Powell Marches into the India-Pakistan Minefield

  • Share
  • Read Later

Children posing as "holy warriors," hold mock rifles during a rally in Peshawar

TIME.com: Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf has braved a domestic backlash to ally with the U.S. against al-Qaeda. What will Musharraf be asking of Powell when he arrives for talks Monday?

Tim McGirk: The Pakistanis will insist that Powell bring up the matter of Kashmir when he visits India following his Pakistan trip. And, of course, Kashmir is going to be high on India's agenda, too, although from an entirely opposite perspective. Musharraf will tell Powell that he is sticking his neck out by helping the Americans at a time when most of the country is clearly opposed to that help. That much is underlined by the huge security precautions being taken for Powell's visit to Islamabad. And in return for his help, Musharraf will say that he wants not only immediate financial support (and lots of it) but also some sort of movement on resolving the dispute with India over Kashmir.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Musharraf previously went to New Delhi for talks with India, but the Pakistanis claim that the Indians refuse to have serious discussions over the issue. (Pakistan favors international mediation in the dispute; India insists it remain a bilateral issue between the two countries.) Pakistan will portray the visit not as Powell coming and asking the Pakistanis to be more cooperative, but as a gesture of personal thanks to Musharraf for the help he has already given — from what we've seen, it's clear that the U.S. is using Pakistani airbases, for example.

Are there signs that Washington may want more from Pakistan than they're already getting?

I don't know how much they're getting in the way of intelligence — the proof is that they haven't nailed bin Laden yet, and the bombings are entering the second week, with bombs falling on villages and huge protests throughout the Muslim world. Musharraf is going to tell Powell that this campaign isn't going to work if it drags on; that it's going to be untenable for him and for other allies in Muslim world.

Musharraf may be concerned to wrap this up quickly, but there is no sign of the U.S. military campaign ending any time soon…

No there isn't. It makes you wonder whether it was a good idea to start bombing at this stage — everybody knew that the bombing campaign wasn't going to get bin Laden and his network, and yet they went ahead and did it. Powell will tell Musharraf to hang in, that the U.S. will support him and accelerate efforts to get an alternative government to the Taliban in power in Kabul. But the chances of such a government succeeding decrease with each day of bombing — the mass defections they were expecting from the Taliban haven't happened yet.

Is opposition to the strikes in Pakistan growing or receding?

It's staying pretty much the same. You see the same people coming out to protest every day, the very entrenched followers of the extremist parties. But the majority of Pakistanis do feel that what is happening in Afghanistan is wrong and unfair — they see it as a mighty superpower raining destruction on long-suffering Afghans.

What will the Indians be asking of Powell when he visits them?

India wants all the Kashmiri militant groups to be put on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations, to have their bank accounts frozen and so on. (Two such groups are currently on the list.) That's a difficult issue for Pakistan, since most, if not all of these groups operate with some degree of Pakistani patronage.

So what's Musharaff's response?

He's over a barrel. His intelligence service has been backing these Kashmiri groups and continues to do so, and it has been willing to overlook the fact that these groups are closely connected with extremist fundamentalist groups in Pakistan and that by giving them guns, you're also arming Pakistan's extreme right. That has caused tremendous problems in Pakistan, because some of these groups have, for example, gone around killing Pakistani Shiite Muslims.

One of the reasons it was so hard for Pakistan to sever ties with the Taliban was that the roots of its involvement with the Taliban and the training camps in Afghanistan are pretty much the same roots as its involvement with the militant groups in Kashmir.

So India wants pressure on Musharraf over the Kashmiri groups, but the U.S. is unlikely to want to do this right now?

If anything, India is worried that Powell is going to be pro-Musharraf and pro-Pakistan. And India will tell Powell that it is committed to the fight against terrorism, but that it is also a victim of terrorism as a result of Kashmir, and will offer up proof.

So how can Powell respond?

Good question. He will probably say that India has valid concerns and the U.S. will look into them. But that right now it faces a more pressing concern in Afghanistan.