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On balance, Musharraf loses

On balance, Musharraf loses

Author: J N Dixit
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 13, 2001

Two visual clippings on CNN broadcast over the last week brought out the confusing and critical predicament in which Pakistan finds itself in, two months after the US-led military campaign commenced against the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda. One clipping showed an Afghan Pushtun lamenting the destruction caused by the US bombing. He said it is the common people who are the greater sufferers. He then proceeded to comment, ''The real Talibs are our people, they are Afghans who brought stability in recent years. It is the foreigners who joined them who have brought this tragedy and violence upon us. The Arabs, the Pakistanis, the Chechans and Egyptians. These foreigners should not have come to my country.''

The second visual was an interview with a Pakistani demonstrator in Islamabad. He said Pakistan has not gained what Musharraf told the people that he was going to gain by supporting the US. The Taliban government Pakistan had established in Afghanistan now stands destroyed. Acknowledging his Pathan identity, the demonstrator said that the Pushtuns who always had an important role in Afghan governments may no longer have it. The non-Muslim soldiers who started being permanently located in Muslim countries from the time of the Gulf War are now located in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Pakistan is becoming a slave country because of Musharraf.

These perceptions by the common people may not be nuanced or informed but they reflect a general assessment close to the disappointing realities which Musharraf is facing and is likely to face in the coming weeks. Musharraf himself is on record stating that he supported the US-led coalition not on the basis of principles and opposition to international terrorism. He said that if he had not supported the US, Pakistan would also have been labelled a terrorism-sponsoring state and Pakistan's strategic assets ''would have been destroyed.'' He added that the economic consequences of not supporting the US would have had a critical impact on Pakistan's economic situation.

One of the gains for Musharraf is that he and his government gained legitimacy. The US has lifted a number of sanctions imposed on Pakistan since the late 80s, including those which were imposed after Pakistan's nuclear weapon tests in 1998. The US and Western democracies have announced economic assistance for Pakistan to the tune of 1.25 billion dollars. Certain categories of military cooperation and defence supplies have been restored by the US. Trading concessions have also been extended to Pakistan. General Musharraf managed to obtain a public commitment from President Bush to agree to a reference to the Kashmir issue in the joint statement issued at the end of the General's visit to the US which mentioned that ''Kashmir issue should be solved through diplomacy and dialogue in mutually acceptable ways that take into account the wishes of the people of Kashmir''. The absence of any reference to bilateralism has been interpreted by Musharraf as US accepting an important element in the Pakistani stance on the Kashmir issue. While these gains are of general political nature, many of the substantive beneficial anticipations of Musharraf have not been fulfilled and some of them remain doubtful.

The flow of economic assistance is spread over a period of time. The specific demand for the supply of F-16 fighter planes has not been accepted by the US so far. The US has not accepted Musharraf's distinction between the terrorism generated by Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and the terrorist violence sponsored by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Musharraf insisting that the latter is a freedom struggle and should not be labelled terrorism stands rejected given Bush's statements, particularly at the UN where he categorically said that the campaign is going to be against terrorism of all categories and that terrorist violence cannot be justified in terms of political and other reasons. Musharraf wanted India to be excluded from the international coalition against terrorism and from discussion on future political dispensation in Afghanistan. This has not happened.

India has been included in the Consultative Group of 21, created by the UN for this purpose, an initiative which has the support of the US. The revival of defence and military cooperation between India and the US, parallel to the revival of such relations with Pakistan, has negated his expectation that Pakistan will acquire military advantages over India. A greater disappointment to Musharraf is that the initial political and military assurances given to him by the US could not be fulfilled because of unpredictable developments in Afghanistan, specially since the end of October. Musharraf had demanded that ''moderate'' Taliban elements should have a place in the new interim government of Afghanistan. He had also suggested that the Northern Alliance should be prevented from capturing Kabul till his representatives could conclude negotiations on this point with those segments of the Taliban who might have been willing to participate in the proposed dispensation.

The obduracy of the Taliban leadership and the operational impatience and assertiveness of the Northern Alliance resulted in the US pulling back from the initial assurances given to Musharraf. Not only did Kabul fall to the Northern Alliance but all the major urban centres of Afghanistan are now succumbing to their onslaught with the support of the US armed forces.

Musharraf's pretensions that Pakistan was not an active participant in the Taliban government stands completely exposed. Northern Alliance forces have captured a large number of Pakistani cadres of the Taliban, many of them identified as members of the Pakistani army. Under pressure from his own High command, Musharraf has had to send Pakistani military aircraft to Kunduz and other parts of Afghanistan to evacuate Pakistani citizens from Afghanistan. The fact of Pakistan-based terrorist groups operating in Kashmir and Uzbekistan, being trained in Taliban camps in Afghanistan is now internationally acknowledged. The US-led coalition forces using Pakistani military bases and coastal areas, and the induction of US ground troops into Afghanistan against Taliban, have added fuel to the fire of dissension in segments of Pakistani public opinion.

Compounding this negative situation is the influx of a large number of Taliban cadres and Pathan refugees into the North-West Frontier Province and into Baluchistan. This will generate tensions in these two important provinces in Pakistan. The plan to have Afghanistan as an area under Pakistan's influence stands destroyed. The objective of having Afghanistan as a country providing defence in depth against India and as an instrumentality to contain Iranian and Uzbek influence, have also been eroded. The US continuing military operations during the month of Ramzan against the advice of Musharraf and the prospects of unstable government in Afghanistan afflicted by a simmering civil war situation in that country will create problems for Pakistan.

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