Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The most eye-catching, perhaps, was a story in The News about how President Pervez Musharraf’s family in the United States have been giving donations to Obama’s campaign. ”President Pervez Musharraf’s family members here are supporting and giving donations to a US presidential candidate who strongly opposes the Bush administration policy of supporting and keeping the retired general in the presidency,” it says.
The Daily Times, in an analysis by former Pakistani foreign secretary Najmuddin A Shaikh, says there would be little difference between Obama and the Bush administration on the need to hunt out al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan — if needs be through unilateral U.S. action – and on keeping its nuclear weapons safe. What the writer sees is a difference in tone, which would be welcomed in Pakistan:
“What one can expect, however, is that Obama will be less averse – as the candidate for change – to recognising that extremism in the Muslim world flows from causes other than religious injunctions, no matter how this may be portrayed by so-called spokesmen for Islam or misguided scholars in the West,” he says. “He certainly will not be talking about crusades nor will he oppose direct talks with adversaries.”
This is definitely a case of “the more you know, the less you understand”.
There has been much talk in the media about whether PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari is heading for a showdown with President Pervez Musharraf to force him out of office.
The split in Pakistan’s ruling coalition could provide a lifeline for President Pervez Musharraf that the Pakistani people believed they’d yanked away in an election three months ago.
After the Feb.18 poll demolished Musharraf’s parliamentary support, predictions abounded that the politically isolated U.S. ally would be forced from power within weeks or months. Politicians had even talked about impeaching him.
When former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, agreed in March to form a coalition government in Pakistan, the words of the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli seemed apt:
“Coalitions, though successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief,” I quoted him as saying, in a posting which asked whether the coalition between Sharif’s PML (N) and Zardari’s PPP would survive.
Update – Since filing this blog, Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has said he is pulling out of the peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border. So were the sceptics right all along? And what does this mean for the government’s new strategy?
On the same subject, here is an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor comparing Pakistan’s policy to that of the United States in Iraq. “Americans can hardly complain that Pakistan is on the verge of a deal with jihadists,” it says. “The US has already done a similar deal with Iraqi Sunni terrorists. In both cases, a prime goal is simply to isolate Al Qaeda.”
Notwithstanding his weakened position at home, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf this week flies to China , the “all weather friend” that has stood by the country through all its troubles.
Unlike its American friends, the Chinese have not blown hot and cold, although there have been challenges such as attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, including the execution of three workers near Peshawar last year and concern that the Islamist fervour sweeping the northwest parts of Pakistan was spilling over to neighbouring Xinjiang, China’s troubled, predominantly Muslim region.
But the Chinese do not give Pakistan lectures on democracy, the dangers of nuclear proliferation – which arguably isn’t surprising since some of it is traced back to the Chinese, according to non-proliferation experts- or threaten to bomb them into the Stone Age , which is what Islamabad says the Bush administration did to enlist its support in its war on terrorism days after Sept 11.
China, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told parliament in his opening address last week, was a time-tested ally and the friendship “was deeper than the Indian Ocean and higher than the Himalayas”. On Monday, a Shanghai shipyard launched the first of four frigates to be delivered to the Pakistan navy, while the Pakistani air force has already inducted a fighter aircraft co-produced with China. Beijing has also helped Pakistan build civil nuclear plants.
Pakistan’s alliance with China is far more enduring that the one with the United States, a scholar writing for the YaleGlobal Online argued last month, characterising the relationship with Washington dating back to 1954 as an intermittent, Cold War marriage of convenience. The current U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been built on security interests and is already looking fragile following the outcome of the February elections when the party supported by ally Musharraf was routed.
Pakistan’s alliance with China, in contrast, is based on permanent strategic interests and immutable issues of geography, including China’s desire for access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, scholar Willem van Kemenade says in the article. And unlike the sometimes public polemics with Washington over the war on militancy, Pakistan and China are quietly cooperating to ensure things don’t go out of hand in China’s far west.
Indeed, Musharraf will be winding up his visit in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, where he is expected to appeal to local Muslims to cooperate with the authorities and not to be misled by followers of Tibet’s spiritual leader Dala Lama trying to stoke fires there, as B.Raman, a former additional secretary at India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external intelligence arm, says in a paper for the India-based South Asia Analysis Group.
So has China been a better friend than the United States and is the relationship as solid as ever?
India and Pakistan turn into good friends, and America is kept at arms’ length. Is that possible?
Diplomacy like politics is the art of the possible, and if you listen to the new voices emerging from Pakistan, there is change blowing in the wind as it makes the transition to civilian rule after nearly nine years of military leadership.
When it comes to Pakistan, sometimes you want to be told what is going on; sometimes you want to stop and think for yourself. But rarely is there a middle ground. Here are three very different pieces for those who are interested in this conundrum.
In an op-ed in Dawn Cyril Almeida tackles the perennial question of how far Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) controls the Islamist militants who helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, fought against Indian rule in Kashmir in the 1990s and this century turned first against the United States in 9/11 and then against Pakistan itself in a wave of suicide bombings.
Former Indian deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani has just released his autobiography and he takes issue with President Pervez Musharraf for blaming him for being “the hidden hand” behind the failure of a 2001 summit between the two countries that ultimately led to a dangerous military stand-off before they talked peace again.
Though it’s seven years past, both Advani’s, and before him, Musharraf’s version of that summit with Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal, still makes for interesting reading. It offers a glimpse into the minds of two powerful men — one a Hindu nationalist leader and the other a military general — as they struggled to set aside the baggage of history and half a century of conflict and came close to making history themselves before courage deserted them. They eventually made their peace, partly brought on by circumstance including a dramatically different world after September 11, but also because the mis-steps of Agra were never far from the mind.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is a former High Commissioner of Pakistan and advisor to the late Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
In his historic play Julius Caesar Shakespeare uses Ides of March to warn the Roman Emperor the tragic fate that was in store for him. And ever since ides of March is used as an appropriate phrase as a precursor to events of far-reaching consequences. In case of Pakistan’s history too this month has great significance on various counts. First and foremost, the Muslims in the sub-continent decided to seek and establish a separate independent homeland through a resolution adopted by All-India Muslim League on March 23, 1940 under the dynamic leadership of its leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah. And it was an astounding achievement-entirely to the credit of Mr Jinnah-that within the short span of seven years Pakistan was carved out of the Indian sub-continent to be a secular Muslim state to ensure freedom and equality to all its citizens-irrespective of their caste, creed or colour.