responsible for terrorist attacks on several U.S. targets in the 1990s, including the 1998 bombings outside the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar al-Salam; the 1996 truck bombing of the Khobar Towers, a high-rise compound that housed the 2,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to the King Abdul Aziz Air Base in Saudi Arabia; the 1995 bombing of a U.S.-run military compound in Riyadh; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; and the ambush killing of two CIA officials outside the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, also in 1993.
But the greatest impact of the cross-border movement of Afghan war veterans and illegal arms was felt in southern Asia, with India bearing the brunt of the unintended consequences of the foreign interventions in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Terrorism has become a way of life in some areas of southern Asia. The only thriving democracy in this vast region is India, wedged in an arc of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes engaged in covert actions in breach of international law. These regimes either export narcotics and terrorism (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Burma) or make illicit transfers of nuclear and missile technologies (China). Pakistan indeed has been "waging a war by proxy in Indian-held Kashmir through Islamic militants." The future of the international campaign against terrorism hinges on success in this region to root out terrorist networks and deter regimes from encouraging or harboring armed extremists.
India, in fact, is a sort of laboratory where major acts of terror are first tried out before being replicated in democracies in the West. The logic is that if India, the world’s largest democracy, can be shaken, so can other democracies. For example, the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, replicated the midair bombing over the Atlantic of an Air-India commercial flight from Canada in 1985. Similarly, the 1993 World Trade Center attack was modeled on the bombings weeks earlier that killed hundreds of people inside high-rise buildings in Bombay in a terror campaign designed to disrupt India’s financial market. Parallels also have emerged between the 1999 hijacking to Kandahar of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 and the September 11, 2001, suicide hijackings, including the similar use of box-cutters and the terrorists’ knowledge of cockpit systems.
India’s own soft response to terrorism has emboldened international terrorists and their sponsors over the years. Pakistan has employed Afghan war veterans and its homegrown terrorists to bleed India as part of what it calls a war of "a thousand cuts." U.S. officials now acknowledge that Pakistan’s "intelligence service even used al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan to train covert operatives for use in a war of terror against India." As one observer put it, "One of this region's many open secrets is that the Pakistani government itself has armed Islamic militants, sending them off to fight the Indian authorities in Kashmir in an attempt to wrest the contested Himalayan territory." Some jihadis trained by Pakistan for export to India have also turned to jihad against the United States. Links have emerged between the ISI and al-Qaeda terrorist network, and between Pakistani extremists and those involved in the suicide hijackings in the United States. Pakistan is home to several groups labeled "terrorist" by the U.S. government, including the Islami Inqilabi Mahaz that killed four American businessmen in Karachi in 1998.
If any state strikes deals with the forces of terrorism, it not only encourages stepped-up terrorism against its own interests but also creates problems for other nations. A classic case is India's ignominious caving in on December 31, 1999, to the demands of hijackers holding passengers aboard an Indian commercial jetliner at the terrorists’ lair, Kandahar. It was a surrender unparalleled in modern world history: The Indian foreign minister personally chaperoned three jailed terrorists to freedom in a special aircraft, delivering them to their waiting comrades at Kandahar airport. This act on the eve of the new millennium capped a series of Indian mistakes in that hijacking that have exacted heavy costs. One freed terrorist hand-delivered by the Indian foreign minister is the suspected financier of Mohammed Atta, the alleged ringleader in the September 11 terrorist strikes. Another released man formed a Pakistan-based terrorist group, Jaish-e-Muhammed (Army of the Prophet), that has claimed responsibility for major strikes in Kashmir.
Exactly a decade before this surrender, India spurred the rise of bloody terrorist violence in Kashmir by capitulating to the demands of abductors of the Indian interior minister’s daughter. In recent years, the Indian government has also held secret negotiations with terrorist groups operating in Kashmir. Terrorists see India as a soft target because it imposes no costs on them and their sponsors. Although the problem of terrorism in India has worsened since the 1980s, successive Indian governments have done little to combat it through a prudent strategy backed by firm resolve. Terrorism has been treated largely as a law-and-order issue. Each time there is a major terrorist attack in any area, New Delhi promises to send more security forces there. To treat terrorism essentially as a law-and-order problem is to do what the terrorists want – sap your strength. No amount of security can stop terrorism if the nation is reluctant to go after terrorist cells and networks and those that harbor terrorists.
Terrorist forces grievously miscalculated that if India can bow, they could also tame the United States, the world’s most powerful democracy. America responded to the suicide hijackings by declaring its own jihad on the jihadis. India, in contrast, stands out for its reluctance to fight its own war against terrorism and for having invited expanded terrorism through its past compromises with terrorists.
