Jobs @ MG
By Mushahid Hussein
|Islambad: Not since the Bangladesh War
in 1971 has Pakistan been faced with such a grim regional scenario where
even the stability, and long-term survival of the Pakistani state can be
affected by the decisions taken and the course of events.
However reprehensible the carnage and the crimes against humanity
committed on September 11, which killed thousands of innocent Americans
and hundreds of Muslims from almost a dozen countries, the US response
being fashioned alongside its new-found friends in Pakistan could be a
catalyst for an unwinnable, long-drawn war that could quickly turn into a
Vietnam-like quagmire, but this time without frontiers.
Acting more out of anger to salve the wounded pride and the justifiable
fury felt by the American people plus the humiliation at the impunity and
scale of the crime, the American 'shoot-first- ask questions-later'
approach could spark:
> A new confrontation between the United States and the Muslim World;
> A conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan (the Taleban have already
threatened reprisals if Pakistani territory is used against them);
> A dangerous cleavage within Pakistani society that would sow the
seeds of another Algeria, pitching the Establishment against the jehadis.
The easy part for the US has been to declare war, but who and where is the
enemy? Can the enemy be identified as an individual, institutional or
country, otherwise the US will end up chasing shadows.
Several ironies marked by U-turns in policy abound, both for the United
States and Pakistan.
Discarding its unilateralism, the US has now embraced multilateralism,
eagerly seeking support from previously reviled quarters, ranging from the
UN to Beijing and Islamabad.
Then there is the irony of the United States, whose colossal intelligence
failure is manifest in the inability to detect 71 Americans or US-based
foreign nationals (19 suicide bombers plus 52 collaborators) from
painstakingly planning the September 11 criminal acts in its financial and
military heartland, but which now somehow feels capable to 'smoke out
Osama bin Laden' from some hole in far-away Afghanistan.
Finally, there is the irony of Washington colluding with Third World
entities and then turning on them after they outgrow their mentors. The
expanding list includes Noriega, Saddam and now the Taleban.
Pakistan's policy U-turn revolves around burying a 20-year-old Afghan
policy pursued for 'strategic depth' on its Western flank, a code word for
a pliable regime in Kabul, and ditching the Taleban without even batting
Having failed to curb, contain or crush terrorism at home, which is now
its number one problem with frequent target killings of prominent
professionals and public figures, Pakistan is joining a US-led coalition
for a regional terrorist manhunt. And finally, Pakistan created and
nurtured leaders and groups in Afghanistan only to end up fighting them.
It started with Gulbadin Hekmatyar, then Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and
now the Taleban, all allies-turned-adversaries.
This would be the natural comeuppance for short-sighted policies that seek
opportunistic alliances at the expense of long-term interests. In that
respect, both for the US and Pakistan, the chickens are finally coming
home to roost.
Three aspects are relevant as decisions are made in Washington and
implemented via Islamabad on combating the scourge of terrorism.
First, for Muslims, whose faith teaches them that 'killing an innocent
person (NOT Muslim, but any innocent person irrespective of gender, race
or religion) is like murder of humanity', the crimes on September 11
deserve the widespread, across-the-board condemnation by Muslims. But
Muslims find it difficult to delink the issue of terror and violence from
the sufferings of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq or Kashmir. Rightly
or wrongly, they draw a linkage between American foreign policy towards
the Muslim World and the roots of terrorism.
If the campaign against terrorism is to be successful, there has to be an
introspective American review and reappraisal of its policy in the Middle
East. For the last one year, the only image that is etched in the popular
Muslim mind is that of innocent and unarmed children, women and men being
attacked by armed Israeli soldiers backed by tanks, missiles and planes.
The Israeli and Indian agendas in Palestine and Kashmir respectively must
not be allowed to influence American policy on these issues.
Second, Pakistan faces, difficult, very limited choices. It's almost like
a 'damned if you do, and damned if you don't' situation. Not joining the
coalition is no longer an option. Pakistan's closest friends: China, Saudi
Arabia, the Central Asian Republics, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and
even Iran, all are basically on the same side as the Americans on this
issue. In a significant gesture, Iran has closed its border with
Afghanistan and in the first official contact between Iran and the United
States since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Mayor of Tehran sent
official condolences to the Mayor of New York.
Pakistan has been, as they say, 'there before' - placing its army and
intelligence resources plus territory to promote American agendas: a Cold
War ally of the US in the 1950s which allowed a base to spy on the Soviet
Union, a frontline state for the Americans in the Cold War's last battle
in Afghanistan, and an ally against Iraq in the Gulf War with Pakistani
troops fighting with the 28-nation US-led coalition in 1991.
Given this track record, have we asked for a quid pro quo or figured out
what's in store for us? Or fathomed the consequences of the decision to 'fulfil
all American requests and to assist in whatever is required', as General
Colin Powell so approvingly put it on September 15, when he was flanking
an appreciative President Bush at Camp David.
Once the 'get Osama Operation' is over, and the last American soldier
leaves, who will be there to remove the debris of discontent that this
entire situation will bring in its wake for Pakistan and its 140 million
people, not counting the 2.2 million Afghans already resident here?
Make no mistake about what Pakistan is getting into. Getting Osama is more
symbolism, since by now with all the hype of his being a 'prime suspect',
it would make sense for him to have probably escaped either into the Pamir
mountains of neighbouring Central Asia or moved stealthily across the
porous border into Pakistan.
Washington is seeking nothing short than the destruction of the Taleban
regime in Afghanistan and its replacement by more 'politically correct'
Afghans, and the demolition of the jihad infrastructure in Pakistan, parts
of which have had a nexus with the Taleban. This will qualitatively alter
the nature of Pakistan's Kashmir policy.
However serious the challenge, this one too provides Pakistan with an
opportunity, and it would be a test of the military regime as to how it
can translate this opening into providing strategic political and economic
space for Pakistan.
Our premise should stem from a 'Pakistan First' policy that above all,
preserves, protects and promotes Pakistan's national interest, which can
be at variance with that of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.
Some pluses for Pakistan in the changed regional and global scenario:
> Prior to September 11, Pakistan, in the eyes of the US, was generally
perceived as part of the problem, but now, in a significant turn-around,
Pakistan is part of the solution, and a crucial component at that;
> America's South Asia policy which had an 'India Only' accent now has
been forced to be more balanced elevating Pakistan to being a 'friendly
country', a vital change of status;
> With terrorism as the new obsession, the 'China as enemy' syndrome
has been forced to take a back-seat, which is good for Pakistan since
China is our best friend & close ally.
What is clear is that the new coalition will not be functional without
major Muslim representation. The US badly needs Muslim nations now just as
it did during the Gulf War in 1991. Muslim leaders, generally lacking in
political spine, need to muster up the courage and the will and vision to
look beyond their own political survival so that the much-talked about
'clash of civilisations' does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In
any case, the Muslim partners in the coalition should first insist on a
diplomatic solution before the military option is deemed necessary. More
than the Americans, it is the Muslim nations who will feel the initial
fallout of any military action against any Muslim country.