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It's Our Fight By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The untold story behind Israel’s attempts to defeat Hamas in the Gaza Strip is the stake the United States and India have in its success.

On January 2, Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, denounced both the “irresponsibility of Hamas rocket attacks” and the “excessiveness of Israel's response” as threats to the stability of the region. The next day, however, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon focused entirely on Israel’s ground operations in Gaza, which were aimed at stopping the Hamas terrorist attacks. The United States on January 3 blocked approval of a UN Security Council statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, because it was based on “the escalation of violence” by Israel in launching attacks across the border.

Washington has an interest in how the legitimacy of the Israeli campaign is portrayed that goes beyond mere diplomatic support for an ally. U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are faced with a similar situation, fighting insurgents and terrorists who are based across an international border but who raid across that border as if it did not exist. If the international community holds that borders can be porous in only one direction, allowing raiders to cross but not allowing retaliation against the raider’s bases, then the campaign against terrorism faces a potentially fatal asymmetrical constraint.

Though Mao Zedong’s famous guerrilla warfare doctrine spoke of “swimming among the people,” the actual history of successful irregular warfare movements, including that of Mao’s communists in China, shows the need for a sanctuary in which troops can be recruited, trained, and armed – and in which leaders can organize and plan operations. International law cannot legitimately be used to protect the home of outlaws.

India faces the same challenge as does the United States in regard to Pakistan serving as a base for terrorists while asserting a claim of sovereignty against retaliation. New Delhi on January 5 presented a 100-page dossier of evidence regarding the November Islamic terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 179 people. The document included the confession of the lone surviving raider and documentation of the attackers' phone communications with Pakistani handlers. Islamabad, which has previously demanded proof of Indian allegations that the attackers came from Pakistan, brushed aside the claims raised in the dossier. Deputy Foreign Minister Malik Emaad Khan derided it as “so-called evidence.”

On December 29, Pakistan had also rejected evidence from the United States and the United Kingdom indicating the involvement of Pakistani citizens in the Mumbai attacks. Islamabad said the information provided would not stand up in court. The evidence included a confession by Ajmal Amir Kasab, who took part in the attacks, but Pakistani officials have alleged that since it had been obtained by Indians “under duress” the confession was inadmissible.

Four days earlier, Pakistan’s elected representatives in parliament assailed India for its “hostile propaganda.” The Pakistan National Assembly did unanimously adopt a resolution condemning the Mumbai attacks. But the resolution also urged India to “stop hostile propaganda against Pakistan that seeks to cover their intelligence failures” and to end “activities [that] do not serve the cause of peace in the region.” The resolution was moved by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Malik Ammad Ahmed. It reflected the hardening position of the newly elected People’s Party government. The resolution called upon India to respond to “constructive proposals” for a joint investigation into the Mumbai attacks. The resolution said Pakistan was “united and stands ready to defend its honor and dignity as well as sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity” and said the nation and the armed forces shall defend the country “at all costs.”

The resolution can been seen as a response to statements by India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, a former Defense Minister, accusing Islamabad of having  “demonstrated its earlier tendency to resort to a policy of denial and seek to deflect and shift blame and responsibility.” Mukherjee declared on December 22:
We expect the civilian government of Pakistan to take effective steps to deal with elements within Pakistan which still continue the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. We have so far acted with the utmost restraint and are hopeful that the international community will use its influence to urge the Pakistani government to take effective action. While we continue to persuade the international community and Pakistan, we are also clear that ultimately it is we who have to deal with this problem. We will take all measures necessary as we deem fit to deal with the situation.

The Indian right-wing opposition Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata parties took an even harder line, calling for military strikes across the border to target terrorist camps in Pakistan. The Congress Party government is also being criticized for letting the Mumbai attack occur due to lax security and police corruption that have weakened the nation’s defenses. New Delhi has been pushing a plan to modernize the police with better weapons and raise a new paramilitary security battalion. There is also an obvious need to improve the Indian intelligence services.

