‘Pakistan is one of US’s biggest worries’
Daily Times Monitoring
Behind the United States’ willingness to tolerate Pakistan’s “undemocratic ways lies the hope that, under General Musharraf, it can deliver not just Al Qaeda fugitives, but stability in the world’s only nuclear-armed Islamic republic”, The Economist said on Friday.
It said Pakistan was not a member of President Bush’s “axis of evil” but was not far off from meeting “the eligibility criteria” because of being the “launch-pad for terrorist attacks in India” and “the headquarters of a global mail-order business in nuclear-bomb technology”.
The Economist said when US Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan on March 17, he will have some harsh words for his hosts, The Economist said. The report said that there was a fear that Pakistan might lurch into Islamist extremism, and its nuclear technology fall into dangerous hands. It said President Musharraf was seen as indispensable to Pakistan’s future as Pakistan was to America’s fight against terrorism. Attempts on Musharraf’s life have helped foster this image. “It’s election year [in the US],” The Economist quoted Samina Ahmed, Islamabad representative of the International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent research outfit, “and the Americans have put all their eggs in Musharraf’s basket.”
The magazine said India had distrusted the general since the Kargil episode in 1999 when he was the army chief. “But it [India] too seems to have come round to the idea that Pakistan’s president may be a better partner in peace talks than any likely replacement. Atal Behari Vajpayee, India’s prime minister, has expressed concern for his safety.” While acknowledging that he is taking big political and personal risks, many Pakistanis take a less charitable view of General Musharraf. They see him as just the latest in a line of Pakistani soldiers to grow weary of the uncertainties of the democratic process, and to override it.
“Our generals have been wrong on everything,” says Pervez Hoodhbhoy, a peace activist and professor of physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam university.
His charge-sheet includes the army’s backing of the Taliban ruined Afghanistan, and has left those parts of Pakistan dominated, like the Taliban, by ethnic Pushtuns, deeply disillusioned by the decision to help America’s war. The generals’ acquiescence or active connivance in the proliferation of nuclear technology (or even, just conceivably, their ignorance of it) may have endangered the whole world. Their provision of money, training and cannon-fodder for the 14-year insurrection against Indian rule in Kashmir brought misery to that land, put Pakistan on the wrong side in the war against terror, and utterly failed in its objectives.
The Economist said that in 2001, when General Musharraf dumped the Taliban in favour of America, there was speculation that the switch would provoke such anger among Pakistan’s Islamists that he might be swept from power. There were indeed some large and unruly protests, but none that came near to mounting such a challenge, the magazine added. “Similarly this year, the general weathered another storm: the public humiliation of a great national hero, Abdul Qadeer Khan. The exposure of Mr Khan as the hub of a network of nuclear-technology proliferation has left many seeing him as a fall-guy for crimes that could not have been committed without the knowledge of the army top brass. But his televised confession did at least give General Musharraf a prop on which to rest his denials... He also saved himself. In deference to the scientist’s enormous prestige, the president let him off scot-free (‘conditionally’). Remarkably, the American and British governments, in public at least, were happy to treat this as an internal Pakistani affair. Just as remarkable to some observers was the muted reaction in Pakistan to the debunking of a national icon. Strikes called in his support soon fizzled.”
But Khurshid Ahmed, chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies, an Islamabad think-tank, argues it would be “highly superficial” to say that General Musharraf has escaped a popular backlash. According to Mr Ahmed, also a senator for Jamaat-i-Islami, part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, “AQ Khan is loved by the common man. Musharraf is hated.”
The Economist said that might be true. But it does seem that public opinion allows the generals more leeway than they prefer to admit.
“They put their hands behind their backs”, says Mr Hoodhbhoy, “and pretend they are tied.” He thinks this may even be true of the policy stance that Pakistanis see as the most fundamental of all: support for the struggle for self-determination of Muslims in Held Kashmir.
It is often argued that Pakistan’s room for negotiation is limited by popular opinion, formed by decades of indoctrination, starting in the schoolroom, about the injustice and cruelty of Indian rule in Kashmir. But some Pakistanis dispute this.
Peace with India is even popular with all but an extremist fringe of Pakistan’s Islamist parties. The MMA’s Khurshid Ahmed remains suspicious of Indian intentions, saying that “Pakistan cannot, must not, will not do a deal that the people of Jammu & Kashmir cannot accept.” But he insists that the MMA wants peace and is a force for moderation, having no sympathy at all for “the Taliban model”. In December last year, President Musharraf struck a deal with the MMA. In return for his promise to stand down as army chief by the end of 2004, it accepted his presidency until 2007, and his proposed constitutional changes. Not for the first time, a general found a bargain with the Islamists more palatable than making concessions to the secular opposition, The Economist said. Ever since seizing power, General Musharraf has spoken passionately and persuasively of the need to shed the backward-looking, repressive and anti-western influence of extremist Islam. Abroad, his standing rests on his credentials as Pakistan’s saviour from that strategic threat.
Yet to stay in power, and to burnish those credentials, he needs to offer tactical concessions to the extremists. Modernisers and fundamentalists alike may be disappointed in him, said The Economist. Senator Khurshid Ahmed could be speaking for both sets of critics: “We gave him the opportunity to become a statesman; he remains a commando.”