Mideast pattern, now in Kashmir

Struggles in the two regions share many parallels. Like Israel, India seeks to don mantle of US-led war on terror.

Bitter disputes over territory. Suicide bombings. Threats of retaliation. International attempts to calm roiled passions.

The Middle East? Yes – and South Asia. Although there are important differences between the Israeli–Palestinian struggle and the standoff between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the similarities between the situations are striking.

And perhaps the most important similarity is this: In both cases, the stronger party has had some success in defining its aim as the defeat of terrorists.

That has complicated the US war on terrorism, drawing the Bush administration more deeply into crises that are flaring on the periphery of its fight against Al Qaeda.

It may also have brought the stronger parties – India and Israel – more US support than they might otherwise have received.

"Both India and Israel have turned 9/11 to their advantage," says Dennis Kux, a retired State Department South Asia specialist and a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

In both the Middle East and South Asia, the basic confrontation is the same: a regional power is struggling with a smaller, determined foe over land issues.

In both cases, militants from the smaller power have resorted to unconventional means – suicide bombings and other random attacks on civilian targets – to try to counter their foe's larger conventional strength.

In both, the leaders of the smaller powers – Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf – have disavowed their militants' actions. Yet questions remain about the leaders' desire and ability to control radical elements.

And in both, the stronger power in the standoff possesses a distinct advantage in conventional force. Israel and India have used tanks in the past to invade their foe's territory in an attempt to preempt bombing attacks. They threaten to do so again, if necessary, and now liken their military efforts to the US invasion of Afghanistan.

"In each case the justification for taking action and the kind of actions are very similar," says Rahul Mahajan, author of "The New Crusade: America's War Against Terrorism".

That said, there remain significant differences between the Middle East and the Kashmiri crisis.

Pakistan is not Palestine, for one. It has been a sovereign nation for over half a century and possesses both nuclear weapons and conventional forces that are significant, if smaller than India's. Pakistani troops have held their own in two of the three wars that have erupted over the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The border between Israel and Palestinian territory is relatively short. The territory is flat and arid. The border between Indian and Pakistani-held territory is long, and the geography mountainous – making it a much more difficult region to pacify.

Furthermore, there is arguably more support for suicide bombings and other militant action in the Palestinian population than among residents of Kashmir. Moderate Kashmiris themselves have been targets of assassination.

"The Indians think there are substantial numbers of Kashmiris ready to agree to an Indian administration in some form," says Andrew Hess, a South Asia expert at Tufts University. "I think they're right."

Finally, unlike the Palestinians, Pakistan does not have a legitimate, internationally accepted claim over the territory in dispute, says Sujit Dutta, a senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi.

The 1948 United Nations Security Council resolution that called on India to hold a plebiscite in the region also demanded that Pakistan withdraw its troops from the area of Kashmir it controlled – something it has still not done.

"Despite apparent similarities, there is a large difference between the history of Israeli–Arab relations on one hand and the Indian–Pakistani relationship on the other," says Mr. Dutta.

Whatever the differences, though, in Washington today there is far less tolerance for tactics that can be equated with terrorism. To Palestinian and Kashmiri militants, suicide bombers may be freedom fighters. To the US, they are analogous to Al Qaeda, thus to be condemned.

Witness the political and rhetorical pressure the US has exerted on Mr. Arafat to control terror attacks, to the point where the White House has begun to openly question whether the Palestinian leader remains a fit negotiation partner.

"In the president's eyes, Yasser Arafat has never played the role of someone who can be trusted or effective," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer in the wake of Wednesday's car bombing near the Israeli town of Megiddo.

India, for its part, quickly offered the US full support in the wake of last September's events, and has since been rewarded with a rapprochement that has produced its closest ties with Washington in decades. One result: The US has placed two militant Pakistani Islamic groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-i-Taiba, on its list of terrorists. That's a move Washington resisted in the past.

"I have been surprised we have leaned as heavily and publicly as we have on Pakistan," says Mr. Kux of the Wilson Center.

All this doesn't mean the US has become completely one-sided in either crisis. The US continues to insist that Israel accept the inevitability of a Palestinian state – and it continues to view Pakistan as a staunch ally in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces.

• Staff writer Scott Baldauf contributed to this story from New Delhi.

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