(On Screen): One of the things which concerns me greatly about the war brewing at the Indian-Pakistani border is that at a certain point, preparations for war take on a life of their own. The horse-team runs away and the driver can't stop them. The governments of India and Pakistan may find themselves actually fighting a war that they really didn't want because there was no way to back away from the brink.
The government of Pakistan has been trying to mollify the Indians, but it's an open question whether they are really substantive, or only Arafatesque symbolic gestures. Musharraf has been trying to talk down the tension, but again it's not clear whether he's doing his Arafat imitation or truly trying to solve the problem.
India appears to have reached the same point with regard to Islamic militants that the US and Israel have: it's not willing to put up with it anymore; it wants it stopped now. It will let Pakistan do it if and only if Pakistan really does it; otherwise India will do whatever it needs to itself. The position is completely understandable and despite the assistance that Pakistan has offered the US recently I find myself sympathetic to the Indian position on this.
The fundamental difference between this situation and those of Israel and the US is that there's a real possibility that Pakistan really will be willing to do what India wants so as to avoid war. Arafat appears to be incapable of doing what Israel wants, and the Taliban outright refused to even consider what the US asked for.
I read something last week which has been bothering me ever since. At one point Bush directly negotiated with Musharraf, and Time reports the following exchange:
Behind a huge pane of bulletproof glass that Secret Service agents had wheeled in front of the window of the presidential suite at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, Bush was finally sitting down for his first face-to-face meeting with Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf. "You were in an extraordinarily difficult position," Bush told him, describing his guest's decision to join the anti-Taliban coalition a month before. "And you made the right choice." Musharraf, however, wanted something in return, something that would signal long-term support for Islamabad. Bush, he said, should approve the delivery of F-16 fighter jets that had been held up after the U.S. applied sanctions to Pakistan almost a decade ago. "We're not ready to talk about F-16s right now," Bush replied. "But this is a long friendship."
Bush was leaving the door open, but Musharraf was driving at a larger point. "How do we know the United States won't abandon us?" he asked. "You tell your people," said Bush, leaning forward and raising his finger as if testing the wind, "that the President looked you in the eye and told you that he would stick with you."
So, are we sticking with Pakistan? Unfortunately, I can't say that we are. The reason Musharraf wanted F-16's was to defend against India. If India attacks and starts to invade, will the US "abandon" Pakistan? I fear that the answer is that we will. And if so, this does not bode well for our attempts to gain help from other nations in our own war. We do want other nations to think to themselves that they don't want to be the next Taliban. On the other hand, we'd rather not have them asking if instead they'll be the next Pakistan, who give help and then are abandoned to their fate.
But the other side of the coin is just as bad: we cannot really take sides in this. For the US by far the best possible answer is for Pakistan to really crack down on the militants, and for both nations to pull back from war. That appears to be the general tenor of our foreign policy efforts now, and I hope it works. About the only help we can give Pakistan now is our effort to try to pressure India to be patient and let Pakistan perform those crackdowns.
If, therefore, those efforts are perfunctory and inadequate, then nothing can stop this war and it will be a catastrophe for Pakistan, a catastrophe for India, and a catastrophe for the US.