India’s strategic shift
No sooner had the United States announced a war on terrorism than India offered to open its military bases, airfields, and intelligence to American forces in that campaign. Having denied Soviet forces access to Indian military bases during the Cold War years, despite a close friendship with Moscow, the offer marked a seismic shift in New Delhi’s strategic posture, with far-reaching implications for its foreign and defense policies and for the future of its relationship with Washington. As one of the world’s major victims of terrorism, India clearly desires to be in the mainstream, and not the margins, of the international coalition against terrorism, and it wants to make sure that its security concerns and interests are taken into account. Only by playing a proactive international role can India ensure that the U.S.-led offensive turns the heat up on Pakistan’s state-run terrorist complex. India’s strategic shift came before the United States crowned Pakistan a key player in its counterterrorist coalition, spurring Indian concerns over a revival of old U.S.-Pakistan defense and intelligence ties. Despite those concerns, India shares common interests with the West in the counterterror campaign.
After missile defense, counterterrorism has emerged as an important platform for strategic cooperation between New Delhi and Washington. Just as India promptly supported President George W. Bush’s plans for recasting the framework of nuclear deterrence by building missile defenses, so did it quickly back his call for a war on terrorism and offered concrete military support. Both actions, of course, were driven by India’s perceived interests. In the face of China’s nuclear and missile buildup, and its continuing covert missile aid to Pakistan, missile defense makes strategic sense for India. And as the leading victim of terrorism emanating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, India had no hesitation in joining forces with the United States in the war on transnational terrorists. However, given India’s usually slow, cautious decisionmaking process, the swiftness, quality, and extent of the offer of Indian military help came as a big surprise.
The contrast between what prompted rivals Pakistan and India to join the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism could not be more stark. Pakistan, as its military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf publicly admitted, fell in line behind Washington on the threat of pain of punishment. New Delhi’s action to extend full military support came voluntarily and enthusiastically, without the mercenary demands made by Pakistan for aiding the crackdown on the Taliban. India belongs to that class of antiterror allies whose cooperation is driven by dire need, for Islamic terrorism threatens to tear apart its pluralistic fabric. India’s survival hinges on the containment of such terror.
Ever since it came to office in March 1998, the Indian government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has pursued a U.S.-friendly foreign policy. In fact, its main foreign policy accomplishment was the new direction and closeness in U.S.-Indian relations. But that accomplishment suddenly looked faded amid concerns in New Delhi over the use of a frontline sponsor of terrorism, Pakistan, as a frontline ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Given Pakistan’s geographic location, Washington cultivated Pakistan as a linchpin in its anti-Taliban offensive by coming to the aid of the struggling Pakistani economy through lavish concessions, including sanctions waivers, debt rescheduling, credit, and grants.
India’s main concern is that it may have to bear the brunt of the unintended consequences of the new U.S.-Pakistan partnership, as it did earlier when some of the covert U.S. military aid to the anti-Soviet Afghan rebels in the 1980s was siphoned off by Pakistani intelligence to stir up a bloody insurgency in Kashmir beginning in 1989. India was disappointed that the U.S. antiterror campaign targeted the child fathered by Pakistan, the Taliban, but not the procreator. The terrorists in Afghanistan have only one escape route from their mountain hideouts – eastward into Pakistan where they can easily blend with fellow Pashtuns. Some of these terrorists could then move to Kashmir with Pakistan’s encouragement or connivance. If that happened, India will face greater terror attacks, including in major cities.
Washington’s rediscovery of Pakistan as a strategic ally – with Islamabad forced back into friendship to fight terrorism – did not, however, stall the emerging U.S.-India strategic partnership. In contrast to the unstable, violence-torn character of Pakistan that spurs serious concerns in Washington, U.S. policymakers could hardly overlook India’s long-term strategic and economic value. The United States and India have to take a broader and longer-term view of the unfolding events. There could not have been a better way to crush the Taliban than to press their creator, Pakistan, in this task as part of the dictum, "Set thieves to catch other thieves." The war on the Taliban considerably weakened Pakistan’s own terrorism-export machine against India. It also helped demolish the Afghanistan-centered strategic depth against India that Pakistan built by placing a surrogate regime in Kabul. The logic of what General Musharraf was compelled to do against terrorism in Afghanistan has to eventually catch up with Pakistan’s own export of terror.
The U.S. declaration of war on the Taliban in October 2001 essentially sought to complete the last unfinished Afghan war. No sooner had Soviet tanks started rolling out of Afghanistan in 1989 than the Americans too pulled out without installing their chosen leader in Kabul. The chaos and bloodshed that followed helped Pakistan turn Afghanistan into its colony. The United States was compelled to return to the region to contain the unintended consequences of its involvement in that Afghan war. But this time the United States needs to stay strategically engaged in Afghanistan and Pakistan to cleanse these nations of their terrorist cells and networks.
