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MARGARET WARNER: For more on the India-Pakistan standoff, we turn to: Robert Oakley, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan during the first Bush administration. He’s now a visiting fellow at the National Defense University in Washington; and Teresita Schaffer, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton administration, and a former ambassador to Sri Lanka. She now directs the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Welcome to you both.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Schaffer, we’ve seen there have been some 200 soldiers either killed or wounded in the last ten days alone. How high would you rate the risk of war right now?
TERESITA SCHAFFER: I think both India and Pakistan have been looking for a way of buying time so that in the immediate future I think there’s a good chance that we’ll manage to avoid it.
But the most likely provocation is one that’s not really under the control of either side. If you have another couple of murderous incidents in India or in Kashmir, then I think the chances of some kind of significant military action would be very high.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it?
ROBERT OAKLEY: I think that’s right. I think Tesi is right also, that there are groups operating that used to have very tight connections with Pakistan but those connections have become much looser, if you will, and the Pakistanis are operating against Pakistan’s interest. They would like to provoke a war between India and Pakistan because it will relieve the pressure upon al-Qaida and Taliban and upon some of these radical Islamic movements inside Pakistan.
MARGARET WARNER: And so you’re saying, Ambassador Schaffer, that – just picking up on that — that the likely scenario would be another murderous attack or two in which case what — India would feel it had or would go in against militant bases in the Pakistan part of Kashmir?
TERESITA SCHAFFER: In which case India would feel it had to do something. That brings you to the question of what military options they have. The kind of scenario you suggest is probably the most likely.
I think we can assume that India would try to develop an option that, in its judgment, minimized the risk of a nuclear response. But when you game out, even the kind of self-limiting options that you’ve talked about, they don’t necessarily stay limited because Pakistan would respond and with each round the stakes of the different leaders involved get higher.
MARGARET WARNER: And India, of course, Ambassador Oakley, has far greater superiority in conventional forces. Is that right?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: The assumption or the fear is Pakistan would feel it had to go nuclear?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Not unless I think Pakistan were in very, very severe danger maybe of being cut in half or a major city like Lahore was on the verge of falling. I think they would certainly themselves try to limit this because they don’t want to fight a nuclear war any more than the Indians do. They’re fully aware of the dangers.
On the other hand, as Tesi said, there is plenty of room for miscalculation. The communications and the understandings between Pakistan and India are far from what they were in the United States and the Soviet Union later on. They’re rather like what they were at the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, where there was plenty of room for error.
MARGARET WARNER: So Ambassador Schaffer, today Musharraf said he’s stopped all the incursions going into Kashmir over the border into the India-controlled portion. India says that’s not true. Who is right?
TERESITA SCHAFFER: I think it’s too early to say. If he has taken action now to stop infiltration, I think it’s probably going to be a few weeks before it’s clear how far- reaching that action is and how long it’s going to last.
MARGARET WARNER: But he did actually say this last week in an interview with the Washington Post. And he says he told Colin Powell a week earlier. Is there any sign that the incursions have abated?
TERESITA SCHAFFER: There’s nothing that I can particularly point to, but my real point is he made very similar statements in January. He wasn’t quite as categorical about saying that nothing is going on. At that point, he clearly did take some action against the militant groups that are believed to be responsible for most of this business.
But the action wasn’t as far reaching or as long lasting as we had hoped at the time and certainly not as dramatic as the Indians had hoped. And the real question is there: How far is he prepared to go? And how long is it likely to last?
MARGARET WARNER: Answer that question. How far is he prepared to go? How long does it last and what’s really his game here? Does he really want to stop these militants?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Well, he understands that these militants are out after him — just like they’re out after Indians in Kashmir, if you will. And this is something that’s been built up over, what — at least twelve or thirteen years in Kashmir.
And the first militants started moving out of Afghanistan into Kashmir, bring their Islamic Jihad with them — with certainly the support of the Pakistanis. So it takes a while to ratchet this thing down just does it with border infiltration.
And I think ultimately if he feels there will be a political response from India in terms of dealing with the issue of Kashmir and two or three times Musharraf and Vajpayee have come close to doing something like this, each time something has stepped in to spoil it, usually some of these militant groups — then that would buy a longer period of tranquility, if you will.
MARGARET WARNER: He did say today and he said before, Ambassador, that he wants to see reciprocation from India, like direct dialogue, like maybe a redeployment of some of the Indian troops in Kashmir away from the villages. Is he likely to get that from India?
