The Downside to the Bush Doctrine (On View in South Asia Now)

News Abroad

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.

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Badshah of Indus - 10/6/2002

Israel does accept the separate state of Palestine but has to do what it is doing because the Palestine government is not doing anything to prevent suicide bombers. What is India doing? Israel conflict is much more complex than the Indian one, because of the size of Israel and Palestine as countries. The Israel conflict has been going on for generations.

Manisha Sinha - 6/9/2002

Juan Cole's article on the threat of nuclear war in South Asia has many gaps that cast some doubt on his alleged expertise on the region's history. For instance, he fails to note that India has a no-first strike nuclear policy unlike Pakistan or for that matter the United States. Secondly, India has not threatened to invade Pakistan but to strike the terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, not at all similar to the western-condoned wholesale Israeli invasion of Palestine. India accepts the statehood of Pakistan and has done so since 1947 unlike the present Israeli government who are determined to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. Thirdly, while it is true that the Indian army has been guilty of excesses in putting down the Kashmiri insurgency (highlighted first by India's democratic press), many of the over thousands of Kashmiris killed have died at the hands of militants, whose record of human rights is perhaps even more deplorable. To attribute all the killings in Kashmir to the Indian forces is not just biased but false. Perhaps Professor Cole should study recent Amnesty reports that detail abuses on both sides. Because the Indian Army, unlike the motley crew of Kashmiri, Pakistani and Afghan mujahideens operating in Kashmir, represents the Indian state, it should certainly adhere to a higher standard than the terrorists (and there have been too few instances of court martial of abusive troops) but to ignore the slaughter of entire villages, Kashmiri Pundits and Buddhists, not to mention countless Indian civilians elsewhere by the militants is foolhardy. Most Kashmiris want independence, or at least some measure of autonomy. They do not want to join an undemocratic Pakistan or have a Taliban-like fundamentalist regime, which the Islamic militants will surely inaugurate in the region if they ever get the upper hand. State elections in Kashmir have been marred by the assasination of moderate Kashmiri leaders by Islamic terrorists and no peace is possible unless the voices of the Kashmiri people is heard. And finally, despite a Hindu majority India is a secular democracy with a larger Muslim population than the entire population of Pakistan. Religion is not the best basis for state formation in a region as culturally and religiously diverse as the Indian subcontinent as the creation of Bangladesh out of West Pakistan in 1971 amply illustartes. There is no "natural" equation that should assign a Muslim majority area to Pakistan except in the mind of Islamic fundamentalists. In 1947, Pakistan invaded Kashmir after the Maharja joined India in the instrument of accession. There were no "Sikh" and "Hindu" volunteers in this region at that time. India agreed to the UN referendum but Pakistan refused to withdraw from its portion of occupied Kashmir or allow a referendum to take place there. India then refused to take a part in a referendum that would not include Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Perhaps the best solution to the Kashmir conflict is a referendum in the region, but one that should also include Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Chinese occupied Kashmir (that the Chinese acquired in 1962) and the Kashmiri Pundits and Buddhists who have been "ethnically cleansed" from the region by Islamic terrorists. But no referendum is possible unless all violence ceases. And a conflict between India and Pakistan would merely be an escalation of the violence that the terrorists have foisted upon the region in the last decade.

Pierre S. Troublion - 6/7/2002

The culpability of India and Pakistan in nuclear brinkmanship is no excuse of U.S. blundering, or the burying of OUR national interest (peace and stability) under a Presidential re-election campaign based on an undefined and open-ended "war on terror".
Now thanks to American head-burying since last September we have to tell India: "Do as we say, not as we do."

Tristan Traviolia - 6/7/2002

The author treats the Indian invocation of the Bush doctrine as a causation instead of rhetorical smoke screen. India and Pakistan are responsible for their own inability to overcome the antagonistic remnants of British colonialism. Muslims and Hindus lived for centuries without bloodshed and have the power to do so again. It is their own agency that drives events, and not the Bush doctrine. Their rhetorical invocation of a perception of US foreign policy distracted this author from the real issue. The nations on the subcontinent are responsible for their own actions and can not claim status as pawns of the superpower.

Pierre S. Troublion - 6/4/2002

This piece hits the nail on the head. My only problem is, why weren't these points being made, and loudly, six months ago ? The recklessness of President Bush's unilateralism was glaringly obvious by the time of his big September 20th speech (and there were more than a few hints well before then) Did I miss something or do I correctly recall a deafening silence as the naked emporer paraded to show his new suit after September 11, 2001 ? Dr Cole, and other messengers of common sense, where were you then, when we needed you at least as much as we do today ?