India's Greatest Ally: Pakistan By Vivian Salama

India's Greatest Ally: Pakistan
Vivian Salama, Washington Post, Postglobal, December 16, 2008

Several weeks ago, I made the acquaintance of a high-ranking Indian military official who was passing through Abu Dhabi. Our meeting coincided with reports of U.S. air strikes on targets in Pakistan near to the Afghan border. During our candid discussion, the attaché pounded his fist over the desk, insisting that any attack on Pakistan inevitably hurts India. "Target Pakistan and you send shockwaves into India," he said.

India has, for years, found itself in a predicament with regard to its relationship with Pakistan. While it may be in the country's interest to take firmer action against Pakistan whenever it receives credible evidence of a plot, the two countries will accomplish far more in deterring security threats if they work together. While relations have been hot and cold between the two countries over the years, they are ultimately an extension of one another and therefore must recognize that attacks and counterattacks will reverberate across their borders.

India must also realize that Pakistani citizens are just as victimized by the threat of terror as they are. This year alone, some 600 terror-related incidents have been carried out on Pakistani soil, killing nearly 2,000 people - mostly civilians. While these attacks in Pakistan can be viewed as a domestic - and not transnational - problem, it is fair to expect some level of cooperation from the victimized portion of Pakistan's population. India should capitalize on this by positioning itself as a partner for peace. To do so credibly, however, it must demonstrate that it is cracking down on the domestic fundamentalism that has emerged within its borders, leaving many of its own citizens - Muslims especially - feeling vulnerable and victimized.

The deterioration of law and order in some of Pakistan's Northwestern regions has created a near-impossible security situation for Pakistan's intelligence and military but it also puts India between a rock and a hard spot. It is in neither country's best interest to engage in a military confrontation. For India, this is a waste of important resources. For Pakistan, it is a no-win situation as the country has no match for India's mighty military.

Given the tumultuous relationship between the two countries, it is important that they work together to ensure that intelligence is shared on such security matters and that Pakistan in particular is doing what it can to deter radicalism from spilling over its borders. India is a large country with more than a billion residents presenting an utterly impossible security challenge. It cannot expect to ensure its security and protect its borders without the help of its neighbors. In the fight against terrorism, Pakistan is, perhaps ironically, India's greatest ally.

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