Such U.S. engagement is also necessary to rebuild and remold societies battered by internecine ethnic and sectarian conflicts, fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, and gun and drug trafficking. U.S. strategic involvement would suit India’s interests if it helped moderate the state behavior of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Given that the counterterrorist campaign is likely to go on for years, India can offer to U.S. forces what Pakistan cannot: a safe, secure base for military operations in a wide region stretching from the Persian Gulf to Southeast Asia. In contrast, U.S. troops would have to watch their backs if stationed in Pakistan, a nation teeming with renegade elements within and outside its military. In the period ahead, Indian forces could play a significant role in international antiterror operations if they are extended elsewhere, given India’s good relations with Arab and other Muslim states of Central and Southeast Asia.
The United States’ protracted war on terrorism is likely to trigger profound changes in the regional strategic landscape, including some instability as the terrorism-breeding swamps are sought out and drained. The war will accelerate the process of building a U.S.-Indian strategic partnership, resulting in what is likely to be a long-term, mutually beneficial military relationship. The campaign will also accelerate counterterror cooperation and coordination between the United States, India, Israel, Russia, Turkey, and some other terrorism-hit democracies. India – home to one-sixth of the human race – demonstrates remarkable success in holding varied cultures, ethnic groups, and nationalities together under a democratic framework. But unless Islamic terror is contained, this largest democratic experiment could be doomed.
Pakistan’s uncertain future
Long before the U.S. declaration of war on terrorism forced Islamabad to turn against the Taliban, Pakistan faced an uncertain future. President Bill Clinton, during a four-hour stop in Islamabad in March 2000, warned Pakistanis in a televised address about the "obstacles to your progress, including violence and extremism," saying "there is a danger that Pakistan may grow even more isolated, draining even more resources away from the needs of the people, moving even closer to a conflict no one can win." The events since September 2001 have cast further doubt on Pakistan’s political stability and internal cohesion. Almost fifty-five years after its creation, Pakistan remains a state of five tribes in search of a national identity. A distinguishing characteristic of the Pakistani state is its obsession with the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir – an issue that not only helps define Pakistan’s identity but also serves as the glue holding its fractious society together.
The U.S. use of the Pakistani military regime against the Taliban was the most bitter pill Pakistan has had to swallow in its history, spurring renewed social ferment and raising the specter of civil and military disturbances striking at the nation’s very foundations. The radicalization of Pakistani society, and the ensuing spread of the jihad culture since the 1980s, pose serious regional and international challenges, as Pakistan has both terrorists and nuclear weapons on its territory. Military rule has served as one more negative label conjuring up images of fanaticism, terrorism, and gun-toting mullahs about the world’s seventh most populous nation. According to one Pakistan-born analyst, "Pakistan is on the way to becoming the world's first failed nuclear state," while an American analyst has described Pakistan as a "Colombia with nukes and Islamic fundamentalism." It thus seems odd that this country should become a critical ally of the United States in the war on terrorism. After all, "Islamic guerrillas – many would call them terrorists – openly operate inside Pakistan's borders, with government support."
Pakistan’s jihad culture has created a plethora of radical Islamic groups, many of them involved in the export of narcotics and terrorism. Thriving on Afghanistan’s opium production, Pakistan's drug czars boast of their links with Islamic extremists and cater to the needs of heroin addicts in the West and their country, home to the largest presumed population of heroin addicts in the world. The Pakistan military and the ISI, closely tied to such narco-terrorist forces, have been loath to rein in the jihad culture because they want to "pay India back" for the 1971 Indian-assisted secession of East Pakistan, and jihad is "a relatively cheap way to keep Indian forces tied down" in Kashmir. In the process, Pakistan has created a monster that is eating more into its vitals than into India’s.
What has made this radicalization so difficult to reverse is that it has the imprimatur of religion, the most potent human force on Earth. The concept of jihad has no provision for a pause or cessation or retraction. Jihad is supposed to be a fight to the finish. Once you declare jihad, you are part of it until victory is yours or martyrdom takes you to paradise. The danger, therefore, is that even without the Taliban in Afghanistan, the "Talibanization" of Pakistan may continue unless the government there begins systematically tearing down the Islamist and terrorist complexes and gradually roots out extremists from the military, intelligence, and bureaucracy. Entire echelons of the army and ISI officer corps have developed a Taliban-like mind-set.
