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Kashmir Affairs Interview with Dr. Richard L. Benkin PDF Print
Written by Murtaza Shibli   
Tuesday, 23 December 2008 00:00

How do you see the Indian reaction to Mumbai terror attacks and its threats of attacking Pakistan?

Some Indian officials have threatened military action against Pakistan; but the problem with threats is that they are meaningless if not carried out.  A pattern of
idle threats results in lost credibility, at best; worse, it leaves opponents and potential allies to attribute the lack of action to weakness and inability to carry out
the threat.  We have seen this in the Middle East where Hamas and other terrorist groups continue to threaten Israel with “dire consequences” that never come. 
Does anyone really think that is because they decided to let Israel live in peace?  Hardly.  Their threats confirm their impotence.

Similarly, how likely is that the Indian government-and especially this government-has any intention of attacking Pakistan?  It has not acted previously in the face of numerous Pakistani provocations, including ISI action in Kashmir and elsewhere.  Nor is this the first deadly action by Lashkar-e-Taiba, which successive Pakistani governments have supported.  The presence of NATO troops nearby also makes military action particularly difficult.   Threats of attack, then, are counterproductive unless they are issued in an attempt to gain leverage with the United States and others.  It is more likely, however, that the angry reactions by the Indian government reflect a realization that its own policies of appeasement contributed to what transpired in Mumbai.

Should there be a war between India and Pakistan, what is your assessment of the outcome?
The big issue, of course, is the nuclear one.  While I would not minimize the potential of a nuclear exchange, its likelihood is low.  Since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (which were detonated at a time when the implications of nuclear weapons were not well known), quite a few nuclear powers have gone to war but never used those weapons.  Israel, in particular, is reputed to have had nuclear weapons since the 1960s,  and although it has faced several existential threats never used them.  The Kargil War of 1999 and the Sino-Soviet conflict of 1969 each involved two nuclear powers who refrained from using nuclear weapons.  Western fears of a nuclear conflict seems to reflect the tendency of the West to underestimate South Asians.

If history is any judge, Pakistan not India will initiate any limited conflict.  Indian threats would provide some credibility to Pakistani claims that its actions were pre-emptive.    With the exception of the 1971 war, all India-Pakistan conflicts centered on Kashmir; and any new conflict is likely to be similar.  It could involve air strikes by the PAF on Indian bases in the Northwest simultaneous with “fidayeen” attempting to extend their control beyond the LOC.  The Indian military has proven itself quite capable of repelling such attacks, and its ongoing cooperation with Israel has extended its military edge.  India likely will be content to repel the Pakistani thrusts and not extend its area of influence beyond the current LOC, even if it is capable of doing so.

Unlike previous wars, there would be no superpower chess, but it is quite possible that any India-Pakistan conflict will harden lines in the war on terror and perhaps cause the United States to re-assess its relationships in South Asia.

There is growing indication that Israel is showing more interest in the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan.
Naturally, the government of Israel remains on the sidelines even though the terrorists targeted and tortured Israelis and Jews.  But Israel-India relations have been growing geometrically largely because the two countries share a common enemy and common values.  India is now Israel’s largest customer for military goods, and Israeli intelligence has been providing India with information about Pakistan for some time.  Additionally, it is always possible that any conflict which seems to pit “Islam” against a non-Islamic power easily could spawn attacks on Israel, and Israel must be prepared for that.  Finally, the same divide also makes it more difficult for the current government Israeli to conclude any sort of agreement with the Arabs before February’s elections, which polls indicate it is likely to lose.

President Musharraf's government had initiated contacts with Israel. Do you think that Israel's too much leaning towards india would help in those contacts. After all Pakistan is a very important and influential Muslim country.
As Pervez Musharraf was a dictator who pushed many initiatives from the top without public support, the reality of these contacts will be tested by the actions of this elected government.  What is Israel actually getting from Pakistan or other Islamic states--most of which refuse to recognize Israel as a nation--so that it should change its policy for self-preservation?

Some reports circulating on the Internet are blaming the Mumbai terror attack on Israel citing previous involvement of the Israeli security agencies in similar attacks for political reasons. Some are even questioning how the Israeli commandos came to be there at such a short time span.
That is the usual bigoted and baseless conspiratorial crap that we Jews are used to hearing.  If Israel's adversaries wonder how quickly Israeli commandos can get to any scene, let them take care, then, before forcing them to do so.

