Stark choice facing Pakistan: resist or surrender to US-Indian hegemony

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Pakistani president general Pervez Musharraf has made a grand retreat on Kashmir while pretending to be safeguarding his country’s interests. The unkindest cut is that this has happened under American pressure despite Musharraf’s abandoning a 25-year policy on Afghanistan in order to appease Washington. When he made this U-turn last September, Musharraf justified it as being in Pakistan’s “national interest.” He argued that he had established a strategic partnership with Washington, thereby securing the future of Kashmir as well as the maintenance of Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Yet, far from securing Pakistan’s interests or getting any closer to resolving the ‘Kashmir dispute’, Islamabad has come under intense political and diplomatic pressure to stop what India insultingly refers to as “cross-border terrorism”. How quickly America has reneged on its promises, given by US secretary of state Colin Powell last October, that the US would not abandon Pakistan once the latter had served its purpose, has surprised even its most ardent admirers. There had been much enthusiasm in Pakistan, with policy-makers heaping praise on Musharraf for his adroit handling of the situation. Now they have egg on their faces.

Under Indian pressure, with active US support, Pakistan has been forced to prevent Kashmiri mujahideen from crossing the Line of Control in Kashmir. US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld went so far as to say on June 11 in Delhi that there had been reports of al-Qa’ida sightings in Kashmir. He retracted the statement a day later when asked for proof by journalists in Islamabad. The Americans want to please India even if it antagonises Pakistan, yet the Indians have not given in entirely to American designs. For instance, the Indians turned down Rumsfeld’s suggestion that American and British troops should patrol the Line of Control in order to prevent “infiltration”.

There is not even a hint that the 700,000 Indian troops are also “infiltrators” in Kashmir, a territory whose disputed status is recognised by the UN. The Indian army of occupation has committed horrendous crimes against the people of Kashmir; some 80,000 have been murdered, tens of thousands of women have been raped, and at least 50,000 Kashmiris have been tortured since December 1989. The Kashmiris’ crime is that they want their right of self-determination. That this should be resisted by the self-proclaimed largest democracy in the world is revealing; so is the attitude of the “strongest” democracy: the US.

It also highlights the hypocritical nature of international politics: one million people in East Timor were given the right to secede from Indonesia in 1999, but the 12 million Kashmiris must not be allowed to exercise their rights under the UN charter. The difference has to do with religion (the Timorese are Christian, the Kashmiris are Muslim) and politics. Indonesia, a Muslim country, has to be cut down to size, but Hindu India must be fortified because it is needed as a bulwark against both China and resurgent Islam in southeast Asia. The Kashmiris’ case is much stronger than that of the Timorese, but western, especially American, interests override all other considerations.

The naivety of the rulers in Islamabad is mindboggling. It was argued that if Afghanistan were abandoned to appease the US, it would safeguard Pakistan’s interests in Kashmir. Quite the reverse has happened: by abandoning Afghanistan, Pakistan has jeopardised the Kashmiri cause even further. Pakistan’s policy in helping the US is self-defeating: the more the Americans succeed in Afghanistan, the less use they have for Pakistan.

Although the US is not completely out of the woods in Afghanistan (and may never really be), both the US and India have concluded that Musharraf can be browbeaten into submission. Not everyone in Pakistan or even in the military is happy with this turn of events. Aside from a small coterie of secularists, the vast majority in Pakistan are stunned by Musharraf’s abandonment of the Kashmiris. The Kashmiris are distraught; they have paid a heavy price, yet are being thrown to the wolves.

The irony is that Pakistan is not weak militarily; it could more than match India in the current stand-off. At least 700,000 of India’s army of 1.2 million is tied down in Kashmir.

When the Indians have failed to subdue the Kashmiris’ uprising in more than 12 years, how can they possibly do better if they become involved in armed conflict with Pakistan? Besides, the notion of fighting a “limited war”, a concept advanced by India, is sheer nonsense; once started, neither party can determine the tempo of a war unilaterally. The real failure in Pakistan is that of nerve; Musharraf blinked first, surrendering despite the fact that Delhi had painted itself into a corner over Kashmir.

It is well known that no ruler in Pakistan has ever survived a war. While wars are a messy business and cause a great deal of loss and suffering, there is a point at which a country has to make a stand for its own pride’s sake. Unfortunately pride is a rare commodity in Pakistan. The ruling elites take great umbrage at the slightest personal insult, but when the entire country is humiliated they develop a thick skin.

Musharraf’s own disposition is also a factor in the current situation. He has made no secret of his admiration for Mustafa Kemal of Turkey, who was responsible for abolishing the Khilafah in Turkey. Musharraf is pursuing a similar agenda; the only thing holding him back is the Islamic culture and ethos of the Pakistani people. Successive rulers paid only lip service to Islam, yet not one dared come out against it, or against the fundamental concept of jihad, as openly as Musharraf. Musharraf is trying to make jihad a dirty word in order to please Uncle Sam, but Uncle Sam is a difficult customer to please. Their experience in Afghanistan should have served to open their eyes, but self-deception has been a common habit of all Pakistani rulers.

Musharraf’s current policy has other drawbacks too: as a military ruler, he is alienated from his people; he has also caused fissures in the armed forces by his U-turns on major issues. His denigration of jihad is undermining morale. The concepts of jihad and shahadah (martyrdom) have been powerful motivating factors among Pakistani soldiers, although the officer class is rather different in this respect.

How does Musharraf propose to motivate his soldiers if he is leading the assault on jihad? Raw nationalism is a sticky proposition; nor are there any economic inducements for the rank and file. The country leads a precarious economic existence, and what little is earned is pilfered by those in power.

A stark choice faces the people of Pakistan. America wants Pakistan to agree to be second fiddle to India indefinitely. The only way to avoid this is to stand up to the US. If Musharraf does not have the courage to do so, then he must step aside and let someone else take over. Rhetoric and bluster cannot camouflage the policy of abject surrender to which Musharraf has committed himself and his country.

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