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Jan 3, 2002 | 06:00 GMT

5 mins read

The United States, India and Pakistan in a High-Stakes Game

By George Friedman

India has massed large numbers of forces along its border with Pakistan. On a superficial level, the mobilization was triggered by the recent attack on India's Parliament by alleged Pakistani-backed suicide teams. In a broader sense, it was triggered by India's sense that there is a historical window of opportunity to resolve not only the Kashmir issue but the Pakistan problem as well.

With India playing the bad cop with Pakistan, the United States has maneuvered itself into the role of good cop. Acting as a friend of Islamabad, Washington has been pressuring President Pervez Musharraf to shut down anti-Indian extremists operating in the country. The United States has positioned itself as the honest broker working hard to prevent war between the Asian rivals.

Like India, however, the United States is playing a deeper game. There is an excellent chance Osama bin Laden and his command cell have taken refuge in Pakistan under the protection of one of several entities. Even if he and al Qaeda commanders remain in Afghanistan, it is almost certain Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, either knows where they are or has the means of finding out.

The ISI was the architect of the Taliban movement, and it has ties to everyone in the region who might be inclined favorably toward al Qaeda. It is highly probable that the ISI, working all of its sources, could locate bin Laden.

The American good cop is using the Indian bad cop to frighten Musharraf in the hope that he will pressure the ISI to help find al Qaeda and anti-Indian elements. But it is not clear how much leverage Musharraf has with the organization. The president knows that if he miscalculates and pushes too hard, the ISI and other Islamic groups could possibly topple him from office and replace him with a true hard-liner.

The United States is also aware of this danger. It does not want Musharraf to fall because what comes after him will be worse. Therefore, Washington is trying to walk the tightrope with Musharraf, applying sufficient pressure without forcing him into a place from which he cannot return.

For now, Musharraf is first trying to see how far he can go to at least satisfy India without infuriating his Pakistani supporters. He therefore recently ordered the arrest of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, leader of the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which New Delhi has implicated in the Parliament attack. Pakistan has now detained the leaders of the two Kashmiri militant groups — including Jaish-e-Mohammed — blamed for the attack.

Arresting their leaders allows Musharraf to work toward defusing the near-war situation along the frontier without capitulating on the more fundamental issue of collaboration with the United States against Taliban and al Qaeda elements.

With the United States demanding the arrest of the perpetrators of the Parliament attack, Musharraf has given the United States what it asked for. The United States is now stuck, as good cops frequently are, between a rock and hard place.

First, Washington finds the Indian threat quite useful. Washington wants Pakistan to feel vulnerable to India because that might make it more forthcoming toward the United States. The Bush administration wants the crisis to end, but only after it has gotten what it wants from Musharraf: cooperation from the ISI on locating al Qaeda.

Second, by cracking down on the anti-Indian groups, Musharraf can honestly say he has done everything possible to accommodate India. He can also say he has fully cooperated with the United States. And at least publicly, he will be right, for the United States has done everything possible to keep the real dispute between Washington and Islamabad as quiet as possible.

Pakistan was at the start portrayed as being a key, active participant in the anti-terror coalition. The truth, of course, was that Pakistan was much less active than Washington would have liked.

What was key about Pakistan was that it provided a coalition member that had acceptable Islamic credentials. The problem for the United States is that destroying al Qaeda is the end — even if it requires action inside Pakistan — and the coalition is simply a means.

The Indians would love an excuse to settle scores with Pakistan. The United States does not want a war, but it does want India to play the bad cop to the U.S. good cop. This way the ISI, out of fear of India, will be pressured to cooperate in finding al Qaeda members in Pakistan.

Musharraf is searching for the least he can do to satisfy the United States. The United States is trying to keep its deep split with Islamabad under wraps for the sake of the coalition.

Each day that Musharraf manages to placate India without giving the United States what it wants, the likelihood that there will be no war, that Musharraf will survive and that Washington will not break al Qaeda increases. Therefore, as the cover policy of averting war is achieved, the deeper need of forcing the ISI to cooperate on al Qaeda will reassert itself, and the good cop might well turn into a bad cop.

George Friedman is the founder and chairman of STRATFOR, the global intelligence company. Its Web site is

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