Pakistan paying a high price for Musharraf’s urge to please the US

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zia Sarhadi

Jumada' al-Akhirah 18, 1424 2003-08-16


by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 12, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1424)

In his eagerness to appease the US, Pakistani president general Pervez Musharraf has uncorked the very demons policy-makers in Islamabad have struggled for 50 years to banish: the hostility of the Afghans (Pushtoons, Tajiks, Uzbeks and so on), an Indo-Afghan alliance that would squeeze Pakistan from both sides, and the thorny issue of "Pakhtunistan".

As if all this were not enough, the Americans are now demanding that Islamabad must prevent the alleged Taliban attacks from Pakistani territory. On July 15 Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American who is US president George Bush’s pointman for Afghanistan, demanded that there must be "100 percent assurances, not 50 percent," from Pakistan in curbing Taliban incursions into Afghanistan. Similar remarks were made by general F.L. "Buster" Hagenbeck, acting commander of US forces in Afghanistan.

Not only has Musharraf abandoned Pakistan’s 30-year-old policy on Afghanistan after the not-so-veiled threat from the US on September 11, 2001, but this reversal has left Pakistan dangerously exposed along the volatile Frontier region. Uncle Sam has shown little gratitude for Islamabad’s help, and American officials have arrogantly demanded that Pakistan must "do more" to advance Washington’s agenda. This comes on the heels of threats from Hamid Karzai, the US-installed puppet, on July 7; he has blamed Pakistan for border clashes and incursions into Afghan territory. The following day an Afghan mob attacked and ransacked the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, despite warnings from Pakistani diplomats that such an attack was imminent, and despite their requests for additional security. The mob was led by a number of government officials from the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance. Although Pakistan hosted more than two million Afghan refugees for two decades, many from the Northern Alliance itself, and incurred Russian enmity by helping the Afghans fight the Soviet occupiers, no other embassy in Kabul has been attacked except Pakistan’s – not once, but repeatedly. There have been anti-Pakistan rallies in such cities as Mazaar-e Sharif and even Qandahar, at which Karzai’s brother was also present.

Afghan and Pakistani forces have exchanged fire during the last six weeks. In a development that is reminiscent of the eighties, sabotage activities inside Pakistan have resumed, especially in Baluchistan province, directed from Afghanistan. On July 4 a massive bomb explosion in a mosque in Quetta, frequented by the Hazaras, left 53 dead. Pakistani military officials are convinced that it was carried out by agents of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, ensconced in Indian missions in Qandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul. Another bomb-explosion in a Karachi office building on July 11 left two dead. The 12-storey Crown Plaza building, effectively owned by the Mumbai underworld kingpin Dawood Ibrahim, believed to have links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, leaves little doubt about the perpetrators: RAW.

India has maintained close links with the Northern Alliance, many of whose leaders were either educated in India (foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, for instance) or were cultivated by Delhi because Afghanistan’s Pashtun majority worked closely with Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of 1979. Karzai was also educated in India, although he spent his exile in Pakistan.

Firing along the Pakistan-Afghan border, bomb explosions in Pakistani cities and attacks on the Pakistan embassy, as well as threats and warnings from Afghan officials, have led to a belated realization among Pakistan’s military that the situation in Afghanistan is getting out of hand. The Mutahhida Majlis-e Amal (MMA), a group of six religious parties that rules the Frontier Province and is a coalition partner in Baluchistan, hitherto shunned as religious obscurantists, is now being courted by the military. In the face of increased uncertainty along its border because of Indian intelligence activity, Pakistan is finally taking steps to protect its interests. Indian activities are aimed at targeting Pakistani border areas to cultivate anti-Pakistan sentiment, to block Afghan-Pakistan trade and to squeeze Pakistan on its western border as well.

Landlocked Afghanistan is almost entirely dependent on Pakistan for trade and transit facilities, yet Afghan officials continue to threaten Islamabad, and Pakistani businessmen have complained that they are finding it extremely difficult to do business in Afghanistan because of lack of security. After a three-day visit to Pakistan (August 3-5), Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani extracted from Islamabad a concession that the US$100 million pledged in aid should be converted into a grant, yet refused to honour contracts given to Pakistani businessmen: he said that the "political and economic environment" had changed and that they must now compete in the open market. Pakistani foreign minister Mahmood Ali Kasuri is scheduled to visit Kabul in the third week of August to iron out differences.

