Pakistan and India today stand on the brink of nuclear war. The 1962 Cuban missile crisis – the world's previous nuclear showdown – was a walk in the park when compared to the danger emanating from the Indian subcontinent, home to some 20 percent of the world's population.
India, with its powerful army, robust democratic society, and enormous population and land mass, is clearly the stronger force. Since 1947, India has proved conclusively to the Pakistanis in three wars that the Islamic state is no match for it on the battlefield. As recently as 1999, when Pakistani forces led by General Pervez Musharraf attempted to grab land in the disputed Kashmir province with a combination of conventional and terrorist forces, only to beat a humiliating and costly retreat, India showed again that it has the will and the ability to put down any Pakistani attempt to change the political status quo through military means.
And yet, we see that India has failed to deter the Pakistanis. Over the past two weeks, Pakistan conducted three missile tests and declared that for it, nuclear warheads are weapons of first resort. Despite international pressure, Musharraf refuses to end Pakistani support for Islamic terrorist organizations in Kashmir.
The situation is so dangerous, because not only has Pakistan declared that it will respond to a conventional military attack with nuclear weapons, but, says Dr. Eli Carmon, of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, it "would even respond to a 'serious undermining' of its economy or society with nuclear weapons." That is, any move – from economic sanctions to a military offensive -taken by India to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani-ruled Kashmir and Pakistan would be seen as justification for attacking it with nuclear weapons.
How has this situation come about? How is it possible that the Pakistani government can speak so blithely about the death of millions of people including its own? How can it be that, in the aftermath of September 11, the Pakistani government continues unabashedly to support terrorism even as it hosts US forces there to combat terrorism?
The answer lies in the special way Pakistan defines its national interest: a unique blend of calculated rationality and irrational nihilist millenarianism.
On the rational side, since September 11, Musharraf has seen that it is possible to play a double game with the United States and win. He has allowed US forces to use Pakistan as a staging ground against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Yet he has also provided shelter for these forces fleeing the US offensive in Pakistan. And the Bush administration refuses to call him to task for this. In fact, it has rewarded him.
Musharraf is received by President George W. Bush in the US. Pakistan has been promised hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid, and the US arms embargo against nuclear-proliferating Pakistan has been lifted. All the while US special forces, who scale Afghan mountain ranges with 50 kilo packs on their backs looking for al-Qaida and Taliban forces in caves, come up empty-handed, as the enemy has fled to the Pakistani side of the Khyber Pass.
Quite reasonably, Musharraf has learned from this that there is no price to be paid for supporting terrorism and sheltering terrorists. In fact, he only stands to gain from it.
On the irrational side is the barely disguised Pakistani eagerness to use its nuclear arsenal against India. Aside from Pakistan, in the history of nuclear arms, since 1945 no nuclear power has been so overt in its embrace of a first-strike option.
In the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Peter Landesman described Pakistani enthusiasm for nuclear war. In the center of every major Pakistani city's central traffic circle, he writes, "sits a craggy, Gibraltarish replica of a nameless peak in the Chagai range. This mountain is the home of Pakistan's nuclear test site. The mountain replicas, about three stories tall, are surrounded by flower beds that are lovingly weeded, watered, and manicured. At dusk, when the streetlights come on, so do the mountains, glowing a weird molten yellow."
Landesman interviewed Brig.-Gen. Amanullah, formerly head of Pakistani Military Intelligence in Sind Province, which borders on India and includes Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. Now retired, Amanullah retains close ties to the Pakistani military and intelligence service. He explained to Landesman that he prays for a nuclear war.
"We should fire at them and take out a few of their cities Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta," he said. "They should fire back and take Karachi and Lahore. Kill off a hundred or two hundred million people. There is no future here, and we need to start over."
Today, after 55 years of sovereign nationhood, Pakistan can boast three achievements: a nuclear arsenal, an organized military, and a system of Islamic madrassas that inculcate millions of people with the culture and values of jihad. On all other levels, Pakistan is a failed state. Adult literacy rates are under 33 percent. Vast swaths of the 1,600-kilometer-long and 160-km.-wide border with Afghanistan are parched by drought and misuse and incapable of sustaining a population exploding at a rate of 2.6 percent a year. The poverty and squalor of the cities is beyond comprehension. Competing tribal groups war for power in the various provinces and spawn irredentist movements from Peshawar to Karachi.
In this situation, a nuclear exchange with India is seen as a way to turn back the clock, and as Amanullah put it, "start again." Thus the twin swords of terrorism and nuclear war are pointed at the throats of one-fifth of the world's population. For Pakistan today, terrorism is rewarded and nuclear war, which would lead to its physical annihilation, is an acceptable option.
This situation must be sobering for Israelis, as we find ourselves in month 21 of the Palestinian jihad against us. Even more than the Pakistanis, who enjoy only tepid international support, the Palestinians have gained from their adoption of jihad ideology and terrorist tactics. The Palestinian war against us enjoys unprecedented international popularity.
In Europe, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is beloved, and in Washington, the Bush administration has responded to the jihad by embracing Palestinian statehood as the central plank of US Middle East policy.
While the Palestinian terrorist proto-state does not possess nuclear weapons, the Palestinians have repeatedly experimented with chemical agents on their bombs. Traces of hepatitis C and rat poison have been found on exploded bombs, and reports indicate that the Megiddo bomb was laced with cyanide. The Pi Glilot attack shows that the Palestinians intend to carry out strategic attacks that will cause tens of thousands of casualties. Like the Pakistanis, the Palestinians move forward with their calamitous plans with full knowledge that carrying them out will be catastrophic for them as well.
While Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has placed almost all his emphasis on the need to replace Arafat as Palestinian leader, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Doron Almog claims the conflict with the Palestinians is not a simple question of bad leadership. In an address at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center on Wednesday evening, Almog explained, "The majority of Palestinians demands the right of return. They wish to turn back the clock. They hold on to land documents from the period of Turkish rule and plan their return."
He argued that, from a strategic perspective, Israel will only emerge victorious from the Palestinian jihad when "there is a fundamental change in Palestinian consciousness." In their nihilistic desire to "turn back the clock," the Palestinians resemble the nuclear trigger-happy Pakistanis.
Also like Pakistan, the Palestinian proto-state has no operating bureaucracies other than its security forces. Similar to the madrassas in Pakistan, the PA school system preaches jihad – training children for suicide and mass murder. In fact, from the perspective of totalitarian suicidal ideology, the Palestinian Authority may have already surpassed Pakistan. While Musharraf only hints at suicide as an option when referring to "first-strike options," Arafat overtly endorses it with his constant calls for "millions of martyrs" marching on Jerusalem.
Aside from its current lack of a nuclear option (although an Iranian or Iraqi bomb will serve its purposes just as well), the one major difference between the Palestinian proto-state and Pakistan is that the PA lacks a unified military.
As Israelis reel under the weight of Wednesday's massacre at Megiddo and face the very real and imminent prospect of a successful Pi Glilot attack, we find ourselves looking over to the Indian subcontinent and taking heart that it could be worse. Unfortunately for us, if CIA Director George Tenet succeeds in his mission of unifying the PA security forces, he will have brought us not security and stability but Pakistan.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post