The Downside to the Bush Doctrine (On View in South Asia Now)
By Juan Cole
Mr. Cole is professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan
Does the current conflict between India and Pakistan show that President George W. Bush made an error in issuing his Bush Doctrine in the wake of September 11? The U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan was, in fact, authorized by NATO and by the Security Council of the United Nations. Instead of stressing the resulting legitimacy of his military campaign, however, Bush preferred unilateral pronouncements. He wanted the terrorists “Dead or Alive,” invoking the cowboy ethos of the old American West.
The Bush doctrine holds that harboring international terrorists makes a country a pariah and authorizes unilateral military action against it. The doctrine allows for none of the ambiguities that plague interpretations of terrorism in the real world. All world leaders facing any sort of insurgency have invoked the Bush doctrine in recent months, from Israel’s Ariel Sharon to India’s Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in London last fall, “We have to go beyond al-Qaida in our war against terrorism and target all sponsors who finance, train, equip and harbor terrorists.” His reference was to the help that India believes is given by Pakistan to guerilla groups fighting to detach Kashmir from India.
This most current of crises is deeply rooted in history. In 1947, the British colonial possessions in South Asia were partitioned into a Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The major issue that partition left unresolved was the fate of the northern province of Kashmir. Its Hindu raja, Hari Singh, acceded to India even though most of his subjects were Muslims. His autocratic decision provoked popular uprisings.
As Sikh and Hindu volunteers flocked to the aid of the raja, and Muslim fighters came over from Pakistan, India flew troops to Kashmir and fought the Pakistani army to a standstill. The British negotiator of partition, Lord Mountbatten, stipulated that Kashmir’s accession to India was provisional and subject to a popular plebiscite. Later United Nations Council Resolutions concurred. The Indian government rejected the idea of a referendum and the notion of any outside interference, simply claiming Kashmir as its own.
India and Pakistan have fought three major wars, two of them largely over the Kashmir issue.
From the early 1990s, a local popular insurgency in Kashmir, which seeks independence rather than union with Pakistan, has roiled Indian politics. India responded with harsh military reprisals. In the past 11 years some 34,000 Kashmiris have died in the resulting violence, many of them innocent civilians.
Pakistani irregulars called jihadis have supported annexation of Kashmir by going over the border to hit Indian targets. They were given clandestine logistical aid, training and weaponry by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In the 1990s, the ISI helped create the Taliban and supported terrorist training camps in Afghanistan largely in order to gain “strategic depth” in the struggle with India. Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999, is known as a hawk on the Kashmir issue. As head of the military, he had brought Pakistan and India to the brink of war earlier that year over the Kargil section of Kashmir.
Musharraf was forced to turn on the Taliban in the aftermath of September 11, and he cracked down on the Afghan-linked guerilla groups in Pakistan. He has played a key role as an ally of the U.S. in its war on terror. His ardor over Kashmir has, however, not cooled. Jihadis still make their way from Pakistan to Kashmir, hitting Indian targets, with or without government backing. Pakistani groups even attacked the Indian Parliament on December 13 of last year. It is unclear whether Musharraf simply cannot stop the terrorists, or whether his military government is still lukewarm about trying to do so.
India has massed 700,000 troops in Kashmir, and Pakistan has virtually its entire army of 400,000 at the front, as well. Both countries have nuclear weapons capabilities, and both Vajpayee and Musharraf seem naïve about the way in which conventional war could turn nuclear if either state felt sufficiently threatened.
If George W. Bush had appealed to the NATO and Security Council decisions on collective security in justifying his war in Afghanistan, he would have deprived others of a pretext for go-it-alone attacks. The invocation of the Bush Doctrine by the Vajpayee government is chilling in its threat of unilateral military action against a foe perceived to harbor terrorists. A world of nuclear powers cannot afford to have its leaders playing Wyatt Earp.