Geo-Political Somersault


Despite being a frontline State, Pakistan fell from grace in the very hour of the free world’s victory against Soviet communism. The Soviet edifice had started crumbling internally (the fall of the Berlin Wall was only symbolic) in the face of the fierce Afghan freedom movement, aided and actively supported by America’s CIA through Pakistan’s ISI operatives, hundreds of whom lost their lives and lie buried in unmarked graves throughout Afghanistan. The Gulf War was hardly over when President Bush Sr, failed to certify to US Congress Pakistan’s abstinence from seeking nuclear capability, triggering the Pressler Amendment, imposing military and economic sanctions against Pakistan. Pakistan was lucky in 1992-93 to escape being equated with Libya, Iraq, Sudan, North Korea, etc in the US-made “terrorist states” list, the fallout of the Afghan freedom struggle notwithstanding, viz (1) 3 million refugees, of which more than 1 million never did (and will never) go back (2) a massive proliferation of drugs and guns symbolized by heroin and the Kalashnikov, within Pakistan more than 6000 bomb blasts took place in that decade, many Pakistanis died and/or were maimed (3) a major breakdown in law and order, with lasting damage to the fabric of society with rising ethnicity and sectarianism (4) widening disparity been the desperately poor and new, mostly illegal wealth (5) corruption force-multiplying through the body politic of the country (6) even reaching deep into the Armed Forces (7) a proliferation of terrorist cells with disparate aims, supported by RAW, KGB and KHAD (8) a vibrant economy becoming addicted to easy aid instead of trade, most aid duly siphoned off by bureaucrats and (9) heavy debt acquisitions which became more complex for the country with time. Pakistanis could not be blamed for their 1981-89 fantasy that their future would remain bright as the darlings of the west. An internecine quarrel ensued between the Afghan Mujhahideen factions till the Talibaan gained ascendancy, not because the masses of Afghanistan wanted them and/or their extremely conservative brand of ideology but because they wanted the others even less. By the time of the Chagai nuclear explosion on May 28, 1999, we had already been on the receiving end of ostracization for many reasons, viz (1) suspected nuclear intentions (2) a haven for drugs manufacturing and smuggling and (3) suspected ISI support for terrorist activity. Things improved internally after the Oct 12, 1999 military coup, internationally they became worse for a short time, after the cold war military regimes were out of fashion. “Democracy” sanctions were super-imposed on “nuclear” sanctions against Pakistan, the Commonwealth suspending our membership and even the European Union (EU) holding back aid. A depth of integrity and sincere intent more than any grand plan has brought this military regime goodwill (and this far) in the face of adversity, destiny marking the leader of the regime as a man twice blessed. Fortune smiles on the brave, there is no man luckier in this world than Pervez Musharraf. Quite a lot has rubbed off on Pakistan lately.

Pakistanis live in the romantic notion that Republicans prefer Pakistan over India. Consider the rude shock to our already precarious geo-political status when the new US Administration’s policy review decided that in the shape of things to come, China was its arch competitor in the world. The US then proceeded on a course of containing China by re-aligning itself with India. Pakistani analysts remember this as an extension of US Ambassador (to India) Galbraith’s famous memo of May 1965 writing Pakistan off in favour of India in the region. Despite Gen Ziaul Haq being an international pariah for hanging PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1979, Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan forced the US and Pakistan to become close allies in the 80s. An economically resurgent China saw a need in the 90s to normalize its relations with India. This relationship with Pakistan became relatively lukewarm in comparison to our deep friendship of the 60s and 70s, further exacerbated by Chinese exasperation at Pakistan’s perceived reluctance to rein in Islamists making inroads among the Uighurs in Sinkiang Province. China was further aggrieved when the Benazir Bhutto regime opted for the French submarine without seriously considering the Chinese offer. Flying an alovette-3 helicopter along the Karakoram Highway (KKH) near the Khunjerab Pass in 1970, I could not find the border because there were no border posts, today barbed wire entanglements visibly divide the two countries. On the other hand, India and China embarked on a series of confidence building measures (CBMs) meant to consummate a complete rapprochement. US overtures to India recently were God-sent for Pakistan, China re-discovered Pakistan through fresh geo-political eyes. Immediate Chinese aid was forthcoming for a deep-sea harbour at Gwadar, for various road projects in the country including the crucial coastal highway and for railways projects, telecommunications etc.

Sep 11 is the Quaid’s Death Anniversary, this date in 2001 will replace Pearl Harbour (Dec 7, 1941) in history as the ultimate day in infamy, unsurpassed for sheer horror and effect on US and world morale. Whatever quantum of material and human havoc was their objective in striking at the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC), in their wildest imagination the terrorists could never have anticipated the long term economic and psychological consequences they achieved with their Kamikaze. We woke up to a new world on Sep 12, 2001. My son, Zarrar Sehgal, a Wall Street lawyer, having actually saw the second aircraft hit the second tower less than 400-500 yards away an uninterrupted view of the WTC from the 45th floor of Chase Manhattan Plaza. Zarrar made one very telling point about the Serb nationalist who could not have imagined the awesome forces of destruction and change he unleashed in Europe while assassinating Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914 at Sarajevo. Austria’s reaction was the Declaration of War on Serbia on July 28, 1914, heralding the start of World War I. The US President’s declaration of war on international terrorism notwithstanding, the US has itself gone on a state of internal siege. The freedom within the US was a beacon of hope for third world-ers, can this aspiration be ever realized in our lifetime?

The war against terrorism is not directed towards Islam, public perception in the US which blames it on muslims at large has led to many individual attacks against muslims. Muslims in the US do not approximate what the hapless Jews were to Nazi Germany before and during World War 2, yet the portents are alarming. Because of ignorance, wrong media projection and ill-advised comments by fairly senior people who should know better, there is a simmering undercurrent of anti-muslim persecution. Pakistan supports the Talibaan, its citizens have borne a fair share of the attacks. The terrorists who took part in the Sep 11 terrorist attacks were of Saudi, Palestinian or other Arab origin, finger-pointing at Afghanistan is logical because of Osama Bin Laden, but why target Pakistan? American public is generally broadminded and fair, if the media does not slant facts, things will become better.

Seeped in the geo-politics of this region as well as our history with Afghanistan, Musharraf moved swiftly to effect damage control. He scored big by his quick support to the US, the rough indicators of success being, viz (1) the expected reaction in the streets has not taken off, at least as yet (2) the sanctions against Pakistan have been or are in the process of being lifted and (3) India’s visible anger with the US for not putting Pakistan and the Talibaan in the same boat (to be sunk). The ultimate litmus test of something good happening to Pakistan is when India is annoyed and its leaders express their frustration publicly. And why not? Two weeks since the US terror bombing, the substantial shift in geo-political re-alignment is unprecedented. Countries that matter most to us, China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran and Turkey, have actively encouraged this development, China would normally not look favourably at such a tilt to the US. Hoping against hope that Pakistan would opt for a death wish and go with the Talibaan, India quickly offered their bases and airspace to the US, but why was Bangladesh offering its airspace and bases? Can Bhutan be far behind? This is far from being funny, everyone wants to cash in on the super-game of geo-politics, the stakes being really very high. Musharraf has proved that he is an adept geo-political player when and where it matters, not only on the regional platform (witness his demolition of the far more politically experienced and media-wise Indians at Agra) but on the world stage. In friendship with the US we may have been more than thrice bitten, yet not once has Pakistan been shy in re-engaging the US with sincere intent in this topsy-turvy game of geo-political somersaults.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).