Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
UPDATE – President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation has been greeted with jubilation from supporters of the ruling PML-N and PPP parties (see picture right), and sparked a rally in the stock market. But reading through the comments on this and other blogs, I can’t see any clear theme emerging, with some praising and others condemning Musharraf’s legacy, some regretting and others welcoming his departure, and many fretting about the future.
“We celebrate on arrival and departure of the same person.
We praise those who left the scene.
Dead become heroes and living and serving are being accused.”
India, meanwhile, has been muted in its response. But Indian analysts who once derided Musharraf as the architect of the 1999 Kargil war are now fretting that his departure could unleash fresh tensions from Kashmir to Kabul if it is allowed to create a vacuum which can be exploited by Islamist militants.
Less than a month ago, Senator Barack Obama was saying that the U.S. war in Afghanistan would be made easier if the United States worked to improve trust between India and Pakistan. “A lot of what drives, it appears, motivations on the Pakistan side of the border, still has to do with their concerns and suspicions about India,” he told a news conference in Amman.
The logic was in line with thinking expounded by U.S. analysts at the time who argued that elements within Pakistan will never completely relinquish support for Islamist militants in both Pakistan and Afghanistan as long as they believe they can be used to counter Indian influence in the region. Therefore end Pakistan’s insecurity about India, and support for militants will melt away, making the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban much easier — or so the argument goes. At least that was the thinking barely a few weeks ago, as I wrote in an earlier blog on this subject.
It’s probably unusual to link to a report by the RAND Corporation and an op-ed on Foxnews.com in the same blog, but since both address the same subject – tackling al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region – here goes.
The first is a detailed report by RAND called “How Terrorist Groups End”.
Speculation the United States is preparing to send commandos into Pakistan’s tribal areas to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban militants is gathering momentum. Pakistani fears of a U.S. attack were reinforced by a surprise visit to Pakistan this weekend by the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in which he was reported to have expressed U.S. frustration that Islamabad was not doing enough to tackle militants on its border with Afghanistan.
The Daily Times says in an article from Washington that Mullen had been expected to ”read the riot act” to the government. It quoted an unnamed ”well-informed source” as saying that U.S. patience was close to running out. When it did, the paper said, there would be unilateral US military action, both covert and overt, in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Much has been made of this week’s New York Times article accusing the Bush administration of allowing al Qaeda to rebuild in Pakistan’s tribal areas after it was chased out of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, not least because the White House took its eye off the ball as it turned its attention to Iraq.
“The United States faces a threat from al Qaeda today that is comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,” the newspaper quotes Seth Jones, a Pentagon consultant and a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, as saying. ”The base of operations has moved only a short distance, roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia.”
It’s early days yet, but people are already trying to work out what any Israeli attack on Iran would mean for Pakistan. (The idea that Israel might attack Iran to damage or destroy its nuclear programme gained currency this week when former U.S. ambassador John Bolton predicted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that it would do so after the November U.S. presidential election but before the next president is sworn in.)
Pakistan defence analyst Ikram Sehgal paints an alarming, and perhaps deliberately alarmist, picture in The News of what this could mean for Pakistan: ”Could Israeli or (US) planners afford the risk of leaving a Muslim nuclear state with the means of missile delivery intact if there is war with Iran? Can they take this calculated risk in the face of a possible Pakistani nuclear reaction because of military action on a fellow Muslim nation and neighbour…?” he writes. ”Should one not be apprehensive that India as the ‘newly U.S. appointed policeman of the region’ takes the opportunity … for launching all-out Indian military offensive….?”
Some people have begun to voice what has been for some time an unspoken fear in Pakistan - that of a U.S. attack.
What would happen if there were to be another big attack on the United States that is traced back to militants holed up in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border?
A New York Times report about Pakistan threatening to postpone or cancel an American programme to train a paramilitary force because of last week’s U.S. air strikes has been widely picked up in the Pakistani media.
Eleven soldiers from the Frontier Corps died in those air strikes in the Mohmand agency in circumstances that remain unclear. But the U..S.-Pakistan alliance forged after the September 11 attacks has been deeply scarred as a result, says the report. It quotes former Pakistan Army chief General Jehangir Karamat as saying that the United States deliberately targeted Pakistani forces and that there had not been a statement from the United States that this was friendly fire and that the intention was not to attack Pakistani forces.
Reuters Paris chief correspondent Crispian Balmer tells me that he said the ruling Pakistan People’s Party had established a working relationship with Musharraf after February elections in which the president’s political allies were defeated.
I finally got around to reading the full text of a speech by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Pakistan Forum earlier this month and the following exchange caught my eye: