kashmir.affairs[-at-]yahoo.com Editor: Murtaza Shibli
Richard L. Benkin
Richard L. Benkin is a Jewish American writer and campaigner, who supports greater cooperation between Israel,
India and the US and calls for ‘collective action’ against ‘radical Islam’.
(23 December 2008)
How do you see the Indian reaction to Mumbai terror attacks and its threats of attacking Pakistan?
Some Indian officials have threatened military action against
Pakistan; but the problem with threats is that they are meaningless if
not carried out. A pattern of
idle threats results in lost credibility, at best; worse, it leaves
opponents and potential allies to attribute the lack of action to
weakness and inability to carry out
the threat. We have seen this in the Middle East where Hamas and
other terrorist groups continue to threaten Israel with “dire
consequences” that never come.
Does anyone really think that is because they decided to let Israel
live in peace? Hardly. Their threats confirm their
Similarly, how likely is that the Indian government-and especially this
government-has any intention of attacking Pakistan? It has not
acted previously in the face of numerous Pakistani provocations,
including ISI action in Kashmir and elsewhere. Nor is this the
first deadly action by Lashkar-e-Taiba, which successive Pakistani
governments have supported. The presence of NATO troops nearby
also makes military action particularly difficult. Threats
of attack, then, are counterproductive unless they are issued in an
attempt to gain leverage with the United States and others. It is
more likely, however, that the angry reactions by the Indian government
reflect a realization that its own policies of appeasement contributed
to what transpired in Mumbai.
Should there be a war between India and Pakistan, what is your assessment of the outcome?
The big issue, of course, is the nuclear one. While I would
not minimize the potential of a nuclear exchange, its likelihood is
low. Since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (which were detonated
at a time when the implications of nuclear weapons were not well
known), quite a few nuclear powers have gone to war but never used
those weapons. Israel, in particular, is reputed to have had
nuclear weapons since the 1960s, and although it has faced
several existential threats never used them. The Kargil War of
1999 and the Sino-Soviet conflict of 1969 each involved two nuclear
powers who refrained from using nuclear weapons. Western fears of
a nuclear conflict seems to reflect the tendency of the West to
underestimate South Asians.
If history is any judge, Pakistan not India will initiate any limited
conflict. Indian threats would provide some credibility to
Pakistani claims that its actions were pre-emptive.
With the exception of the 1971 war, all India-Pakistan conflicts
centered on Kashmir; and any new conflict is likely to be
similar. It could involve air strikes by the PAF on Indian bases
in the Northwest simultaneous with “fidayeen” attempting to extend
their control beyond the LOC. The Indian military has proven
itself quite capable of repelling such attacks, and its ongoing
cooperation with Israel has extended its military edge. India
likely will be content to repel the Pakistani thrusts and not extend
its area of influence beyond the current LOC, even if it is capable of
Unlike previous wars, there would be no superpower chess, but it is
quite possible that any India-Pakistan conflict will harden lines in
the war on terror and perhaps cause the United States to re-assess its
relationships in South Asia.
There is growing indication that Israel is showing more interest in the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan.
Naturally, the government of Israel remains on the sidelines even
though the terrorists targeted and tortured Israelis and Jews.
But Israel-India relations have been growing geometrically largely
because the two countries share a common enemy and common values.
India is now Israel’s largest customer for military goods, and Israeli
intelligence has been providing India with information about Pakistan
for some time. Additionally, it is always possible that any
conflict which seems to pit “Islam” against a non-Islamic power easily
could spawn attacks on Israel, and Israel must be prepared for
that. Finally, the same divide also makes it more difficult for
the current government Israeli to conclude any sort of agreement with
the Arabs before February’s elections, which polls indicate it is
likely to lose.
President Musharraf's government had initiated contacts with Israel.
Do you think that Israel's too much leaning towards india would help in
those contacts. After all Pakistan is a very important and influential
As Pervez Musharraf was a dictator who pushed many initiatives from
the top without public support, the reality of these contacts will be
tested by the actions of this elected government. What is Israel
actually getting from Pakistan or other Islamic states--most of which
refuse to recognize Israel as a nation--so that it should change its
policy for self-preservation?
Some reports circulating on the Internet are blaming the Mumbai
terror attack on Israel citing previous involvement of the Israeli
security agencies in similar attacks for political reasons. Some are
even questioning how the Israeli commandos came to be there at such a
short time span.
