TOPICS > Politics

The Ongoing India-Pakistan Conflict

December 31, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT

SPENCER MICHELS: Artillery shelling and scattered violence in Kashmir, ongoing for two weeks, continued today as tensions between Pakistan and India remained high. In the fighting today and over the weekend Indian security forces killed at least 11 men, including several Pakistanis, who were reportedly members of Islamic militant groups. But in a move Indian officials called a step forward, Pakistani leaders said today they had arrested Hafiz Saeed, the leader of an Islamic militant group accused of attacking the Indian Parliament. Jaswant Singh, Indian Foreign Minister: We hope that such actions against terrorist activities targeting India, including Kashmir, would be pursued vigorously.

Saeed is identified as the founder of the group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Today, Indian officials gave Pakistan a list of 20 other suspected terrorists it wants arrested and handed over to India. In another development today, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee indicated he may be willing to sit down with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during a summit in Nepal next week. Over the weekend, President Bush called the leaders of both countries to try and defuse the crisis. At a coffee shop in Crawford, Texas today, the president called actions by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a good sign.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I was hoping that they were not headed for war, to give us all a chance to work with President Musharraf, bring the terrorists to justice, and today, as you know, he apprehended the head of what they call LET. That’s after he apprehended the head of JEM. So he’s cracking down hard. And I appreciate his efforts. Terror is terror, and the fact that the Pakistani president is after terrorists is a good sign.

SPENCER MICHELS: The United States has relied on both countries as allies in the Afghanistan war. The current tension between India and Pakistan erupted on December 13th when alleged Pakistani militants attacked the Indian Parliament in the capital, New Delhi. Fourteen people were killed. The Indian government has said Saeed’s group, along with members of another militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, were responsible. What followed was the biggest military buildup by both countries in nearly 15 years. Both nations have nuclear weapons, but have said they do not expect this dispute to trigger their use.

The Pakistani government has denied any involvement with the militant groups and said today that the arrests of a militant leader was a sign of its commitment.

AZIZ KHAN, Pakistani Foreign Minister: This arrest is part of the same measures that the government of Pakistan has been taking for quite some time now.

SPENCER MICHELS: But Indian officials have repeatedly cast doubt on Pakistan’s actions.

JASWANT SINGH, Indian Foreign Minister: In regard to certain developments about terrorist organizations I must make clear that the kind of trickery that simply changing names, changing headquarters from one part of Pakistan to another or to indulge in the cosmetic seizure of assets, is really to make a mockery of the gravity of the situation.

SPENCER MICHELS: Since the two countries were created out of British India in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. India is predominantly Hindu and Pakistan is mostly Muslim. Pakistani President Musharraf spoke of the continuing tensions yesterday.

PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: If any war is thrust on Pakistan, Pakistan’s armed forces, and 140 million people of Pakistan, are fully prepared to face all consequences with all their might.

SPENCER MICHELS: Today, trains from Pakistan to India were crowded with returning Indians as both governments stopped any public transport across each other’s borders, beginning on New Year’s Day.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the confrontation, we turn to Stephen Cohen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He’s written numerous books about South Asia politics; and Michael Krepon, founding president of the Henry Stimson Center, a nonprofit organization focusing on arms control and security issues.

Well, guests, just a moment ago, you heard George Bush talking about the significance of the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the Indian government soft pedaling a little bit and the Pakistanis saying it was pretty important. Why don’t we start with you, Mr. Krepon. How significant is it?

MICHAEL KREPON: Well, I would liken it toYasser Arafat detaining and locking up the head of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These are important steps. They’re long overdue. It’s hard to say if this is the beginning of a substantive and effective campaign by the government of Pakistan against groups that are creating havoc within the country as well as in Kashmir, but this is a very positive development.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Cohen?

STEPHEN COHEN: I agree. I think Michael Krepon has it just right. This is an important development. It’s the beginning perhaps of a long process. What is different about this step as opposed to previous India-Pakistan dialogues is the role of the United States. The Indians have used our new relationship with Pakistan to put pressure on the Pakistanis as we’ve used our relationship with India to put pressure on Pakistan as well. So I think that this may be the beginning of another kind of process in South Asia.

RAY SUAREZ: Let’s rewind a little bit to the beginning of this rising tension along the border. You would think that with war in Afghanistan and both Pakistan and India being enlisted by the United States to be part of the war on terrorism that the countries in the neighborhood would be pretty distracted by the Afghan war. How did we come to knifepoint on the Pakistan-India border? Stephen Cohen?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well I come from Chicago, in Chicago we have a phrase, the best time to kick a man is when he’s down. The Pakistanis were distracted by their new relationship with us and the war in Afghanistan. The Indians saw this as an opportune time to put pressure on Pakistan and threaten Pakistan with a two-front war. I don’t think they meant it. I think they simply wanted to get us involved in putting pressure on Islamabad. What you have here is the consequence of a long chain that began in New York and Washington where we went after al-Qaida. Al-Qaida was harbored by the Taliban. The Taliban were protected by the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis in turn have a terror-like relationship with India in Kashmir. So in a sense this is the consequence of the bombing in New York and Washington.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Krepon, first, do you agree with that analysis of how we got here, and second, do you think there’s the threat of a real war?