Since the 1980s the export of jihad has been an indispensable component of Pakistan’s state power, because it is a cheap way to bleed India continually. The Pakistani-assisted U.S. success in bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan emboldened Islamabad to try to replicate the experiment in Kashmir. When the insurgency in Kashmir began to wane after a decade of Pakistani sponsorship, Pakistan changed tactics in 1999 and began sending in Pakistani and Afghan commandos to carry out suicide attacks on Indian government and military targets. In modern history, no state has pursued a sustained indirect war of the scope and extent waged by Pakistan against India. Nor has any state tolerated a situation for so long as India where its security has been progressively impaired through externally sponsored subversion and clandestine war. The cumulative costs of such indirect war for India have been far greater than all the direct wars it has fought since its independence.
However, now that it is a member of the international antiterror coalition, the Pakistani government will find it increasingly difficult to continue to employ export of terror as an instrument of state policy. The logic of what Pakistan has been forced to do against the Taliban will in due course catch up with Islamabad’s own policies. But even then, matching logic with action could prove problematic. It will be tough for the government to crack down on militant and terrorist groups, as recalcitrant elements in the Pakistani establishment will continue to provide succor to them. In fact, the war next door in Afghanistan and the activities of homegrown extremists are likely to exacerbate the sectarian and ethnic fissures within Pakistani society.
Despite the new international faith in the military’s ability to moderate the radical currents sweeping Pakistani society, Pakistan illustrates the opposite case: Fundamentalism and militarism feed on each other, with the Islamists and the military serving as partners in drug and gun running, protection of domestic bandits, and export of terror. It should not be forgotten that Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in Pakistan were bred by the military regime of Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who received multibillion-dollar U.S. military and economic aid packages during his eleven-year rule. Ever since "General Zia came to power, a close association between Pakistani governments and the militant religious networks … has been a permanent pattern in domestic and regional politics." Even General Musharraf, the self-touted moderate whose hand Clinton intentionally declined to shake in public during his Pakistan stopover, did not balk at publicly proclaiming jihad as an instrument of the state. In the name of fighting Islamists, Musharraf purged the military of his rivals, including those who staged the coup and enthroned him.
Pakistan confronts a serious crisis, with its fate once again in the hands of three As – Allah, Army, and America. Pakistan has been an ally of the United States only under military rule, with its brief periods of democratic governance coinciding with a cooling of relations with Washington. The coup that brought Musharraf to power in October 1999 was the world’s first in a nuclear-armed nation. Before the Bush administration forced Pakistan back into friendship to fight terrorism, U.S. policy toward Islamabad had "decisively shifted focus from the Cold War containment of the Soviet Union to containment of Pakistan itself."
If the United States now stays engaged in Pakistan, it could help to begin a process to de-radicalize Pakistan. The reform process has to include the closure of the country’s 4,000 or so madrasas, the religious schools that serve as hotbeds of pro-terrorist sentiment, and the introduction of universal secular education. Such U.S. engagement could also help reduce Islamabad’s growing strategic dependence on India’s other main rival, China, besides stemming Pakistan’s slide toward becoming a nuclear-armed Somalia.
Pakistan’s drift toward disorder has spurred the threat of its losing some of its "crown jewels" – nuclear weapons – to jihadi elements, a scenario in which U.S. commandos may have to preemptively seize and secure all such arms. Nuclear weapons were supposed to be Pakistan’s most precious strategic assets. But in Pakistan’s highly combustible political climate, they are proving a strategic liability, endangering internal and regional security and prompting the U.S. military to prepare contingency plans for their evacuation for safekeeping in the event of cataclysmic political events. The threat to divest Pakistan of its "crown jewels" was cleverly used by the United States first to force General Musharraf to support its military campaign in Afghanistan and then to warn would-be coup plotters against Musharraf.
In the regional strategic triangle, there has been a long-standing axis between Pakistan and China against India that extends to covert nuclear, missile, and intelligence cooperation. As a consequence, "India is contained geopolitically by Chinese-Pakistani cooperation." Long before Pakistan began exporting jihad, China helped foster insurgency in India’s vulnerable northeast by training and arming Naga and other guerrillas. As part of a containment strategy, China has attempted to hem India in from three sides – Pakistan, Tibet, and Burma. Not only is there a Sino-Pakistan and a Sino-Burma nexus, but a Pakistan-Burma nexus has also been developing under Chinese patronage. China’s strategic goals aim to achieve military and economic security in a way that imposes limits on the capabilities of its potential rivals in Asia, such as India and Japan. China desires a multipolar world but a unipolar Asia.
