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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pakistan's Choice

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KARACHI, Pakistan -- The ruthless attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last week are, by all accounts, the handiwork of zealots trained and organized in the Western-backed jihad against communism in Afghanistan. Now that a global campaign against terrorism is being mobilized, the U.S. government must take extra precautions to avoid creating a new monster while dealing with the existing one.

The Bush administration is counting on Pakistan -- a close, if often reluctant, U.S. ally during the Cold War -- to make a difference in the global battle against terrorism. Pakistan was, until very recently, seen as the sponsor of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that offers sanctuary to Osama bin Laden. Now, by offering assistance to the Americans, it has been threatened with "a massive attack" by the Taliban.

In some ways, the current focus on Pakistan is reminiscent of 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The United States and its allies then bolstered Pakistan as a frontline state. Islamic militants from Afghanistan and other parts of the world were invited to set up bases in Pakistan, from which they fought a heroic battle against the Soviet empire. Pakistan's military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, used Western support to deny democracy to his own people until his death nine years later.

Once the Soviets were defeated, the United States turned its attention elsewhere. The mujahedin failed to establish a viable government in Afghanistan, which degenerated into civil war. The Islamic volunteers who had come to Pakistan and Afghanistan for training to fight a superpower mutated into terrorists attacking moderate Moslem rulers and American targets.

I recall having briefly met Osama bin Laden, as well as several other Arab volunteers. The quiet, ascetic multimillionaire did not seem capable of causing unimaginable carnage. But the Arab hard-liners who had gathered in Peshawar to support and train with the mujahedin always stood apart as a bloodthirsty bunch. Their approach to religion was also stricter and harsher than that of their Afghan or Pakistani companions.

Bin Laden's past actions and repeated calls for attacking Americans are sufficient to justify action against him. His Al Qaeda organization is not structured in a conventional sense. It is more like a secret society, organized in independent cells with members all over the world. Anyone looking for clues to bin Laden's involvement in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will not find a smoking gun.

Yet he is still the ideological motivator, and the probable financier, of the attacks. He must bear responsibility for the extremist mind-set he has fueled over the last decade. The celebrations by some Moslems on seeing images of a human tragedy -- one totally incompatible with Moslem values -- are a result of that mind-set.

A specific operation against Afghanistan or bin Laden would not suffice to eliminate, or even sufficiently limit, terrorism. The United States must be prepared for a longer war. Pakistan should certainly be enrolled as an ally, but not without an appreciation of realities in that country. Pakistan can provide valuable intelligence on Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. It has not actively supported American action against bin Laden in the past, arguing that local Moslem militants would destabilize an already weak Pakistani state. But Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, recently said that fewer than 1 percent of the Pakistani people support the extremists. Ordinary Pakistanis want extremism eliminated. It has brought only misery.

Pakistan has itself been the target of terrorism in recent years. But the country's Islamic militants have been ignored by the military regime on grounds of supporting their fight against Indian control of the Himalayan territory of Kashmir. Pakistan describes these militants as freedom fighters.

In return for supporting the United States in any operation against Afghanistan, Pakistan would expect U.S. backing in encouraging dialogue with India over Kashmir. General Musharraf will seek U.S. indulgence of his deviation from democracy on grounds that he plans to act against Islamic extremists. But the United States must not give up on Pakistani democracy and should seek to build friendship with Pakistan's people -- the 99 percent who oppose terrorism -- and not merely with its military leader. It may be tempting to deal with an individual for immediate gains, but this approach is fraught with danger. The United States counted on General Zia and his intelligence services during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, only to find bin Laden and his suicide bombers in the shadows of that covert war.

Pakistan's level of commitment to the anti-terrorist coalition currently being put together by the United States could have profound implications for India-Pakistan relations. In recent months, there has been a perceptible U.S. tilt in favor of India. If Pakistan fails to join the U.S. campaign, India will benefit by isolating Pakistan. As the United States turns to Pakistan to eliminate terrorism, it should help Islamabad negotiate with India over the status of Kashmir, which has been critical in Pakistan's policy of supporting the Taliban and jihad extremism. With India and Pakistan on the same side, against terrorism, this is a historic opportunity to set aside prejudices of the past.

Husain Haqqani is a political analyst. He served as Pakistan's ambassador to Sri Lanka and as adviser to Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. This comment originally appeared in The New York Times.