That is the usual bigoted and baseless conspiratorial crap that we
Jews are used to hearing. If Israel's adversaries wonder how
quickly Israeli commandos can get to any scene, let them take care,
then, before forcing them to do so.
Is it Pakistan's responsibility to rein in the terror networks or should it be a collective responsibility?
Successive Pakistani governments have given all manner of support
to Islamist and anti-Indian terror groups. The fact that it
allows them safe haven inside its borders lays responsibility for
eliminating the terror networks squarely on Pakistan. There are
only three options. First, Pakistan will itself rein in the
terror groups that operate from its soil. That means doing so
without justifying their motives or creating false moral
equivalencies by complaining about “Hindu terrorists.” No Hindus
have flown airplanes into crowded buildings or attacked major urban
centers in the name of their faith. There is no moral
equivalency, and raising the issue is nothing more than an attempt to
avoid responsibility. Option two, if Pakistan is unwilling or
unable to do it, they then are inviting others to do it for them.
This is essentially what the Israelis told the Arabs, and you notice
the absence of anything more than occasional terror attacks or rockets
coming from Gaza. If the Pakistanis do neither, it will be that
they do not want to stop the terrorism and need to suffer the consequences. And the third option? Let the terrorists prevail.
Well the US and NATO strikes inside Pakistan is further destabilizing the situation?
The US and NATO strikes inside Pakistan are precisely the sort of thing this conflict needs. To be sure, any
nation will take umbrage if another conducts military raids on its
territory. And while that lessens popular Pakistani support for
the war on terror, it is not necessarily a bad thing. If Pakistan
really agrees with NATO that the terrorists must be rooted out and
destroyed, it either would take care of the matter itself and close its
borders to Al Qaeda infiltration-or it would welcome the help of
outside forces and cooperate with them in these efforts. Why not
put these assumptions to the test and force the Pakistanis to declare,
in President Bush’s words, whether they are “with us or against us.”
Why do you think Pakistan has so far failed in its war on terror?
Pakistan’s war on Islamist terror has failed because it is
a chimera. Polls consistently show that only a minority of
Pakistanis approve of its army going after Al Qaeda; at least three out
of four want a Pakistan under Sharia law, and about the same number see
the US-led war on terror as an attack on Islam. We have extensive
evidence of collaboration with Islamist terrorists-including Al Qaeda
and the Taliban-by Pakistani intelligence (ISI) and lower level
officials such as border guards. In the absence of popular
support for it, the war on terror is doomed unless the government shows
clear, moral leadership on this issue. And we know that
successive Pakistani governments have done just the opposite.
Strongman Pervez Musharraf forced the government to take some visible
top-down action; but even he never tried to end popular support for
Islamists in Pakistan. With no public support in Pakistan for
destroying radical Islamist groups, the sooner the US and India admit
that, the sooner we can proceed with something effective.
The new US administration is talking about a regional approach to the
crisis in South Asia, with a Kashmir solution being one of the
Being a veteran observer of my country’s efforts in the Middle
East, that sort of talk scares me. Regardless of the intention, a
“regional” approach in effect means appeasement and sacrificing
individuals and areas. What in the world would a regional
approach entail? ‘Pakistan stop undermining our efforts in
Afghanistan and we will recognize your claims to Kashmir?’ Will
Obama’s “regional approach” address the issue of Islamist ethnic
cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus? I doubt it. Moreover, this
sort of regional approach suffers from assumptions of a homogenized
view that holds all issues somehow linked and that giving in on one for
the sake of another will make everyone happy. It also fails to
recognize that even if this sort of thing were possible, we first have
to recognize which parties have maximalist demands and somehow
neutralize them. I do not think this is being done.
You blame the so-called Islamists in Bangladesh for atrocities
against Hindus but ignore the Hindu terrorists killing Muslims and
Christians. Whether they flew planes or not cannot gloss over the
state-assisted mass murder of Muslims in Gujrat or recent killings of
Why is it whenever blatant acts of mass terror by Islamists are
brought up, apologists instead of condemning them try and turn the
discussion to some other perceived wrongs? This is perhaps the
greatest impediment to peace throughout the world. I spend a lot of
time defending Islam against those who would call it a religion of
terror and conquest. Their biggest argument is that not only is
there Islamist terror, but Islamist leaders--religious and
secular--have not done anything to stop it or discourage Muslims from
supporting it. I still defend Islam because I do not believe
transitory leaders define any faith.
