The fallacy of being a frontline state


The US ambassador to Pakistan, Ms Nancy Powell has let the cat out of the bag by publicly validating the Indian claim that Pakistan has not fulfilled its promise of stopping infiltration into Kashmir. Pakistan’s alleged support for North Korean nuclear programme is taken seriously in some Washington circles. Furthermore, many in the US governing circles believe that Pakistan has not done enough to eradicate terrorist groups. Therefore, behind the scenes, the US is not buying the Pakistani claim of being a frontline state against terrorism.

The Bush administration, obsessed with Iraq and North Korea, has no choice but to maintain the status quo with Pakistan for now. However, Pakistan will be in a lot more trouble when war with Iraq is over. In such circumstances, despite soothing statements, the US is not going to give any concessions on new discriminatory immigration rules. Probably, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Mr Khushid Mehmood Kasuri will listen to a lot of US grumbling – all behind closed doors, of course – then he can squeeze any concession for Pakistani immigrants.

Pakistanis may have every reason to believe that their country is used as a frontline state against terrorism but Americans and many others have serious doubts about such a designation. The often repeated question is that if Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have allegedly housed terrorist outfits in Pakistan, brought and sustained Taliban in Afghanistan and terrorists such as Ramzi Yusuf, onward nabbed from that country, then who is it that Pakistan is acting as a frontline state against? When religious political parties, supporting violent outfits, have been legitimised and given the power share in the political structure – control of government in one province and significant leverage in the centre and other regions – which external power Islamabad claims to be confronting? Therefore, many believe that Pakistan is a frontline state against its own internal set-ups, political as well as extra-political.

Actually frontline state designation was self-assigned to start with. To strengthen negotiating position with the US, some shrewd Pakistani diplomats borrowed the term from anti-Soviet Afghan war of 80s and used it so often that most Pakistanis started believing it as an article of faith. The US diplomats have been using the term ‘partner’ or ally and term ‘frontline’ is not part of US diplomatic lingo, according to Ms Teresita Schaffer of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. More importantly, Pakistan has been interpreting these terms differently from the US, she adds. In the present circumstances, Pakistan’s self-conceived importance is not shared by many in the US despite the importance attached to its cooperation.

For now, the US has no alternative but to seek the cooperation of General Musharraf and the military. The US is well aware that without their cooperation terrorism cannot be fought either in Afghanistan or within Pakistan. The US does not say it openly but believes that Pakistan is part of the problem and there is no better alternative but to make it a part of the solution. Perceptions about terrorists also differ. For the US, jihadis fighting in Kashmir are the same people it is fighting against while for Gen Musharraf they are legitimate freedom fighters. Such fundamental differences have started popping up and may become points of confrontation between the two countries in the future.

Pakistan’s alleged involvement with the North Korean nuclear programme is also a landmine in the Pak-US relationship. Seymour Hersh has made new claims about Pakistan’s involvement in the latest edition of the New Yorker. Basing his information on a top-secret CIA report, Mr Hersh asserts that Pakistan provided centrifuge machine to North Korea. He has quoted a CIA source saying that “It points a clear finger at the Pakistanis. The technical stuff is crystal clear, not hedged and not ambivalent.” Mr Hersh has quoted another US policymaker declaring, “Right now, the most dangerous country in the world is Pakistan. If we’re incinerated next week, it’ll be because of HEU (highly enriched uranium) that was given to al-Qaeda by Pakistan.”

Mr. Hersh’s credibility may remain questionable for many because President Bush vehemently rejected his previous assertions. However, one will have to make a big assumption about Mr Bush’s truthfulness also after listening to his daily statements on Iraq. Regardless of Mr Hersh’s credit worthiness, allegations against Pakistan have been circulating in Washington circles since the last few months. Anti-Pakistan sentiments are rising slowly and one should not be surprised if the US re-imposes sanctions.

In the past, Pakistan has never had a realistic understanding about its relationship with the US. Every time the Pak-US alliance is revived, Pakistan interprets it as an endorsement of its Kashmir policy. On the contrary, the US expects that Pakistan has the understanding about divergent views on Kashmir despite a temporary alliance for a specific purpose. The US has to accept the blame for such misconceptions. To achieve its short-term goals, it keeps ignoring many essential issues. For example, the US was ignoring Pakistan’s nuclear programme during 80s for obvious reasons. The US kept on tolerating the violation of its law for so many years. As a result, Pakistan started taking it as a routine matter. However, when anti-Soviet struggle was concluded the US slammed sanctions, shocking Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan is in for another shock in the near future.

Pakistan government and intelligentsia should take a realistic look at its relationship with the US. For the US, Pakistan is not a frontline state against terrorism but a part of the problem. Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri jihad is taken to be part of the terrorist networking. In addition, Pakistan’s credibility for non-proliferation is also coming under tight scrutiny. Once the international scene changes and Afghanistan is stabilized Pakistan will face much severe US sanctions or may be more.