By Jim Hoagland
Thursday, May 23, 2002; Page A33
India and Pakistan are three to four
weeks from a foreseeable war that
the United States has done too little
to prevent. By misreading Gen.
Pervez Musharraf, the Bush
administration has contributed to a
dangerous confrontation between
South Asia's two nuclear-armed
Troops the two sides have
deployed in and around the
Kashmir theater total 1 million.
They balance on a razor's edge.
The winter snows that immobilized
them for four months are gone.
Extreme heat and then monsoon conditions will arrive in a month or so in the
region, limiting India's logistical capabilities and campaign predictability.
India's politically faltering government faces a choice of going to war before
that moment -- or enduring the embarrassment of backing down from a costly
and seemingly pointless mobilization.
India of course does not have to wait until the last moment and give up
element of surprise. Another incident in Kashmir like the May 14 guerrilla
attack on defenseless Indian women and children in the city of Jammu could
easily trigger immediate Indian retaliation.
"The country is ready for war," Indian officials say confidently to diplomats.
Pakistan's tightly monitored press is featuring usually taboo reports of
deployments of troops and weapons such as surface-to-surface Shaheen
Musharraf's aim presumably is not a full-scale war. He cannot conquer India.
But the Pakistani military ruler has shown in the past two months that when it
comes to the half-century conflict over Kashmir, he is an extraordinary
risk-taker. He has dared India to fight. And he has just as boldly reneged on a
promise to the Bush White House to shut down terror camps in Kashmir. The
two steps are part and parcel of his brinksmanship.
After internal debate, the U.S. intelligence community now accepts that
Musharraf allowed the 50 to 60 guerrilla camps in Kashmir that harbor some
3,000 fighters to come back to life in mid-March after two months of
quiescence. Two other Musharraf promises -- to prevent cross-border
terrorism from Pakistan or Pakistani-controlled territory, and to dismantle
permanently Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalist organizations that preach
violence -- have also withered as American attention has been focused on the
"The debate about what is going on has been settled," says one U.S. official
involved in the contentious discussions here about Musharraf's abandoned
pledge to cut off help and training that this intelligence services and military
give to terrorists in Kashmir and India. "The rate of infiltration into
Indian-occupied Kashmir is above the rate of a year ago. What is still being
debated is Musharraf's intention. Is he unable or unwilling to prevent what is
happening? And what do we do about either case?"
The effect of Secretary of State Colin Powell's intense and successful
diplomatic intervention last winter to ease tensions has been washed away by
U.S. inattention and failure even to acknowledge Pakistan's subsequent
backsliding. "America is either with us or with the terrorists," Omar Abdullah,
a rising star in India's political system, said mockingly in Parliament last week
as details of the grisly Jammu raid spread.
The attack on an Indian military family housing area by three guerrillas
identified in the Indian media as Pakistani citizens could hardly have been
more inflammatory. Wives and children of Indian soldiers were butchered. A
2-month-old baby was machine-gunned to death. By coincidence or design,
the attackers went to the very limit of the Indian military's tolerance.
Musharraf's own assessment of the consequences of such acts remains
murky. He may believe that India does not have the will to attack. Or he may
believe that Washington needs him too much in the war on al Qaeda and the
Taliban to let India come after him. U.S. officials have given him grounds for
Or Musharraf may be quite willing to see limited clashes begin in hopes
provoking international intervention that will aid his position in Kashmir, much
as Yasser Arafat seeks to draw outside powers into his conflict with Israel.
In 1971, Pakistan launched attacks along India's western frontier that
chance of military success. Pakistan's military rulers, humiliated by India's easy
conquest of their forces in the eastern territory that was to become
Bangladesh, went to war in a desperate and forlorn bid for outside
intervention to save them from defeat or at least from disgrace.
Managing Musharraf and Pakistan's role in Operation Enduring Freedom is
tricky task. But Powell and his chief aides have devoted too little time and
energy to that demanding job since mid-February. They have let events drag
them back in belatedly to separate two nuclear-armed antagonists.
Pakistan helped create and foster al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has long
terror as an instrument of state policy to try to break India's hold on
two-thirds of Kashmir that New Delhi controls. Confronted with anything less
than unrelenting pressure, Musharraf will keep on gambling, up to the brink
and -- in a matter of days from now -- perhaps beyond.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company