Like the United States, China has an important stake in the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan. But the war on terrorism could upset China’s regional calculations. A continuing U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, coupled with close U.S.-India ties, would weaken China’s ubiquitous influence in Pakistan and its ability to contain New Delhi. China, which signed a defense cooperation pact with the Taliban as part of its two-faced approach toward terrorism, would have liked the United States to get bogged down in a military quagmire in Afghanistan – a situation that U.S. policymakers were determined to avert.
Nothing can be more potent, however, than the mix of terrorism and nuclear dangers characterizing Pakistan’s situation. Controlling that lethal mix will prove a daunting task because Pakistan links nuclear weapons with its sovereignty and survival. It will stoutly oppose any Western-aided transparency and physical security measures that could dilute the secrecy surrounding its nuclear storage and deployment practices. Given its thin strategic waistline – narrow geographical depth in relation to a long border with India – Pakistan has emphasized offense, including preemption, in its conventional military and nuclear doctrines. It has thus rejected India’s offer of a no-first-use nuclear pact and maintained a first-use posture, integrating its small nuclear arsenal into its war-fighting strategy. It has been clear since Pakistan’s Kargil invasion into India in 1999 – a year after the two nations went overtly nuclear – that classical nuclear deterrence theory makes little regional sense in the context of a sinking state that values nuclear weapons as a shield for military adventurism. The published official Indian inquiry into why the military could not deter the Kargil invasion, however, failed to address this question.
The international community cannot turn a blind eye to the nuclear dangers inherent in the unstable situation in Pakistan, where the government could possibly lose control of parts of the nuclear program during political turmoil. Adequate security, including physical protection of assets, can be ensured only when the government is in complete control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials. When danger lurks of renegade Islamist elements within the military, intelligence, and nuclear establishment seizing control of some nuclear assets or even seizing power, the risks of nuclear blackmail and terror cannot be effectively contained. Fissile material or radioactive waste can be employed crudely for spreading terror. The detention and interrogation of some Pakistani nuclear scientists for alleged links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda have to be seen against the background of Pakistan’s own jihad culture, the strength of Islamists within its military and nuclear-weapons establishment, and the origins of the Pakistani program rooted in nuclear smuggling and espionage – elements that reinforce the present nuclear dangers. Add to that the visits of Saudi and United Arab Emirates officials to Pakistan’s nuclear complex in Kahuta in May 1999, and deals between that center and North Korea – both reported by U.S. intelligence.
In the years ahead, Pakistan-India and China-India relations will remain uneasy, although the risks of a full-fledged war remain low. The nuclearized regional environment does not alter the basic military equations between India and Pakistan, and India and China. None of these regional players has overwhelming conventional military might to clinch a decisive victory on the battlefield. Against China, India is not what it was in 1962, when it suffered a humiliating defeat. But India is not in a position to militarily defeat Pakistan in a decisive manner. In the competition between status quo India and irredentist Pakistan, the dispute over Kashmir (one-fifth of which is in China’s occupation) is likely to fester. When two sides cannot resolve a dispute, they should find ways to manage it. But given Pakistan’s fragile domestic situation, it will not be easy to manage the Kashmir problem or douse all the jihad fires in the coming years. More than Kashmir, Pakistan’s descent into deepening turmoil demands greater international attention.
Stemming transnational terrorism
The international campaign against terrorism can succeed only if it is sustained on a long-term basis and targets terrorist cells and networks wherever they exist and as long as they exist. Terrorism is the cowards’ weapon, as it involves sneakiness and obviates facing an enemy. The only defense against the sly, murderous terrorists is offense aimed at hounding, disrupting, and smashing their cells, networks, and safe havens. Against covert, unconventional aggression, counteraction must also employ clandestine, unconventional methods in order to strike at the heart of a terrorist group and disrupt its cohesion, credibility, and operational capacity. Never before has there been a greater need for close international cooperation on intelligence and law enforcement, especially because of the stateless nature of some terrorists. However, no terrorist group can train and plan a major action, such as the kamikaze-style strikes against the United States in September 2001 and the 1993 Bombay bombings, without sanctuary provided by a nation. The war on terrorism has to extend beyond Afghanistan to other sanctuaries of international extremists.