Why do people find it so
difficult to condemn ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide
unequivocally? I have seen the results of the Islamist ethnic
cleansing of Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh and spoken with
the victims. As long as people dismiss that reality, there is
little evidence that they are "peace partners."
You also seem to forget that in India Hindu fundamentalists and
extremists come to power through elections while in Pakistan Muslim
fundamentalists are always defeated showing that Pakistanis in general
do not support fundamentalists.
First of all, I take issue with the statement that "Hindu
fundamentalists and extremists come to power through elections."
The government of India is a prime target for criticism from the Indian
right; and even the right-leaning BJP government did nothing
extremist. Fundamentalists do not have to come to power in
Pakistan because they are tolerated by the government, which can then
allow them to conduct terrorist operations from the territory they
control and then plead ignorance. If they were the government,
the implications would be severe.
Why has the US-led international coalition failed in Afghanistan,
and what would be next now that new administration is taking charge?
The perception that the US-led coalition in Afghanistan has failed
is not entirely correct. To be sure, any Afghan polity remains
fragile, and terror groups remain ready to pounce. On the other
hand, the Taliban regime is out, and Afghanistan is no longer a base
for international terror groups like Al Qaeda.
True success, however, requires a strategic re-orientation, especially
our excessive reliance on Pakistan as the “local” arm of the
coalition. As we have noted many times before, Pakistani forces
are unreliable. Most Pakistanis see the war as a war on Islam and
the Islamists as the standard bearers of the religion. In such
instances, it is folly to believe that those personal beliefs would not
impair effective action. Moreover, there is far too much
political direction of the war-and no doubt much but not all of that
stems from the need to placate Pakistani “feelings.” One member
of the US special forces revealed that they were all set to “take out”
Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora-ready to go even though they knew some of
them would not survive the battle. But they had to get the okay
from “higher ups,” and that okay never came. How do you win a war
If the majority of Pakistanis do not support the so-called war on
terror what is there to be alarmed about. Majority of the Western
population or for that matter the whole world see this as a misplaced
war that has made the world more unsafe than before.
Your comments about the "majority of the Western population" seeing
the war on terror as misplaced is factually incorrect. My
point still holds regardless. How can we expect the Pakistanis to
act reliably if they disagree with the war on terror and popularly
support those whom the war targets?
How would you place Kashmir in the context of terrorism in the region?
Kashmir is South Asia’s West Bank. Just as Pakistan and its
Islamist allies ultimately seek to turn all of India into an Islamic
state; so, too, the Arabs have tried again and again to destroy the
Israel and even had that as their stated policy. After their colossal
failure to do so in 1967, they tried once more to invade Israel with
national armies only to fail again. So they changed tactics and
stopped talking about their ultimate goal. Instead they focused
on “the occupation” ( West Bank and Gaza). Their real aim-to
destroy Israel and turn it into an Islamic state-never changed.
This tactic successfully distracted a gullible Europe which supported
Arab calls for their temporary goal. Similarly, South Asian Islamists
still want more than Kashmir. Kashmir, like the West Bank, is a
transitory goal, but a critical one. Islamists cannot conquer
India any more than they can conquer Israel. So they need that
goal. If they fail in Kashmir, they have nothing left by calling
for India’s destruction. It not only is an impossible goal but
also one that makes it difficult for them to craft the debate in their faux human
rights verbiage. Same thing with the West Bank in Israel. So the
terrorists know they have to prevail in Kashmir or they’re done.
Are you refusing to recognize the Kashmiri struggle for the right of
self-determination? As recently as in July-August this year millions of
Kashmiris came out on the streets for the demand of freedom and the
Indian Army and paramilitary troops ruthlessly killed more than 50
unarmed civilians. Even Indian journalists and writers were convinced
about Indian brutalities and they called for Kashmiris to be left free.
First, let's not pretend that a bevy of journalists aspire to
anything coming close to pure objectivity. As to any legitimate
struggle for Kashmiri self-determination, that must come as a result of
negotiation. That would entail recognizing the rights of all
Kashmiris not to have to live in a state defined as Islamic or Hindu,
to have to live under Sharia or any other religious law, or to find
themselves defined as second-class citizens. There also is no doubt
that the specter of radical Islamist terror lurks behind all of these
international issues, and the parties whom they favor have the
responsibility for denouncing them unequivocally and making sure the
radicals do not bring violence to any negotiated peace.
Otherwise, there is no reality to any peace agreement.