NEW DELHI — With the issue of terrorism threatening to spark an open military confrontation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, U.S. President George W. Bush is rushing his defense secretary to the subcontinent in a last-ditch effort to persuade Islamabad to sever its links with terror groups.

The paradox is that Pakistan is both a key ally in the U.S.-led antiterror war in Afghanistan and the main sanctuary of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other transnational terrorists. While the West worries about terrorists possibly acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Pakistan has state-supported terrorists and nuclear weapons controlled by Islamist generals.

Today the Pakistani military regime is employing nuclear blackmail to deter India from attacking terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan, and using diplomatic blackmail against the United States by threatening to move its troops from the Afghan border to the Indian frontier. By playing nuclear poker, Pakistan wants to protect its export of terror.

The scourge of Pakistani terrorism emanates not so much from the rosary-holding mullahs as from the whiskey-drinking generals who reared the forces of jihad and fathered the Taliban. Yet by passing the blame for their disastrous jihad policy to their mullah puppets, dictator Pervez Musharraf and his fellow generals have made many outsiders believe that the key is to contain the religious fringe, not the puppeteers.

If the U.S.-led coalition is to decisively win its war on terrorism, the next phase of the campaign has to unfold not in Iraq but in Pakistan, where a small number of U.S. Special Forces have been unable to hunt down the top al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership because of inadequate Pakistani cooperation. In fact, Pakistani military intelligence has been seeking to infiltrate al-Qaeda terrorists into Indian Kashmir.

The U.S. and India share common goals in relation to Pakistan. Both want to see a moderate Pakistan through the dismantling of its terrorist infrastructure and reform of its Islamic schools that produce tomorrow’s jihadis.

The present military standoff on the subcontinent offers an opportunity to the U.S. and India to advance those goals. India has already made an important contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom by compelling Musharraf in January — under the threat of war — to agree to a crackdown on terror groups and to halt the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. But the likelihood of war has increased because Musharraf has moved backward on his antiterror promises, releasing three-quarters of the militants he detained and allowing banned outfits to regroup under new names.

The failure of Indian diplomatic and economic sanctions against Pakistan to yield results has also increased the probability of war.

With the approaching monsoon rains intensifying pressure on India to act before its military options are constrained, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld need to deliver some blunt messages to Musharraf when they separately visit the region in the coming days. As Bush has put it, it is for Musharraf to defuse the crisis by halting cross-border terrorist incursions.

Despite the doomsday scenarios being painted in the West, the fact is that this is an ongoing conflict and an increase in fighting does not necessarily signal Armageddon. The Pakistani military has for years been waging an undeclared war against India in the form of terror export. This unconventional war has cost India more, in economic terms and human lives lost, than all the open wars it has fought since independence.

Unless U.S. pressure can make Musharraf pull back from the brink, the one-sided war is likely to become two sided.

The best way for Rumsfeld and Armitage to accomplish their missions is to straightforwardly convey to Musharraf that the U.S. will not allow Pakistan to employ nuclear terror to shield its export of terror. The Pakistani state has been failing for many years, and its Chinese-assisted nuclear arsenal is a threat to regional and international security.

With the U.S. military in a position to control Pakistan’s airspace, the Pakistani generals should know that U.S. forces would not sit back and allow them to carry out a nuclear first strike against India.

Pakistan’s geography and narrow strategic waistline render its nuclear weapons useless for anything other than blackmail. Stripped of their ability to engage in nuclear blackmail, the Pakistani generals will have no choice but to clamp down on the terror networks they have nurtured.

A genuine crackdown by the Pakistani military on its surrogate terror groups could dramatically disperse the war clouds even at this late stage.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.