Battling terrorists in different areas would require varying, ad hoc political coalitions. The scourge of transnational terrorism, however, cannot be effectively stemmed if attempts are made to draw distinctions between good and bad terrorists, and between those who threaten their security and those who threaten ours. The viper reared against one target-state is a viper against another or against oneself. For example, the Taliban and the anti-India extremists trained and armed by Islamabad have come to haunt Pakistan’s own security. U.S. policymakers in hindsight must regret some of their past actions in Afghanistan. Prodded by the intense lobbying of the U.S. energy firm, Unocol, which was seeking to build oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan, the Clinton administration acquiesced in the Taliban’s rise to power. Even after the thuggish militia let loose a reign of terror in Kabul, carrying out summary executions, banishing women from the workforce, and forcibly herding men into mosques for prayers, the U.S. State Department hoped that the new situation would present "an opportunity for a process of national reconciliation to begin." Fattened by soaring profits from the heroin trade, the Taliban, in alliance with Pakistani intelligence, fostered narco-terrorism and swelled the ranks of the Afghan war alumni waging transnational terrorism.
As the leader of the international fight against terrorism, the United States has to ensure that it does not repeat the very mistakes of the past that have come to trouble its security and that of the rest of the free world. As the mecca of knowledge and success, the United States is a very attractive target of international terrorists. The last century was an American century; so could this century be. The security of the United States and other secular, democratic societies, however, is interconnected. The war against terrorism is essentially to protect the freedoms and tolerant spirit of pluralistic societies. Success demands that the United States heed the lessons of the past.
The first of these lessons is the need to keep the focus on longer-term goals and not be carried away by political expediency and narrow military objectives. By focusing on immediate goals, U.S. policymakers in the past ended up creating monsters that they now have to fight. The Reagan Doctrine of arming anticommunist "freedom fighters" in places such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, and Nicaragua put an ideological stamp on a strategic-policy shift that "defined Third World insurgencies and revolutionary governments as the source of the most serious ‘future security threats’ to the United States." That new emphasis gave birth to the doctrine of low-intensity conflict, or LIC.
By funneling billions of dollars worth of arms—including sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, tanks, and howitzer guns—through conduit states and their agencies, the United States allowed the latter to bring into play their own interests, biases, and rivalries. Pakistan, for example, used its participation in the largest-ever U.S. covert operation not so much to rout the Soviet forces in Afghanistan as to strengthen its military position against India and to favor Afghan guerrilla groups based in Peshawar (such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezbi-Islami) rather than assist groups engaged in combat inside Afghanistan. Pakistan could push its own agenda because the United States accepted its condition that the ISI agency control the weapons flow and pinpoint the arms recipients. However, the "ISI appropriated for its own purposes an estimated 50% to 70% of the military resources intended for the mujahideen … The diversions were known at the time within the region and within the United States but were accepted as an unpleasant but necessary element of the aid program without an alternative conduit for aid."
It was thus no surprise that this large-scale flow of arms, with little oversight as to where the weapons were going and little thought given to the long-term consequences, destabilized the affected regions (including southern Asia but particularly Pakistan) and created the Frankensteins that have come to haunt Western security. Hekmatyar, fattened by the ISI at the expense of U.S. taxpayers, was responsible more than anyone else in blocking a peaceful transition to post-Soviet rule in Afghanistan. Another Frankenstein, Osama bin Laden, was unsuspectingly endorsed by the CIA during the 1980s’ Afghan war. And in response to his subsequent terrorist exploits of the 1990s, Washington has done precisely what bin Laden himself did – it "mythologized him," turning him into a hero for Muslim radicals across the globe. It was at a White House ceremony attended by some "holy warriors" from Afghanistan in the mid-1980s that President Ronald Reagan proclaimed mujahideen such as bin Laden as the "moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers" of the United States. One such moral equivalent, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban chief, gave vent to his destructive genius in the spring of 2001 by demolishing Afghanistan’s most famous antiquities, including two towering, 1,500-year-old Buddhas carved into a sandstone cliff at Bamiyan – the priceless legacy of Indian Buddhist pilgrims who settled in the region before the advent of Islam.
Given the bitter past experiences of all powers in their dealings in treacherous Afghanistan, the task of rooting out terrorist bases there needs to be pursued with clarity and caution so that urgent, immediate goals do not create further long-term negative consequences. Outside powers backing various Afghan factions have to be careful with any military aid they provide. Strangely, the ISI once again served as America's critical eyes and ears in the hunt for terrorists in Afghanistan. The use of the ISI against the Taliban was tantamount to asking a father to give up his child. By initially allowing Islamabad to bring into play its primary interests relating to Kashmir, nuclear weapons, and the post-Taliban scenario, Washington risked not only complicating its antiterror campaign but also repeating "one of the fundamental mistakes of the Cold War, which was to convert tactical relationships with dictators into ideological, strategic alliances."
