Bush must beware of Asia's nuclear rivalry - By Mark Tully Back   Home  
President Bush has identified America's enemies as "a network of terrorists and every government that supports them."

Earlier in his speech to Congress he defined that network as Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, and there can be no doubt that the government he was referring to was the Taliban administration in Afghanistan.

But he has been warned by countless commentators about the lesson of history for those who go to war with Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union thought that lesson didn't apply to an army equipped with all the accurate and heavy firepower of late twentieth century armor.

President Bush is wisely being more cautious. He is not blundering into Afghanistan as the Soviet army did.

Clumsy response

Indian troops patrol Kashmir streets where conflict rules He has carefully considered all the options and assessed the risks, but there is one lesson of history he doesn't seem to have learned.

There would be no Taliban, perhaps no Osama bin Laden, Pakistan might well be a democracy, and there would be no proxy-war in Kashmir, if America had not matched the Soviet Union's clumsiness in its response to the invasion of Afghanistan.

By pouring arms into Pakistan to support the Afghan Mujahiddin, America laid the foundations of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Indeed, the CIA is reported to have recruited bin Laden to its cause.

They also propped up the Pakistani military ruler of the time, General Ziaul Haq, even though they deplored his execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the prime minister he ousted.

In Kashmir, whether the insurrection is led by terrorists, as India insists they are, or freedom fighters, as Pakistan says they are, it has certainly sprung from the Mujahiddin the Americans nurtured to fight a brutal proxy war.

Dangers of instability

Pakistan's Bhutto (R) with Indira Gandhi at a summit in 1972 Now president Bush has called on Pakistan to assist him in an Afghan war, ignoring the present even graver dangers of instability in South Asia.

Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has told his people that he had no option, that he had to agree to help America to protect the country's interests.

The radical Islamic groups in Pakistan have responded predictably by calling for demonstrations and strikes to protest against the general.

After Friday prayers is the time for demonstrations in Pakistan and the first Friday seems to have passed with fewer demonstrators and less violence than expected.

But there is a lesson from history here, too. It was Friday protests that brought down Bhutto in the '70s.

Passionate address

I watched his passionate address to the nation in which he told the Islamic parties that he understood their strategy, which was to hold violent demonstrations, provoke the police into firing, then declare the dead to be martyrs.

Bhutto went on to assure the nation that he could and would resist this. He was right about the strategy and wrong about the outcome.

The Islamic groups now protesting against America have their martyrs already.

Three people were shot in Friday's demonstrations in Karachi. In 1977 Bhutto had to call out the army to curb the demonstrators because the police could not be trusted to fire on Muslim demonstrators.

But that was an army which still upheld the tradition it had inherited from the British Raj, the tradition that soldiers obey orders, whatever their personal beliefs.

General Zia was an Islamic warrior and some commentators say he left an army in which as many as 40 percent of the officers and men would be sympathetic to the demonstrators they might be ordered to shoot.

Musharraf must be hoping he does not have to give that order.

Widespread fear

Pakistan's cause in Kashmir was one of the national issues Musharraf said he was protecting.

There is widespread fear in India that in exchange for Musharraf's support against the Taliban, the pressure on him to stop the proxy war in Kashmir will be lifted.

That will enrage the Hindu groups in India who are the hardcore supporters of the Bharatiya |Janata Party (BJP), which heads the present ruling coalition.

India's prime minister will come under pressure to retaliate. It is not too far-fetched to suggest that could lead to a very different war than the one President Bush is planning, a war between two nuclear nations.

So while sensible Indians realize they have nothing to gain from the fall of Musharraf and the destabilisation of Pakistan, with all the scope that offers to the Islamic groups.

At the same time they must be hoping that America doesn't repeat the mistake made when it last intervened in Afghanistan, by treating Pakistan as a special ally and allowing Musharraf the free hand once given to Zia.

President Bush would be well advised to keep South Asia out of his war.
This article was published in CNN.com IT is indeed scary to imagine the possibile outcome of this US support to Pakistan.