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#590, 27 September 2001
Pakistan’s Response to America’s War against Terrorism
Chintamani Mahapatra
Jawaharlal Nehru University

As terrorism struck the symbol of power – the Pentagon, and the symbol of wealth – the World Trade Centre, in Washington DC and New York on September 11, it heralded a new type of war in the 21st century between democracies and terrorist outfits.



However, democracies can easily be identified but not terrorism, which does not represent a country, nor an individual or a group. One man’s terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter. Thus all democracies may not unite in a war against terrorism. Non-democracies may also not cooperate in the war against terrorism, especially when some of them have been promoting terrorism themselves. Pakistan is a quintessential example. But they may have to be pressurized to play ball. This is what the Bush White House has done. It came up with a set of demands and asked Pakistan to spell out whether it is with the US or the terrorist outfits.



Pakistan , which has aided, abetted, trained and equipped the terrorist groups involved in atrocities in Kashmir , has only paid lip service to the dead in the recent terrorist attacks against America . President Pervez Musharraf had declared “unstinted support†to the US fight against terrorism, but when the Bush Administration actually sought Islamabad ’s assistance, he asked for more time to take a decision.



Pakistan has been a long-standing ally of the US . It assisted the US during the prolonged warfare in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It also offered its support during the Gulf War. But in a war, which has taken a toll of thousands of American lives and has cost that country billions of dollars in financial losses, Musharraf wanted more time to decide. The Pakistani hesitation derived from its years of involvement in promoting terrorism in its neighbourhood as well as distant place, such as Chechnya . Siding with the US would mean creating enemies among the terrorist groups. It would also lead to destruction of Pakistan ’s own creation – the Taliban Government in Afghanistan . Denying cooperation could lead to retaliatory US action against terrorist hideouts and training camps in Pakistan , and its further isolation in the international community.



The military government in Islamabad found, after deliberations, that antagonizing the injured lion – the United States – would be more costly to Pakistan . It would increase Pakistan ’s international isolation, make the terrorist training camps in Pakistan a target of US retaliatory attacks, turn the country into a bankrupt nuclear power and, more significantly, bring India and the US closer together. Sandwiched between the devil and the deep blue sea, Pervez Musharraf, in a televised address, sought to promise different things to different constituencies. He promised all assistance to the US . He told his people that the struggle for Kashmir would continue and siding with the US at this juncture would facilitate that struggle. He told the Islamic hard-liners that he was joining the war against terrorism and not Islam. He also sent an indirect message to New Delhi that it was Pakistan , and not India , which could best serve as a frontline state in America ’s wars.



Bush was apparently pleased with Musharaff’s “bold speechâ€Â. But he knew that Pakistan ’s help was needed, not because of that country’s strategic location but because of its Islamic credentials. The war against terrorism would not be like the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan . The US would not require a conduit. It would need the support of Islamic countries to tell Muslims around the world that America ’s war is against terrorism and not Islam. Given Pakistan ’s close links with the Taliban Government, it could become the frontline Islamic State in the war against terrorism.



While the military ruler could please the US President, the supporters of the Taliban and Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan were not impressed by Musharraf’s argument. Quite a few military officers in his own junta remained unconvinced as well. The Afghan opposition leaders of the Northern Alliance have asked the US not to believe the Pakistanis. The Taliban has vowed to wage war against those who support US military action against the Taliban. India must remain resolute in its own war against cross-border terrorism.



It remains to be seen how the US would fight an expected long drawn out war against terrorism without disrupting the links between terrorists and those who harbour them. It also remains to be seen how Islamabad fights one kind of terrorism but promotes another. 


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