Meanwhile in Pakistan political games continue unabated, compounded by the half-baked ideas of the military. Until recently the MMA had insisted that Musharraf must resign as army chief if he wants to be president. The military threatened them with disqualification from the National Assembly, and now they have embraced each other. Pakistan’s real tragedy is that policies are not formulated carefully and with foresight. The ruling elite’s eagerness to appease the US, without calculating the costs involved, is coming to haunt Pakistan even sooner than expected.

During Musharraf’s 10-day visit to the US in June, Washington promised to provide US$3 billion in aid over the next five years to Pakistan for helping the "war on terror". Now American lawmakers are demanding, in a replay of the infamous Pressler amendment of 1990, that the US president certify annually Pakistan’s full cooperation in fighting "terrorism" as well as in preventing "cross-border terrorism" into Kashmir—a phrase coined by the Indians. Some gratitude would be in order, but those who sell themselves cheaply cannot hope for either gratitude or respect. These demands are being made at a time when Pakistan has, for the first time in its history ("the first in 100 years", according to Musharraf’s boast at Camp David!), deployed troops in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan to help the US fight Taliban and al-Qa’ida operatives.

This carries grave risks for Pakistan. It arouses hostility among the fiercely independent tribes, who do not take kindly to such incursions. In the long run it threatens to rekindle the dormant demand for "Pakhtunistan" or even of "Greater Afghanistan." For decades an unholy alliance of Russia and India had fostered this ambition. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent struggle against it buried such irredentist tendencies. With America assuming the mantle of an imperial overlord, India is cozying up to Uncle Sam to pursue a similar agenda using a different strategy.

Initially, Delhi hopes to play on the Northern Alliance’s hostility to Pakistan to keep Islamabad on the defensive, but if the US continues to find the going tough in Afghanistan, as is very likely, an Indo-US alliance against Pakistan cannot be ruled out.

Pakistan faces an acute dilemma: if it continues to fight the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, who enjoy support among the Pashtuns, it risks alienating not only the Afghan majority but also a significant number of its own population in the volatile Frontier and Baluchistan provinces. Refusal to pursue such a policy annoys Uncle Sam. Whose interests will it serve remains to be seen, but it is clear that Musharraf’s hasty policy reversal of September 2001, following a phone-call from US secretary of state Colin Powell, was unwise and has left Pakistan dangerously exposed. Pakistan’s military is obsessed with the Indian threat, no doubt very real, that colours every policy, but how it is addressed leaves much to be desired. It makes little sense to play and win in oneupmanship against India by winning America’s unreliable friendship, while alienating a large segment of its own population, as well as the majority in Afghanistan, in the process. India is guilty of state terrorism, as last month’s blasts in Quetta and Karachi show, but nobody expects American or Western leaders to brand Delhi as the sponsor of state terrorism; such epithets are reserved for Muslims.

While the threat of more Indian-instigated attacks against Pakistan is real, Karzai has started to issue his own threats against Islamabad. In an interview published in the Far Eastern Economic Review (August 7), Karzai said that he desires friendship with Pakistan, but then went on: "As much as we want good relations with Pakistan and other neighbours we also oppose extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism coming into Afghanistan from outside. I want a civilized relationship with Pakistan... We have done everything to promote friendship with Pakistan but our silence should not be miscalculated for weakness." He expressed similar sentiments in a BBC World Service interview broadcast on August 2.

Karzai has little authority outside Kabul; he has been dubbed the "mayor of Kabul". He cannot rely on the Afghans to give him security; Americans give him protection from his own people yet he threatens Pakistan with dire consequences. In a report issued on July 25, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that warlords allied to Karzai were responsible for mayhem, terror, rape and pillage in Afghanistan. The country is less safe for ordinary Afghans today than it was during the days of the Taliban; banditry is rampant, and the promised American financial help has still not materialized.

Foreign occupation forces are now talking of being there for "years", not merely until the June 2004 deadline stipulated by the Bonn Accord of December 2001 by which a new president must be elected. Already fears are being expressed that the new Loya Jirga, to be selected by October, will be dominated by "Islamic fundamentalists." If the people of Afghanistan have more faith in them, the US and other foreign occupiers should respect it, but that will not be permitted. They really want a puppet government, not one that is acceptable to the people of Afghanistan.

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