Sunday, October 10, 2004

Pakistan: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, US and South Asia

[One must, however, admit that Pakistan's support of Al-Qaeda and Taliban were guided by several factors. Firstly, ever since its inception Pakistan has consistently aligned itself with the US and the West through SEATO, CENTO and other military alliances. This was caused by Pakistan's obsessive fear of Indian military threat that was espousing non-aligned movement to the utter disapproval of cold war warriors like John Foster Dulles and many others. Though Jack Kennedy tried to mend fences with India Nixon-Kissinger tilt in favour of Pakistan during the Bangladesh war of liberation demonstrated fully that Pakistan's absolute dedication to the American cold war cause had paid off. It, therefore, seemed eminently logical to President Ziaul Huq to support the Taliban putsch to unseat the Soviet backed regimes and compliment the CIA proxy war in Afghanistan.]

South Asia: A changing horizon
Kazi Anwarul Masud

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh told the US Council of Foreign Relations that real partnership requires more than shared commitment to democracy, it requires a convergence of interests and a shared world view. Indian priority would be to transform the Indian economy into a "modern, middle income economy" which, according to Dr. Singh, could be possible by a sustained economic growth close to 6 percent per annum (three times the growth rate of industrialised countries); India having the fourth largest GDP in the world (on purchasing power parity basis) and existence of a vibrant private sector, infrastructure of law and commercial accounting conducive to modern business. India seeks her "due place in global councils" which has remained largely fossilised without recognising the momentous political, social, economic and demographic changes that have taken place in the world since the end of the Second World War.

India, scarred by cross-border terrorism for decades dating from the time when terrorism was either not understood or ignored in the confusion of the process of identification of good and evil seen through the prism of cold war rivalry, is justifiably insistent on elimination of terrorism in all its forms. Yet as V.R. Raghavan (of Delhi Policy Group) pointed out, despite US introduction of the term "harbouring state" as one that funds, trains or allows its territory to be used by terrorists, New Delhi's expectation of the US to see Pakistan-backed terrorism in Kashmir as no less menacing than the one US is set to confront, was belied. Pakistan's role in promoting al-Qaeda and the Taliban notwithstanding US administration saw Pakistan's potentials in its war on terror as being far more important than India's argument that trans-border terrorism be considered as of similar ilk.

One must, however, admit that Pakistan's support of Al-Qaeda and Taliban were guided by several factors. Firstly, ever since its inception Pakistan has consistently aligned itself with the US and the West through SEATO, CENTO and other military alliances. This was caused by Pakistan's obsessive fear of Indian military threat that was espousing non-aligned movement to the utter disapproval of cold war warriors like John Foster Dulles and many others. Though Jack Kennedy tried to mend fences with India Nixon-Kissinger tilt in favour of Pakistan during the Bangladesh war of liberation demonstrated fully that Pakistan's absolute dedication to the American cold war cause had paid off. It, therefore, seemed eminently logical to President Ziaul Huq to support the Taliban putsch to unseat the Soviet backed regimes and compliment the CIA proxy war in Afghanistan. Secondly, given Pakistan's socio-political structure as evidenced by powerful showing by Islamist political parties and the formation of government by the combine of these parties (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal) in Beluchistan and NWFP which mirrored popular support for fundamentalist tenets of Islam Pakistan could not but have supported Al-Qaeda/Taliban inspired terrorism. Thirdly, Pakistan always perceived Afghanistan as providing strategic depth against threat from India and had studiously pursued ties with the Al Qaeda/Taliban mix to obtain that strategic advantage.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 considered as a defining moment of modern times changed the existing scenario. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's meeting with a visiting Pakistani Minister and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's demands conveyed to then Inter Services Intelligence Chief that Pakistan fully cooperate with the US or be regarded as an ally of the Al-Qaeda with serious consequences to follow left President Musharraf with no option but to capitulate to American wishes. Admittedly the bestowal of the status of a major non-NATO ally and financial rewards helped General Musharraf to retain power despite assassination attempts on his life.

If anything the first Bush-Kerry debate has shown unanimity on the concept of preemption (despite confusion over passing global test) and war on terror though the two have diverged on ways to wage such war. Senator Kerry said in no uncertain terms that throughout American history no President had ever ceded the power to take preemptive action necessary to protect the USA. Therefore, Bush doctrine of preemption is not strikingly new. What was found abhorrent globally was the sense of exclusion felt by the allies, replacement of internationalism by unilateralism, ridiculing trusted allies as "old Europe" and their preference to subordinate military muscularity to international law as reflective of weakness stemming from the post-second world war massive contraction of power of erstwhile European behemoths. One is therefore hesitant to accept without reservation Madeline Albright's assertion of tectonic shift in the American foreign and defence policies following the transfer of power from Clinton to Bush.