A second lesson is that the problem of and solution to terrorism are linked. Terrorism not only threatens the free, secular world but also springs from the rejection of democracy and secularism. The terrorism-breeding swamps can never be fully drained as long as the societies that rear or tolerate them are not de-radicalized and democratized. It has become fashionable to state that because war runs on expediency, with strange bedfellows involved as partners, it makes sense for the United States to line up in the antiterror campaign even unsavory allies – regimes that bankroll militant Islamic fundamentalism overseas, such as those of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; the tyrannical Central Asian autocracies run by Soviet holdovers; and military-ruled, terrorism-exporting Pakistan. After all, to get rid of Nazism, the allies needed Stalin. But Stalin did not create Hitler or foster Nazism; nor was Stalin’s removal necessary to eradicate Nazism. The antiterror war can succeed only through the reform of states that directly or indirectly contribute to the rise of virulent Islamic fundamentalism extolling violence as a sanctified religious tool.
Saudi Arabia, with its one-century-old political tradition of Wahhabi Islam, practices the "fringe form of Islamic extremism" that President Bush says he is targeting. Pakistan, too, is heavily under the influence of the Wahhabi religious movement, "the source of modern Islamic fundamentalism." So critical has Saudi Arabia been to U.S. energy and regional interests that at no time did Washington seek to restrain its cloistered rulers from funding the establishment of Muslim extremist groups and madrasas. From Africa to Southeast Asia, Saudi petrodollars have played a key role in fomenting militant Islamic fundamentalism that regards the West, Israel, and India as its enemies. Only after the role of Saudi suicide hijackers came to light has realization dawned about the thin line separating philanthropy and advocacy of militant fundamentalism.
In many Islamic nations, the United States has worked with the rulers and forgotten the ruled. This top-level focus, from the Gulf to Pakistan, breeds its own problems. Not only does it add to the already wide gap between the rulers and the ruled, but it encourages "street" sentiment to motivate those seeking to wreak vengeance on the United States for propping up the totalitarian rulers as part of an alleged scheme to make the Muslim world subservient to the Christian West.
The military objectives of the antiterror campaign are far easier to accomplish than is the political goal to ensure that societies do not promote, shelter, or condone terrorists. The most daunting task would be to inculcate a secular and democratic ethos in societies steeped in religious and political bigotry. Scoring any enduring success in the political antiterror campaign will take time, requiring perseverance and long-term strategic engagement. The political campaign has to ensure that nations do not fund terrorists, or terrorist-training schools, or religious bodies that spew anti-Western poison; that they do not train, arm, or harbor terrorists; and that they do not serve as channels for money laundering. If rooting out the vestiges of the Taliban seems a challenging military task, imagine what it will take to politically dismantle the Taliban’s cradle – the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan, including the madrasas that are training tomorrow’s bin Ladens. Equally challenging will be to dissuade Pakistan from continuing to send covert operatives into India to wage jihad. The terrorists who pursue jihad make little distinction between the United States, Israel, and India.
A third lesson to heed is not to turn the war against terrorism into an ideological battle to serve one’s strategic interests. The dangers of adding religious overtones to the fight have been understood well, but not the perils of putting an ideological gloss to it. The first war of the twenty-first century is already being likened to the last war of the twentieth century – the fight against communism – with commentators suggesting that it will take a new Cold War to defeat terrorism.
From spearheading the fight against communism to leading the war on terrorism, the United States has come full circle. About five decades after President Harry Truman declared that the United States was in a war to protect freedom from communism, Bush proclaimed that it is in war to defend freedom from terrorism. The Cold War emphasis on the containment of communism finds its echo in the new stress on the containment of terrorism. And just as human rights and democracy became secondary to the Cold War imperative of roping in allies, however dictatorial their political setup, there is similar indifference to the record of the new-war partners. It should not be forgotten, however, that terrorism springs from religious extremism, which in turn flows from the rejection of secularism and abrogation of human rights. Democratic societies in general do not breed and shelter international terrorists.
Terrorism can be stemmed only through concerted, sustained international effort, not by employing Cold War-style methods. In any case, the Cold War was won by the West not so much by military means as by spreading market capitalism to other regions that "helped suck the lifeblood out of communism's global appeal," making it incapable of meeting the widespread yearning for a better life. Not only does a new Cold War not fit well with the interests of the only superpower on the world stage with no peer competitor in sight, but it could also prolong the fight against terrorism by deepening the problem. Rather than make the fight divisive, the international consensus on battling terrorism should be preserved and strengthened. This is especially so because critics charge that the United States, having been born in war and having waged war ever since, was uncomfortable without a foe after the end of the Cold War – that is, it was in search of an enemy. Now that the United States has a resilient foe to battle – another "ism"– it should behave as the leader of the world, not of one camp or as a self-absorbed bully. The outcome of this war will determine the security of all free societies. But in the interim the world, disturbingly, seems to be becoming harder, fiercer, and less tolerant.
