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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

FEBRUARY 11, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 5

Of Rhetoric and Reality
Why Pakistan is not declared a terrorist state
By ANTHONY DAVIS

The threat was out there as early as 1993. Weed out the military intelligence operatives backing holy war in Kashmir, Washington told Islamabad - or risk being declared a state that aides and abets terrorists. Now, in the wake of the Indian Airlines hijacking drama, the U.S. is again telling Islamabad to crack down -and the nudge-nudge diplomacy of 1993 has given way to a war of words.

Predictably, New Delhi, embarrassed by its security lapses, was the first to use the hijacking to brand arch-rival Pakistan a terrorist state. Before long, Washington was warning that links between the Pakistan military and the group implicated in the hijacking, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, could prompt the U.S. to designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism. Then it was Moscow's turn. Stung by the Afghan Taliban's support for an independent Chechnya, the Kremlin stated itself "much less inclined to trust assertions that Pakistani authorities have no control over terrorist organizations based in Pakistan."

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The international community is leery of designating the world's first certified nuclear-armed terrorist state. But Pakistan is feeling the heat as never before. And angered by what it views as an assiduous campaign of Indian disinformation, Islamabad has hit back, struggling to draw a distinction between diplomatic support for a legitimate freedom struggle in Kashmir sanctioned by U.N. resolutions and terrorism that it vows not to tolerate. At the same time, pursuing foreign policy through holy war and turning a blind eye to the activities of freelance militants is a risky business. "'Those who sup with the devil should eat with a long spoon," says the Australian South Asia expert, William Maley.

When it comes to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Islamabad seems to have used a short spoon indeed. Founded in 1982, HuM was originally a vehicle for Pakistanis eager to support the war in Afghanistan - a conflict backed and financed by Washington. Reorganized in 1993 as Harkat-ul-Ansar, the movement turned to Kashmir and other jihads from the Philippines to Bosnia that were not part of the U.S. agenda. Implicated in the 1995 abductions of Western backpackers in Kashmir and the killings of American diplomats in Karachi the same year, HuA appeared on Washington's blacklist of terrorist groups in 1997 and switched its name back to HuM.

Given Harkat's role in Afghanistan and Kashmir - key cockpits of Islamabad's foreign policy in the 1990s - few analysts doubt operational links between the group and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). As late as last year, Harkat volunteers fought in the ranks of the ISI-backed Taliban and trained at a camp on the southern edge of Kabul that is well known to Pakistani intelligence. In Kashmir, Harkat helped to spearhead Islamabad's policy of using guerrilla war to push India into serious negotiations.

As the Clinton administration is at pains to point out, none of that proves ISI knew of the hijacking in advance - let alone engineered it, as India would have the world believe. Assuming, of course, that Harkat actually was behind the hijacking. While most independent observers evidently believe it was, some well-placed Pakistanis are convinced that the incident was staged by Indian intelligence to blacken Pakistan's name and divert attention from popular aspirations in Kashmir.

Amid the paranoia and disinformation, Harkat's erstwhile secretary-general Masood Azhar, freed after the hijack, has done nothing to help Islamabad draw a neat line between legitimate freedom struggles and terrorism. In Karachi, he publicly called for jihad against India and America. Later at Lahore airport he was feted by scores of supporters brandishing assault rifles, making a mockery of official vows that any displays of firearms would not be tolerated.

Despite U.S. pressure, Pakistan's military rulers likely won't crack down on Harkat. Islamabad claims it has seen no convincing proof that the group was involved in the hijacking. Besides, closing down Harkat would imply moving against other groups and alienating a powerful religious lobby whose support Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf may need later. Not least, a crackdown would deprive the army of its plausible-deniability strategy in Kashmir.

Similarly, Washington can ill afford to isolate Pakistan because heavy-handedness at this critical juncture could spawn a fundamentalist regime with the Bomb. Islamabad is only too willing to exploit those fears. Given these circumstances, it is easy to understand why Clinton might favor skipping Pakistan on his late March swing through South Asia, which will include stops in Bangladesh and India. Then again, a snub like that can only escalate Pakistan's frustration, anger and insecurity.

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