Virginia University Professor Melvin Leffler finds resonance of Bush's goals with Jeffersonian vision of an empire of liberty, Woodrow Wilson's missive of a world made safe for democracy, Franklin Roosevelt's four freedoms, and Jack Kennedy's determination to oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. Leffler points out that Bill Clinton had approved the use of preemptive force (in June 1995) regarding counter-terrorism. But the difference between Clinton and Bush approach lay in Clinton administration's successful attempt to contain and co-opt mounting parochial nationalism wavering between isolationism and unilateralism and the forces of internationalism. On the other hand the practice of Bush foreign policy has inflamed the world making it imperative to discipline American power and temper its ethnocentrism. A recent Pew Research Centre polls show declining support for the US during the last two years from 75 to 58 per cent in Britain, from 63 to 37 percent in France, from 61 to 37 percent in Germany. Interestingly both Chancellor Schroeder and South Korean President won their elections due to their opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. It is all the more ironic that both Germany and South Korea owe their survival and economic prosperity to American military and economic support extended to them for over fifty years.

What should be worrisome to Bush administration is the fact that a June 2003 public opinion survey found 45 percent Pakistanis had at least "some confidence" in Osama bin Laden's ability to "do right things about world affairs". In January 2004 testifying before Senate Foreign Relations Committee one senior expert stated that "Pakistan is probably the most anti-American country in the world right now, ranging from radical Islamists on the one side to the liberal and westernised elite on the other"(Pakistan-US Relations, Congressional Research Service, February 6, 2004).

Another CRS Report to the US Congress (November 2003) on international terrorism in South Asia referring to then CIA Director George Tenet's statement to Senate Select Committee on Intelligence stated that despite Pakistan's "crucial" cooperation doubts remained about Islamabad's commitment to core US concerns in the vast "lawless zones" of the Afghan -- Pakistani border region where Islamists found shelter. CRS Report found it especially worrisome that the Talibans continue to receive significant logistical and other support inside Pakistan­concerns voiced by Senators Richard Luger and Joseph Bidden including suspicion that some elements of ISI might be helping members of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Both Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of Defence Peter Rodman expressed suspicion that there were elements in Pakistani government "who are sympathetic to the old policy of before 9/11" and a radical Islamist structure in NWFP "spews out fighters that go into Kashmir and Afghanistan".

What then should the American long-term policy be in South Asia? In the short term US cannot dispense with Pakistani cooperation in the war on terror because despite expulsion of the Talibans from power they are reportedly regrouping in Afghanistan and the capture of Osama bin Laden, believed to be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border, before November Presidential elections is essential for a Bush victory. But for the long haul US has to stop equating an unstable nuclear-armed Pakistan with the largest democracy in the world. Pakistan's political instability defies description. Most of its history after partition of India in 1947 has been written under military rule. India, on the other hand, "takes pride" in the words of Dr. Manmohan Singh "in the unaffected regularity of our electorate voting their representatives into and out of office quite matter of factly".

Washington has been coming around to recognising India's significance in the global division of power. Ashwani Kumar, a member of Rajya Sabha, sees in President Bush's statement about India's emergence as a significant power (while nominating Robert Blackwell as US ambassador to Delhi) and President Clinton's visit to India in 2000 as indicative of American acceptance of India's potentials. Though Clinton failed in his objective to make India forego nuclear weapons, his visit, first by a President in twenty-two years, helped to correct an imbalanced US policy towards South Asia. Political analyst Victor Gobarev suggests that strengthening of the US-India relations would discourage a Russia-China -- India strategic alliance with unmistakably anti-US bias -- a thesis dismissed by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye on the ground that the likelihood that such an alliance would pose a serious challenge to the US is minimal.

It is argued that despite common minimum programme concluded with the communist allies by United Progressive Alliance headed by Sonia Gandhi US-India economic relations could be further strengthened. If bureaucratic hurdles are eliminated, India could attract $20 billion dollars in foreign investment every year. For the US to forge sustained and durable ties with India it will need to declare its support for India's permanent membership in the UNSC. For India to be a global player she has to allow the US to play the role of a purposive facilitator in the Kashmir dispute. If arrogance of power has humbled George Bush in the court of international opinion, it is not likely to serve Indian purpose as well. For India to be looked upon as the true inheritor of an ancient civilisation she has to get the support of her neighbours not through coercive diplomacy or ignoring the legitimate concerns of her neighbours but through the use of "soft power" by setting her political agenda in a way that shapes the preferences of others. Equally India's neighbours should abandon their confrontational attitude towards India just because of India's size and might. Our efforts should be directed towards synergetic endeavour so that South Asian poor can hope to live a life of dignity that they so richly deserve.

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and Ambassador.

Daily Star 10/10/2004