Regionally, the chances of a peaceful transition to post-Taliban rule in Afghanistan seem doomed, given the bloodbaths and ethnic cleansing of the past and the deep divisions along ethnic and sectarian lines. The free-for-all that ensued in Afghanistan after the Soviet tanks rolled out in 1989 and the Americans lost interest has politically and ethnically fragmented the mountainous country in a manner that is difficult to reverse. Afghanistan’s fragmentation was further cemented by Pakistan’s creation and installation in power of the Pashtun Taliban. In the coming years, any government in Kabul, however multiethnic in character, will be able to exercise only nominal control over the whole country. Just the way the NATO protectorate of Bosnia-Herzegovina stands functionally partitioned into Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim components despite the outside intervention, the antiterror war in Afghanistan will not be able to stop powerful warlords who command ethnically pure military forces from forming or maintaining ethnic entities. These enclaves will form shifting, uneasy coalitions among themselves.
The Talibanization of Pakistan, with the dominant Punjabi ethnic group playing the same role as the Pashtuns in Afghanistan, will exacerbate the ethnic schisms within Pakistani society, posing a serious threat to the country’s ability to hold together or provide stable governance. Pakistan’s Taliban creation could eventually exact heavy costs on its own unity. The Taliban set up a large Pashtun state within Afghanistan. A post-Taliban Pashtun leadership would minimally do what the Taliban did – not accept the British-drawn Durand Line that now sets the border with Pakistan’s Pashtun areas. Such a leadership could even renew traditional Afghan Pashtun claims to Pakistani Pashtun territories up to the Indus River. Legally, the 100-year Durand Line agreement expired in 1993. Any revival of the old demand for "Pashtunistan," or a greater Pashtun homeland encompassing Pashtun areas on both sides of the Durand Line, will be detrimental to Pakistan’s unity.
The ethnic ferment in Afghanistan and Pakistan – two artificially created states with no roots in history that have searched endlessly for a national identity – is a continuation of the ethnic unrest in the geographically contiguous Central Asia, Kashmir, and Xinjiang. Stalin’s evil genius created Soviet republics in Central Asia that deliberately divided ethnic groups – a situation that continues in the now-independent states in the region. The link between ethnic aspirations and militancy will continue to challenge regional security and the existing political borders. So will be the new Great Game being insidiously fought over Afghanistan. A stable Afghanistan is unlikely to emerge to enable Western companies to pump Central Asian oil and gas via Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, and the world market.
Given the daunting terrain and significant ethnic diversity in this part of the world, terrorism, insurgency, and separatism cannot be stamped out. But the effort should be to contain them in a manner that does not seriously destabilize southern Asia and threaten international security. Clearly, the war on terrorism will be a long-lasting affair because difficult goals need to be accomplished – to militarily root out terrorist cells wherever they exist and to politically deracinate the pernicious jihad culture. It is this culture – mirrored in the spread of the Taliban-like mindset beyond Afghanistan – that threatens secular, democratic, pluralistic nations. Eliminating the al-Qaeda leadership and "sleeper cells" cannot bring durable success as long as Islamic seminaries continue to mass-produce jihadis. Moreover, the link between narcotics and terrorism has to be broken because terrorists and other "holy warriors" in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt profanely draw their sustenance from drug trafficking.
The blatant misuse of religion for political purposes (which gave rise to the Taliban, for example) can no longer be tolerated. To fight Soviet-style atheism, U.S. policymakers did not hesitate to use religion for political ends – the Catholic Church in Central America and Islam in Afghanistan. Islam was employed to unite the Muslim world and spur the spirit of jihad against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Terrorism and the modern-day Frankensteins are the haunting byproducts of the war against atheism and communism that the West was supposed to have won.
As an intractable and recurrent phenomenon in world history, terrorism has to be fought continually with diplomatic, economic, political, military, and legal instruments. Nothing can better illustrate the success of sustained, multipronged international pressure on rogue states than the manner in which Libya was tamed. Such has been the success in de-fanging Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi that the global community now faces a difficult question as to how, and at what stage, a reforming renegade state can be reintegrated internationally without pressure being entirely lifted. Terrorism can be effectively contained by strengthening the current international consensus and by inculcating the values the West stands for. Democracy and human rights are the antidote to terrorism. Also, the issue is not how to whittle down the sovereignty of states but to strengthen the principles of sovereignty by making nations fully accountable for what they or their citizens do. If a state, however, is unwilling or unable to act against its transnational terrorists, it should face not only international sanctions but also encroachment on its sovereignty as the outside world does the job in lieu of the delinquent nation.
Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Security Studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.