Is it Pakistan's responsibility to rein in the terror networks or should it be a collective responsibility?
Successive Pakistani governments have given all manner of support to Islamist and anti-Indian terror groups.  The fact that it allows them safe haven inside its borders lays responsibility for eliminating the terror networks squarely on Pakistan.  There are only three options.  First, Pakistan will itself rein in the terror groups that operate from its soil.  That means doing so without justifying their motives or creating false  moral equivalencies by complaining about “Hindu terrorists.”  No Hindus have flown airplanes into crowded buildings or attacked major urban centers in the name of their faith.  There is no moral equivalency, and raising the issue is nothing more than an attempt to avoid responsibility.  Option two, if Pakistan is unwilling or unable to do it, they then are inviting others to do it for them.  This is essentially what the Israelis told the Arabs, and you notice the absence of anything more than occasional terror attacks or rockets coming from Gaza.  If the Pakistanis do neither, it will be that they do not want to stop the terrorism and need to suffer the consequences. And the third option?  Let the terrorists prevail.

Well the US and NATO strikes inside Pakistan is further destabilizing the situation?
The US and NATO strikes inside Pakistan are precisely the sort of thing this conflict needs.  To be sure, any nation will take umbrage if another conducts military raids on its territory.  And while that lessens popular Pakistani support for the war on terror, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  If Pakistan really agrees with NATO that the terrorists must be rooted out and destroyed, it either would take care of the matter itself and close its borders to Al Qaeda infiltration-or it would welcome the help of outside forces and cooperate with them in these efforts.  Why not put these assumptions to the test and force the Pakistanis to declare, in President Bush’s words, whether they are “with us or against us.”

Why do you think Pakistan has so far failed in its war on terror?
Pakistan’s war on Islamist terror has failed because it is a chimera.  Polls consistently show that only a minority of Pakistanis approve of its army going after Al Qaeda; at least three out of four want a Pakistan under Sharia law, and about the same number see the US-led war on terror as an attack on Islam.  We have extensive evidence of collaboration with Islamist terrorists-including Al Qaeda and the Taliban-by Pakistani intelligence (ISI) and lower level officials such as border guards.  In the absence of popular support for it, the war on terror is doomed unless the government shows clear, moral leadership on this issue.  And we know that successive Pakistani governments have done just the opposite.  Strongman Pervez Musharraf forced the government to take some visible top-down action; but even he never tried to end popular support for Islamists in Pakistan.  With no public support in Pakistan for destroying radical Islamist groups, the sooner the US and India admit that, the sooner we can proceed with something effective.

The new US administration is talking about a regional approach to the crisis in South Asia, with a Kashmir solution being one of the priorities. 
Being a veteran observer of my country’s efforts in the Middle East, that sort of talk scares me.  Regardless of the intention, a “regional” approach in effect means appeasement and sacrificing individuals and areas.   What in the world would a regional approach entail?  ‘Pakistan stop undermining our efforts in Afghanistan and we will recognize your claims to Kashmir?’  Will Obama’s “regional approach” address the issue of Islamist ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus?  I doubt it.  Moreover, this sort of regional approach suffers from assumptions of a homogenized view that holds all issues somehow linked and that giving in on one for the sake of another will make everyone happy.  It also fails to recognize that even if this sort of thing were possible, we first have to recognize which parties have maximalist demands and somehow neutralize them.  I do not think this is being done.

You blame the so-called Islamists in Bangladesh for atrocities against Hindus but ignore the Hindu terrorists killing Muslims and Christians. Whether they flew planes or not cannot gloss over the state-assisted mass murder of Muslims in Gujrat or recent killings of Christians?
Why is it whenever blatant acts of mass terror by Islamists are brought up, apologists instead of condemning them try and turn the discussion to some other perceived wrongs?  This is perhaps the greatest impediment to peace throughout the world. I spend a lot of time defending Islam against those who would call it a religion of terror and conquest.  Their biggest argument is that not only is there Islamist terror, but Islamist leaders--religious and secular--have not done anything to stop it or discourage Muslims from supporting it.  I still defend Islam because I do not believe transitory leaders define any faith.
Why do people find it so difficult to condemn ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide unequivocally?  I have seen the results of the Islamist ethnic cleansing of Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh and spoken with the victims.  As long as people dismiss that reality, there is little evidence that they are "peace partners."

