With the US demanding after 9/11 that its friends stand up and be counted, Pervez Musharraf came through at risk of personal life and limb, not to speak of the credibility of Pakistan as an independent sovereign entity. The weekend at Camp David recognises the Pakistani President’s pre-eminent role (and performance) as a US ally at a very troubled time, it is also a brilliant US diplomatic sleight of hand meant to keep everyone happy. While bestowing a rare privilege meant for the most trusted of US friends, it avoids receiving a Head of State still in uniform with all the pomp and show associated with the White House. This mechanism assuages domestic US sensibilities about democratic mores, externally it salves India’s feelings in the light of the developing US-India relationship.
Musharraf expects the US to “reward” Pakistan more for its still continuing support for the war in Afghanistan and against the cells of international terrorism imbedded in Pakistan. A generous US gesture is expected with about $1.8 billion debt forgiveness (and some debt re-scheduling) besides outright grant and aid, this will shore up Pakistan economically and Musharraf politically, mollifying those critics who feel Pakistan has been short-changed. Trade bargains are also in the works, these could eventually lead to a Free Trade Agreement. The icing on the cake would be two squadrons of F-16s to bring the PAF to a credible conventional air defence campability. The relatively “small” economic support that we did get earlier was a good enough signal for other western donor countries as well as Japan to give us succour across the board. Pakistan’s economy became a net-gainer because of 9/11, a few more days and we would have been in the “default” category.
When the protest numbers in the streets the religious parties threatened did not materialize, their bluff was called. The US is still using Jacobabad as a major staging airbase for Afghanistan and the FBI support to our law enforcing agencies against the Al-Qaida terrorist network throughout Pakistan, duly coordinated by the ISI, has been nothing short of spectacular as dozens and dozens of terrorists have been rounded up. As a happy breeding ground of terrorists of all ilk (very distinct from the freedom fighters within Indian-Occupied Kashmir) Pakistan had become a haven for criminals with a booming trade in guns, drugs and money-laundering, A “rogue” State we were not but if Musharraf had not done his 180 degree turn in Pakistani policies (the advantages of dictatorship), a few more years would have converted the present Indian canard into a truth. We may have helped the US initially by the “cleansing of terrorists”, actually we have only helped ourselves. No nation can afford terrorists as acceptable part of its society, however justifiable the cause.
Notwithstanding Vajpayee talking of “peace in his time”, the present belligerent “take it or leave it” India attitude towards peace is sheer arrogance born out of their belated “deep” friendship with the US, nearly three decades after Ambassador Chester Bowles May 23, 1965 Memo spelt out a pre-dominant role for India in Asia in containing (then communist) China. When the US President annunciated the Bush Doctrine on taking office in January 2001, he put US priority as containing future strategic rival China (now more capitalist than communist), India became crucial to the US. As a brief hiccup in this long-term US strategy, 9/11 converted Pakistan from a “pariah status” to a “a cornerstone of US policy” in the region India sulked at being stood up once again at the bridal altar. US is now pursuing a diplomatic middle ground, one that wants India to emerge as a strategic partner in the region, “but not at the expense of Pakistan”, better said than done. The US is on a perilous geo-political fail-safe line here, leaning increasingly towards India (LK Advani was received in the US as a long lost son, memories being short of the 1992 anti-muslim religious riots he incited through his well publicised “long march” campaign to destroy the five centuries old Babri Masjid at Ayodhya and causing the deaths of more than 3000 muslims, mainly women and children). In a recent high level seminar between Indian and Pakistani, politicians, ex-bureaucrats, academics and intellectuals, etc the growing US Indian friendship was flaunted before Pakistani eyes as the major reason we should resign ourselves to our “Bhutan-ized” fate. Musharraf has stated recently “we won’t have peace imposed on us”, we have heard the Indian message, and we will take our chances with it!
Nevertheless prudence demands that we get our convoluted policy options straightened out. One of our grave weaknesses is in international media perceptions about Pakistan, our inherent politico-ideological contradictions are mercilessly exposed by Indian propaganda, then force-multiplied by a international media that is hostile to muslims railing against Israel and Jews, in whichever order, without due cause. For Pakistan it is now essential to mend fences with Israel, simply because we have no reason to be enemies. If it was just a muslim and jew thing, than why do Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Qatar, etc. recognize Israel? The Palestinians have a problem with Israel but we don’t and why should be a hostage to the Palestinian destiny? Why are we champions of Palestinian causes, when has Yasser Arafat or (for that matter any Palestinian) ever mentioned Kashmir as even a source of anguish for Pakistan? Israel should take note of Yasser Arafat being the first recipient of the “Jawaharlal Nehru Peace Award”, Arafat and peace in the same breath? While one hopes and prays the Palestinians get a lasting peace with Israel for generations to come, “suicide bombing” is certainly not the route. Why are we hostage to the sacrilege of our religion by our co-religionists? As a terrorist act it is against the teachings of Islam, our religion strongly rejects violent acts against non-combatant innocent old people, women and children, etc. Israel reacts and the cycle of blood and violence goes on. Previously Israel was very focused on retaliation, picking out terrorist with surgical precision, regretfully now the strikes to take out Hamas leaders are more indiscriminate. We are certainly aggrieved at the plight of Palestinians but their fate was complicated by Arafat’s strategic mistake in not accepting the Ehud Barak offer, incidentally far better than the one now on the table. While no one can countenance Israel’s violent reaction, why do we have diplomatic relations with India where anti-muslim riots are endemic? Why indeed with Russia, given what they done and are doing now in Chechnya? Why with Serbia, given their inhuman ethnic cleansing of mulims in Bosnia?
With Palestinian PM Abu Mazan shaking hands with Arik Sharon at Aqaba, all the Middle-eastern parties will come together in a love-fest, Pakistan will be left out in the cold as other muslim countries follow Abu Mazan’s example. Give the Israelis scredit for scrupulously maintaining the sanctity of the Dome of the Mosque and Al-Aqsa even with periodical violence in the vicinity, they have not taken it down brick by brick like the Hindus fanatics did to the Babri Masjid. Such atrocities can only be possible by those who have the “Swastika” as their ancient symbol! The Jewish Diaspora have a very valid reason to hate that sign.
The great silent majority in Pakistan continues to support the President despite their frustrations at some of his politics and some of his policies. Musharraf is very much respected abroad for taking some very tough decisions for the good of the Pakistani nation. To contain the proliferation of adverse Indian propaganda, we have to recognize the reality of Israel, and survive in the mainstream comity of nations without being labelled as a “terrorist State” in first world perception.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).