A few weeks ago, terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai caught the attention of the world. What were the historical roots of these attacks?
In the 1980s, the CIA and its “sister” agency, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), established on Pakistani soil camps and bases for Afghani and foreign “freedom fighters” to attack and destroy Afghanistan’s Communist-led government and its Soviet allies. The blowback from this “victory” were the Al Qaeda group, the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and the eventual September 11 attacks on the U.S. After 9/11 the Bush administration provided Pakistan’s military dictatorship with billions of dollars to fight the terrorists who were the Frankenstein monsters of our Cold War policies.
The Mumbai attacks have been connected to a major Kashmir-based terrorist group with long and deep connections to Pakistan’s ISI. Although there are no “smoking guns” yet, it is very difficult to believe that Bush “anti-terrorism aid” to Pakistan did not play a role indirectly in these attacks.
Other major issues are
Pakistan, Bangladesh and India were all part of one India under the British “Raj.” After World War II, the collapsing British Empire, allied with India’s Muslim League, forced Indian leaders to accept an unworkable partition as the price of independence (encouraging Muslim majority regions to vote for a separate Muslim nation, Pakistan).
India soon became the largest “liberal democracy” in the world and a leader of the non-aligned movement, with significant socialist orientations. Pakistan, under the de-facto rule of a British-trained military, rapidly allied itself with U.S. Cold War governments in a series of South Asian and Middle East military pacts. Pakistan was virulently anti-Communist and anti-Soviet and that was more than enough for successive U.S. administrations who cared little about its oppressive policies at home and anti-Indian policies abroad.
During the Nixon administration, for example, U.S. support directly aided the Pakistani military in carrying out mass murder in its attempt to suppress an uprising in East Pakistan (today Bangladesh). In the 1980s, the Reagan administration supported the brutal tyrant General Zia, who did its dirty work against Afghanistan and intensified the oppression of the Pakistani people. Pakistani regimes also long supported forces who fomented attacks against Indian Kashmir without any serious U.S. opposition.
For successive Pakistani military regimes, Kashmir (formerly a feudal princely state with a large Muslim majority which joined India in the post-World-War-II partition) has been what the Czech Sudetenland, with its large German-speaking majority, was to Nazi Germany, that is, a region to control for both national pride and strategic position. Unlike Nazi Germany in its relationship to Czechoslovakia, Pakistan is much weaker and smaller than India. Without the U.S. blank check, it is unlikely that the Kashmir issue could have continued as it has, with tens of thousands of deaths over the decades.
What should the Obama administration do in the region? First, it must begin to disengage from the Pakistani military and pursue policies to aid both the Pakistani people and the people of the region. This means breaking nearly 60 years of military alliance. It also means making it clear to Pakistan that the U.S. opposes any annexation of Kashmir.
But it also means seeking to bring together India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in a peace process that will further the development of a regional community, economic integration and, for India and Pakistan, nuclear disarmament.
Such policies offer the only solution to the region’s poverty which feeds both terrorist groups and the military forces that support them. They may also jolt the Pakistani government into actually acting against the terrorist groups that its rulers have long aided, since it will be clear to them that the U.S. will no longer give them billions to fight a phony war against terrorism.
Such policies would also help to build a larger peace policy in the region and the world, encouraging closer relations between South Asia and China (Chinese-Indian relations have improved significantly) and defusing conflict between the U.S. and Iran (whose Shia Muslim regime is a target of Al Qaeda/Taliban forces). Most of all, such policies which improve the living standards and strengthen the civil and human rights of the people of the region, will gain for the U.S. the friendship and respect of all the people of South Asia.
Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University.