Pakistan is also rallying diplomatic support from China and Iran against any Indian counter-strike. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi about the need for India “to pursue a policy of restraint and responsibility.” He also told Yang on December 19 that Pakistan was in “full compliance” with UN Security Council Resolution 1267 under which the Jamat-ud-dawah militant group and its leader Hafiz Saeed were designated as “terrorists.” According to a Beijing statement, the Chinese Foreign Minister expressed the hope that Pakistan and India would work together to combat terrorism, and called for peace and stability in South Asia. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Qureshi that he had urged India “to show calm and restraint.” Both the Iranian and Chinese Foreign Ministers said their governments would remain engaged with India and Pakistan to defuse the tensions, which means relieving pressure on Islamabad.
A December 23rd essay in the Times of India asserted, “It seemed clear that Beijing wished to stick to platitudes even after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the international community to apply pressure on Pakistan and foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said New Delhi's patience is already strained.” The newspaper further argued:
Pakistan, which signed an agreement on military cooperation with China on December 15, needs Chinese help today more than ever. China observers say Beijing sees in the current situation an opportunity to play a more important role in the region that it ever did...Beijing also feels India would be careful about stroking the fires along the border with Pakistan as long as there is a perception that it will back Islamabad. In fact, Pakistan's defiance of international pressures on the Mumbai attack issue is partly explained by its faith in China, its “all weather friend.” Chinese leaders, who shared a long and cozy relationship with former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, have been less than comfortable with the newly elected leadership in Islamabad.

Pakistan’s movement of troops from its northwest frontier bordering Afghanistan, where they have supposedly been conducting counter-terrorist operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, should be seen as another diplomatic gambit. Islamabad has been under increasing Western pressure to exercise the sovereignty it claims in the frontier tribal regions and destroy the Taliban/al-Qaeda infrastructure. The failure of Islamabad to stop cross-border attacks justifies the retaliatory strikes that the U.S. has conducted against terrorist camps on Pakistan’s side of the nominal border. The Western allies, like India, suspect that elements of the Pakistan military and intelligence services support the terrorists. Islamabad created the Taliban in the first place as their agents to conquer Afghanistan. On Jan. 6, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that “given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s threat to suspend the campaign against the Taliban on the excuse that it must redeploy forces to meet an Indian threat is an attempt to play Washington against New Delhi. Islamabad wants the United States to constrain India in order to keep Pakistani troops on the Afghan border. The United States and India must stand together against the common threat of Pakistani-based terrorism. In the face of a united front by the two great democratic powers, Pakistan is in a very weak position and must be made aware of its inability to resist the legitimate demands that it control what happens within its own borders and not pose a danger to its neighbors. If Beijing wants to exploit the situation by expanding its influence in Islamabad, it is betting on the wrong horse. Its actions will only further alienate Washington and New Delhi, both of whom already have other reasons to align against China.

The United States has appealed to the civilian leaders of the People’s Party government on the grounds that Islamic terror poses a threat to its democratic rule in common with the threats posed to India and Afghanistan.  December 27 marked the first anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, a murder that symbolized the rising Islamic radicalism in her homeland. The charismatic former prime minister was the favored contender to lead a democratic Pakistan. She was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack as she was campaigning in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, took over the People's Party and became Pakistan’s President in September after General Pervez Musharraf, who had first seized power in a 1999 coup, stepped aside to avoid impeachment. Bhutto's killing remains unsolved, and many Pakistanis believe elements within the country's rogue security apparatus hatched the plot in league with the militants. Bhutto expressed concern about such a conspiracy months before she was killed.

The United States should pledge its support to Asif Ali Zardari to strengthen his will to confront domestic radicalism. For Pakistan to put its own house in order would be the most effective way to end terrorism. The People’s Party is, however, in a very difficult position. There is a substantial segment of the population which is sympathetic to radical Islam, and even more are hostile to India and the West. The country also has a history of military coups. That Zardari has called for the United Nations to investigate his wife’s assassination, rather than vigorously pursue his own hunt for the truth, indicates the dangers he fears from kicking over too many rocks himself. In such an unstable domestic political environment it is not at all surprising that Pakistan can only muster a half-hearted effort to root out terrorists operating against either the West or India.

Thus, supporting Zardari’s government will not be enough to defeat terrorism in the region. A U.S.-NATO-India alliance is vital to contain the threat, with the continued use of counter-strikes against enemy base camps inside Pakistan’s ungoverned border provinces a necessary part of the campaign.

If Israel maintains its resolve, it may prove to the other democracies besieged by terror that victory is possible.

William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.

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