MICHAEL KREPON: Well, there has been a tectonic shift with the war in Afghanistan and the war against terror. And it’s natural that the major aftershocks would be in South Asia because Pakistan has been wrapped up with Jihad. And the Jihad in Afghanistan, the training of Jihadis to fight there and also the Jihad in Kashmir. So it’s not at all surprising that South Asia is at the knife’s point at this time. As for the threat of nuclear escalation, neither of these countries wants a war, at least they say. Neither country takes its nuclear holdings lightly. My sense is that an authorized use of a nuclear weapon is a very slight possibility, but the safest time for these weapons is when they are in repose. And when you start to move them, then the chances of something going wrong increase, and my sense is that nuclear capabilities have been readied.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what’s the rest of the world to make of some of the blithe talk that came from service chiefs in both countries last week? They confidently low strode up to microphones and said, well, it would be terrible if it would happen but sure it could happen. And it sounded altogether too casual discussion of war between nuclear powers.

STEPHEN COHEN: I think they’ve learned this from the United States and Russia in the past. You know, we would have General Curtis LeMay talking about these kinds of things. Barry Goldwater, former Senator, presidential candidate, spoke in these terms of nuclear weapons, that a nuclear war was winnable, could be fought and would be winnable. I think it took Ronald Reagan to really change broad American opinion on the possibility of nuclear war.

But Indians and Pakistanis learned these things many years ago, and they’ve adopted the rhetoric of the Cold War in terms of their use of nuclear weapons. I do agree with Michael Krepon, however, that there are sober people on both sides and I think they’re declaiming and proclaiming the threat of nuclear war or a threat of war, possibly nuclear war, but I don’t think they’re seriously planning for it.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there strong civilian control, Stephen Cohen, of the armies in both countries? Is this a situation where there are political differences and a lot of daylight between the elected government, in the case of India, and the military-origin government in the case of Pakistan?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, in India there’s civilian oppression of the military. The civilian government is very, very powerful. The military play virtually no role in these decisions except for some technical advice and the weapons are pretty much under very strong civilian and scientific control. In Pakistan perhaps it’s good that the military is in control of nuclear weapons because the Pakistan civilian politicians in the past have been rather erratic and irresponsible, at least in their domestic politics.

But I do think that this generation of Pakistani military leaders understands the kinds of weapons that they’re dealing with. However, they have the more proactive view of nuclear weapons than the Indians do, and in their doctrine they would not hesitate to use them first if they felt that key Pakistanis targets were being threatened, such as Lahore or main force Pakistani units. Whereas the Indian doctrine at least on paper is a “no first use” doctrine although the Pakistanis don’t take that seriously.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Krepon, let’s take a closer look at Pervez Musharraf. He would seem to be in a very tough spot at the moment with his own domestic opposition, a lot of emotion rising in his country about both his alliance with the United States and his intentions in Kashmir. What are his options at this point?

MICHAEL KREPON: Well, I think we ought to say a few words of praise for Pervez Musharraf. I’ve not always done that, but he’s been the most stand-up Muslim leader in the globe in facing up to terror. He has vastly changed Pakistani policy, a complete 180 with respect to Afghanistan. And he tried for a while to maintain a distinction between terrorists in Afghanistan and freedom fighters in Kashmir. But that distinction is very hard to hold.

And what’s happened is that the so-called freedom fighters in Kashmir have begun to turn on their patrons. This adds to Musharraf’s difficulties. His interior minister, another army general, who is the point person in this crackdown against extremism, his brother was gunned down in Pakistan about a week ago. The shooting of the Indian parliament on the 13th of December was primarily an attack against the Indian government, but it was secondarily an attack against Musharraf trying to hold his feet to the fire and trying to get him to maintain his allegiance to this Kashmir policy, which is creating great difficulties for the country. Musharraf’s had to be a broken field runner. He has done remarkably well so far, and the chain of command within the Pakistan army has survived lots of stresses and strains. It seems to be intact. And he now has a fellow in charge of the intelligence services who is clearly subordinate to him. So I think he’s going through some pretty rough passages, but he’s doing okay.

RAY SUAREZ: And very quickly before we go, is it in Prime Minister Vajpayee of India’s interest to help him in his political troubles right now?

MICHAEL KREPON: Well, there was another crisis very much like this in 1987 – that Steve has done outstanding writing about – and it got resolved when the two leaders sat down and resolved it. They need to take control of this crisis and deescalate it. And they have an opportunity to do it when they meet in Katmandu next week.

RAY SUAREZ: We’re going to have to leave it there. Michael Krepon, Stephen Cohen, thank you both.