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S U B C O N T I N E N T A L   D R I F T
Why branding Pakistan a terrorist state is a bad idea

January 27, 2000
Web posted at 6 a.m. Hong Kong time, 5 p.m. EST

Reports that the Clinton Administration feels the Pakistani military had a hand in the hijacking of Flight 814 will be received with glee in New Delhi. A New York Times story says Washington now believes the Islamic group Harkat ul-Ansar (now known as Harkat ul-Mujahidin) carried out the hijacking, and that the group is supported by the Pakistani military. This would appear to vindicate India's long-standing claim that Islamabad actively backs terrorism in the disputed Kashmir state. But if the Indian government thinks the U.S. will now heed its calls for Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state, it has another think coming. Washington will do no such thing--and thank goodness.

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For one thing, the U.S. is beholden to Pakistan for services rendered during the Afghan-Soviet war. For another, no Pakistani agency (as opposed to individual Pakistani national) has ever been implicated in a terrorist act against the U.S. or its citizens. No American--indeed few people outside India--would put Pakistan in the same league as Iraq, Iran and Syria, countries the U.S. regards as terrorist states.

Oh, and another thing: Pakistan has the Bomb. The Clinton Administration has frequently blundered on South Asia policy, but it is not so foolish as to antagonize a country with nuclear weapons.

More to the point, it would not be in the best interests of South Asia for Pakistan to be declared a pariah. It could do India more harm than good. After all, none of the nations that have earned the label "terrorist state"--and that have been hit with economic sanctions as a result--has felt compelled to turn over a new leaf. On the contrary, hard-line elements in the Pakistani military could decide they might as well be hung for sheep as for lambs and ratchet up the hostilities on the border. India should note that the neighbors of Iraq, Iran and Syria aren't slashing their defense budgets because America deems those three outcasts.

The best New Delhi can hope for is that the Clinton Administration will pressure Pakistan's dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, to stop backing terrorist groups and to restart dialogue with India. That would be a great service to South Asia. Assigning labels won't bring lasting peace to the subcontinent: that can only come from direct negotiations between New Delhi and Islamabad. If the U.S. can force the two sides to quit shouting and start talking, so much the better.

See also: TIME's Fallout from Flight 814 and Asiaweek's Operation Bungle.

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