TERESITA SCHAFFER: I think India is going to want to wait before taking any action to make sure that whatever he does is serious. If it is serious, however, I think it will be quite important that India begin to respond because that’s how you can get a serious policy change to be sustained.
But I think there’s another point that’s important to make. There’s two arenas in which the militants have been active: domestically within Pakistan and in Kashmir. This is leaving out the whole Afghanistan side of it. It’s been quite clear for a long time that Musharraf really would like to close down their domestic activities and that his efforts to do so are actually quite popular. Closing down things like drive- by shootings at mosques has a lot of resonance in Pakistan.
The difficulty is that the people with a sectarian agenda in many cases kind of overlap with those whose principle agenda is in Kashmir. And it’s not clear whether you can tackle just half of that problem. I think this is something Musharraf is probably just coming to terms with.
ROBERT OAKLEY: Well, he has the third front, which is the al-Qaida and Taliban — these organizations inside Pakistan, which were used with the support of the United States and others to carry the war to the Russians and to use Islam as a generator of still more will to fight, if you will, have come back now and having started to operate in Kashmir but they also are very, very deeply roots inside Islamic organizations in Pakistan.
They’re the ones who are probably behind the blowing up of the bus with the French contractors and killing Danny Pearl and putting a bomb into the church. They’re out after Musharraf as well as out after Shia, if you will. He knows he has to come to grips with this. So he’s really fighting a war on three fronts, which is not easy.
MARGARET WARNER: How much pressure is Vajpayee, the prime minister of India, under to do something militarily?
TERESITA SCHAFFER: He is under severe pressure. The anti-Muslim riots that took place in Gudrat, in western India a couple of months ago clearly made his government look bad and his party look worse because it’s his party that is in control of the state government there. The right wing of the nationalist movement has always been Vajpayee’s political Achilles heel and the biggest source of pressure but what you have now have is a situation where both leaders have domestic pressures on them, leading them to want to talk tough.
You notice that in President Musharraf’s speech, I didn’t go through it and count the lines but there was certainly as much tough talk as there was emphasis on “there’s nothing happening now across the line of control.”
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So that raises U.S. stakes here and the U.S. role here. President Bush this weekend had some tough words for Musharraf about stopping the incursions but Ambassador Oakley, do you think… how much impact or influence do you think the U.S. has here and how can it get the two sides to stand down?
ROBERT OAKLEY: I think we have a lot of influence but, as Tesi said, we’re going to have to use it on both sides. It’s a question of timing. The Pakistanis have got to crack down much harder than they have so far on infiltration, which is the most visible sign of what they’re doing vis-à-vis Kashmir, unless someone can come up with hard proof that links them to some of these terrorists acts, which I think is not there, because I think it’s as much against Pakistan as it is against India.
But the next thing you have to worry about is dealing later on with the Indian side, as Tesi says, and get some kind of response there so you can get a process underway. But this is going to take a lot of time — first to satisfy the Indians and the rest of the world about the question of infiltration and then to begin to deal with the other problem.
Remember, the Indians have elections coming up and so does Pakistan, so I wouldn’t say that you are going to have any serious dialogue until late in the year.
MARGARET WARNER: Your view of the U.S. prospects here and how the U.S. is going about it. Rich Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, is going there I think in early June.
TERESITA SCHAFFER: The fascinating thing is that the U.S. has good relations with both India and Pakistan to a degree that I think is unprecedented. And the other remarkable thing is that at least since the attack on the Indian parliament last December, India’s buildup of troops and India’s push on Pakistan has clearly been aimed at getting the United States involved. India sees the U.S. as a source of pressure on Pakistan, as it undoubtedly will be.
I think they’re sophisticated enough to know that that doesn’t come without a price. Mr. Armitage’s trip to the region, I think, is going to be a good thing. I wish that it could happen more quickly.
But the really important thing is that having got actively involved, I think the United States needs to stay that way and not drop out when things look as if the temperature has dropped by a few degrees.
MARGARET WARNER: How much time do you think the United States has and other outside diplomats to try to work this?
ROBERT OAKLEY: Oh, I think, as Tesi said, I think the intense pressure is now reduced somewhat. And I think that Indians certainly will sit back and watch and wait to see whether Musharraf makes good upon this speech and responds to the pressures and the appeals from the United States from Russia, from Britain, from France.
And if so, they’re going to be under terrible pressure to begin to do something serious about Kashmir. This is going to take time. So I would say that assuming you that you do get a significant reduction in cross-border operations, infiltration, that the time will be there.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Oakley, Ambassador Schaffer, thank you both.