US Leans Hard on Pakistan

President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell put in crisis calls to both Pakistani and Indian leaders Saturday, December 30, urging the two nuclear powers to de-escalate the fast mounting war tension between them.
But, as debkafile‘s diplomatic sources note, the language and tone employed by the US leaders were finely graded to differentiate between urging and urging.
By Sunday, India looked like being seriously on the warpath, bent on retaliation against Pakistan for the December 13 attack on the Indian parliament in which 14 lives were lost. Pakistan’s gestures to mollify Delhi were repeatedly rebuffed. Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee refused President Pervez Musharraf’s proposal of a summit to settle the crisis saying India is ready for “every eventuality”. He also spurned the Pakistani leader’s offer of a joint inquiry commission to establish culpability.
Earlier, the two ambassadors were recalled and air links suspended.
Although the two leaders are due to attend a regional summit in Kathmandou this week, a tete-a-tete is very unlikely.
Pakistan Sunday accused India of moving thousands of troops of its Eastern Command to their common frontier. Officials in Islamabad warned Washington that Pakistani troops would have to be redeployed from their border-sealing duties on the Afghan border.
Four days ago, Indian defense minister George Fernandes announced Indian missiles were in position on the frontier, apparently referring to a battery of surface Prithvi missiles that were moved from the south of the country to the Punjab in the north. Both countries have ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads; one of them the Prithvi.
War fears mounted again Sunday, when Vajpayee held talks with Indian opposition parties to enlist their support for a war option.
Yet US pressure to make the running and avert war was piled – not on Delhi but on Islamabad. On Saturday, Dedcember 30, President Musharraf was informed from Washington that freezing the assets of the two militant Kashmiri groups Delhi has accused of the attack – Jaish e-Mohamed (Army of the Prophet Mohamed) and Lakshar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pious) – was praiseworthy but not enough. He must order them disbanded and outlawed, after Washington added them to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Bush addressed the Indian prime minister in the same round of phone calls, but in quite a different tone. The United States, he declared warmly, was “determined to cooperate with India in the fight against terrorism”.
His words followed those of Powell, who accused the two Kashmiri groups of seeking to assault democracy, undermine peace and stability in South Asia and destroy relations between India and Pakistan. He did not go as far as Delhi in describing the militant groups as Pakistan-based. But his reference to democracy could hardly sit well with the military dictator who reached the presidential palace in Islamabad by a military coup.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their partition at the end of British rule in 1947, two of them over the disputed Kashmir province. Today, their armies glare at each other across a provisional Line of Control.
The Musharraf regime may find that however much it fears war, it cannot for domestic reasons defer to the demand from Delhi relayed by Washington to disband the two military Islamic groups. Gaining self-determination for Kashmir is a central and permanent policy provision of all Pakistani administrations. A crackdown on Kashmiri militants could bring Islamic and national extremists out in the streets in a further round of anti-government and anti-American riots.
With the Afghan campaign still unfinished, Washington would seem to need a stable regime in Islamabad to protect the US military presence in three Pakistani bases. The US also relies on a heavy Pakistani troop deployment on the Afghan border to keep al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives out. This end is certainly not served by the diversion of those troops, reportedly begun, to confront the Indian military buildup along their 3,300 frontier.
So how much of this war fever is real and how much diplomatically engineered?
According to debkafile ‘s diplomatic sources, India’s hectic-seeming war preparations and Washington’s show of sympathy may be part of a new diplomatic pattern emerging on the threshold of the New Year. Some American diplomats wonder if the Rajpayee administration, much put out by Washington’s partnership against terror with Islamabad in the outgoing year, may not be flexing military muscle to show Bush who is top dog in the Indian sub-continent. Bush’s response appears to be showing readiness to re-orient his policy focus in favor of the world’s largest democracy as soon as the Afghanistan venture is out of the way.
But would Washington be willing to sacrifice Musharraf at this stage for the sake of points in Delhi?

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