You also seem to forget that in India Hindu fundamentalists and extremists come to power through elections while in Pakistan Muslim fundamentalists are always defeated showing that Pakistanis in general do not support fundamentalists.
First of all, I take issue with the statement that "Hindu fundamentalists and extremists come to power through elections."  The government of India is a prime target for criticism from the Indian right; and even the right-leaning BJP government did nothing extremist.  Fundamentalists do not have to come to power in Pakistan because they are tolerated by the government, which can then allow them to conduct terrorist operations from the territory they control and then plead ignorance.  If they were the government, the implications would be severe.

Why has the US-led international coalition failed in Afghanistan, and what would be next now that new administration is taking charge?
The perception that the US-led coalition in Afghanistan has failed is not entirely correct.  To be sure, any Afghan polity remains fragile, and terror groups remain ready to pounce.  On the other hand, the Taliban regime is out, and Afghanistan is no longer a base for international terror groups like Al Qaeda.
True success, however, requires a strategic re-orientation, especially our excessive reliance on Pakistan as the “local” arm of the coalition.  As we have noted many times before, Pakistani forces are unreliable.  Most Pakistanis see the war as a war on Islam and the Islamists as the standard bearers of the religion.  In such instances, it is folly to believe that those personal beliefs would not impair effective action.  Moreover, there is far too much political direction of the war-and no doubt much but not all of that stems from the need to placate Pakistani “feelings.”  One member of the US special forces revealed that they were all set to “take out” Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora-ready to go even though they knew some of them would not survive the battle.  But they had to get the okay from “higher ups,” and that okay never came.  How do you win a war that way?

If the majority of Pakistanis do not support the so-called war on terror what is there to be alarmed about. Majority of the Western population or for that matter the whole world see this as a misplaced war that has made the world more unsafe than before.
Your comments about the "majority of the Western population" seeing the war on terror as misplaced is factually incorrect.   My point still holds regardless.  How can we expect the Pakistanis to act reliably if they disagree with the war on terror and popularly support those whom the war targets?

How would you place Kashmir in the context of terrorism in the region?
Kashmir is South Asia’s West Bank.  Just as Pakistan and its Islamist allies ultimately seek to turn all of India into an Islamic state; so, too, the Arabs have tried again and again to destroy the Israel and even had that as their stated policy. After their colossal failure to do so in 1967, they tried once more to invade Israel with national armies only to fail again.  So they changed tactics and stopped talking about their ultimate goal. Instead  they focused on “the occupation” ( West Bank and Gaza).  Their real aim-to destroy Israel and turn it into an Islamic state-never changed.  This tactic successfully distracted a gullible Europe which supported Arab calls for their temporary goal. Similarly, South Asian Islamists still want more than Kashmir.  Kashmir, like the West Bank, is a transitory goal, but a critical one.  Islamists cannot conquer India any more than they can conquer Israel.  So they need that goal.  If they fail in Kashmir, they have nothing left by calling for India’s destruction.  It not only is an impossible goal but also one that makes it difficult for them to craft the debate in their faux human rights verbiage. Same thing with the West Bank in Israel. So the terrorists know they have to prevail in Kashmir or they’re done.

Are you refusing to recognize the Kashmiri struggle for the right of self-determination? As recently as in July-August this year millions of Kashmiris came out on the streets for the demand of freedom and the Indian Army and paramilitary troops ruthlessly killed more than 50 unarmed civilians. Even Indian journalists and writers were convinced about Indian brutalities and they called for Kashmiris to be left free.
First,  let's not pretend that a bevy of journalists aspire to anything coming close to pure objectivity.  As to any legitimate struggle for Kashmiri self-determination, that must come as a result of negotiation.  That would entail recognizing the rights of all Kashmiris not to have to live in a state defined as Islamic or Hindu, to have to live under Sharia or any other religious law, or to find themselves defined as second-class citizens. There also is no doubt that the specter of radical Islamist terror lurks behind all of these international issues, and the parties whom they favor have the responsibility for denouncing them unequivocally and making sure the radicals do not bring violence to any negotiated peace.  Otherwise, there is no reality to any peace agreement

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 20:00
 

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