South Asian Leaders To Mark 9/11 Anniversary

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - South Asia's three key leaders, all of whom have played a role in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, plan to attend ceremonies in New York Wednesday marking the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are due to join President Bush and other world leaders in lighting candles at a memorial for the victims.

Vajpayee also plans to meet some of the relatives of Indians who lost their lives in the attack. About 220 people of Indian origin were reported killed.

The attacks and their aftermath affected South Asia deeply. Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist behind the attacks, was hiding in Afghanistan, and the country was targeted by U.S.-led forces which ousted bin Laden's Taliban allies.

Neighboring Pakistan was drawn into the fray. A former ally of the Taliban militia, Musharraf changed sides to support the United States.

India, too, offered help in the war against terror.

The two South Asian rivals each had their own interests in backing the U.S. drive.

India, which has been fighting Islamic attacks for two decades in a long-running dispute over Kashmir, hoped the U.S. would declare Pakistan a terror-supporting state. India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the Kashmir militants.

Pakistan's military government, meanwhile, saw the campaign as an opportunity to improve relations with the West, possibly even at India's expense.

As a Muslim country bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan became a natural front-line ally of the U.S., although India was not ignored.

Washington lifted some of the economic sanctions imposed on the two countries when they carried out nuclear tests in 1998.

But as India blamed Pakistan for continuing its cross-border attacks, tempers flared, prompting the two countries to amass more than one million troops on their common border.

A stream of senior U.S. officials traveled through the region, seeking to shore up Indian and Pakistani support for the anti-terror campaign, while trying to prevent the two nuclear-armed nations from engaging in open hostilities.

Under U.S. pressure, Musharraf eventually promised to prevent Islamic militants from crossing into the Indian-controlled portion of disputed Kashmir.

With military activity still underway, the hunt for al Qaeda fugitives continuing, and signs of ongoing instability in Afghanistan itself, the region remains a focal point.

Pakistan's benefits from the post-Sept. 11 focus on terrorism are obvious, but advantages have also come for India, according to G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian high commissioner (ambassador) to Pakistan.

These include a clampdown by Pakistan on extremist groups and the installation of a friendly government in Afghanistan.

Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi said in his view the U.S. still needed Pakistan because of the ongoing hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters believed hiding out in tribal areas of Pakistan.

"Tactically, the U.S. is supporting Pakistan, but strategically, it is tilted toward India," he said. "For short-term benefits, the U.S. is supporting Pakistan, but clearly it has long-term relations with India [in mind] after the September 11 attacks."

New Delhi-based strategic analyst Rajeev Sharma agreed, saying Sept. 11 had played a crucial role in shifting the U.S. away from "practicing a diplomacy of equi-distance with New Delhi and Islamabad."

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