Hindu Vivek Kendra
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A Test of True Allies

A Test of True Allies

Author: Jim Hoagland
Publication: The Washington Post
Date: November 8, 2001

The United States made many demands on allies and friends in launching military operations in Afghanistan. None has been more difficult to field than the request made to Israel and to India: Restrain your own wars against terror so we can get on with ours.

American diplomats are careful not to put the request that way. To do so would make it sound as if they attach a more urgent priority to American lives lost to terrorism than to those of Indians, Israelis and others targeted by suicide bombers and gunmen. That is inevitably true -- but politically unacceptable to say.

Nor do officials blurt out another reality: These U.S. appeals for restraint cater to Pakistani and Arab public opinion -- that is, they try to shore up shaky dictatorships that can provide help and political cover in the bombing of Afghanistan -- while leaving democratic governments in Jerusalem and New Delhi to fend for themselves.

Unfair? Certainly. But not surprising. War runs on expediency, not on logic or morality. The Pentagon needs bases to carry out the mission of destroying Osama bin Laden, his terror network and the Taliban.

But the outcome of the global campaign forced on the United States by bin Laden's group will do much more than prove the prowess or incapacity of President Bush and his generals to use force abroad.

The way in which the campaign is conducted, and the long-term goals it serves, can establish new organizing principles and priorities for international relations for years or decades to come. The roles that democracies and dictatorships will be called on to play in the American agenda of the 21st century will be made clearer by this conflict.

Bush and his aides should keep that big picture in mind as they pursue the immediate demands of combat. Crises of this nature turn politicians into statesmen and reshape world politics -- if the big opportunities are seized.

India and Israel are the most vibrant democracies in a vast swath of countries from North Africa through the Himalayas that should now be seen as a single strategic region. Jerusalem and New Delhi are also end points of the U.S. campaign. If the struggles in Kashmir and the West Bank and Gaza are not reshaped and defused by America's war on terrorism, those bitter conflicts will feed new waves of international terrorism for the future.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, due at the White House on Friday, is still open to the much closer strategic relationship that Bush promised on coming to office. But that drive has stalled as Bush has been urged by the bureaucracy to concentrate on the short-term advantages of a Faustian bargain with Pakistani ruler Pervez Musharraf.

Vajpayee arrives just as that bargain's shortcomings become apparent. The promise by Pakistan's intelligence services to foment uprisings in southern Afghanistan and to arrange defections from the Taliban and bin Laden's network have fallen flat, even as Bush heaps more economic aid and political forgiveness on Musharraf.

This may not be simple incompetence. Olivier Roy, a French political scientist and Europe's leading authority on Afghanistan, predicts that the Pakistanis will cooperate with the American effort to oust the Taliban just enough to be able to sabotage it when they choose.

"What Musharraf and the army care about are keeping their nuclear weapons and their ability to intervene in Kashmir, and having a friendly government in Afghanistan," Roy said at a Brookings Institution seminar here this week. To protect the first two goals, they will go through the motions of compromising on the makeup of a new regime in Afghanistan "until the Americans leave. The calculation of every regime in the area is that they can all outlast an American presence that will be short-term."

Vajpayee will not engage Bush directly on Pakistan's current role, I am told. He will instead probe whether this White House seems ready to repeat one of the fundamental mistakes of the Cold War, which was to convert tactical relationships with dictators into ideological, strategic alliances.

Dictators snap the whip and seem to make things happen quickly. But they own only the moment. That is why they clutch the present so fiercely. The future belongs to democratic leaders, who can build and sustain consensus and commitment to ideas and values. They are Bush's true allies, however difficult dealing with them can be at a moment of crisis.

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