Wednesday, February 02, 2005

PAKISTAN: Musharraf not a long-term ally of America: think tank

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+ According to Cato, radical Islamism is backed not only by leaders of large political parties and by the tribes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but the Pakistan Army and intelligence services, in particular, are at best ambivalent about confronting Islamic extremists. +

Musharraf not a long-term ally of America: think tank
By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: The Musharraf regime is “unlikely to evolve into a long-term ally in the war on terrorism,” though the United States should seek to “prevent Pakistan from descending into chaos in the short term,” according to the Cato Institute, a leading liberal think tank.

The Institute set up in 1977 to pursue libertarian values issues a handbook every year for the consideration of Congress and the administration. In its section on South Asia, Cato urges the US to vigorously pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban elements inside Pakistan’s territory - “preferably” in cooperation with the Musharraf government - mobilise international support to contain Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation and hold it accountable for allowing the export of nuclear military technology, and focus on India as a potential long-term military and economic partner of the United States in the region.

Quoting the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations on Pakistan that it described as “hard choices,” Cato said the United States should commit itself to a period of sustained aid, including military assistance, to Pakistan, but only on condition that Gen Pervez Musharraf proves that he stands for ‘‘enlightened moderation’’ by confronting Islamic extremism, curbing nuclear proliferation, and paving the way for the return to democracy.

Cato said the “fundamental conundrum” the United States has faced in its dealings with Pakistan both before and after 9/11 lies in the recognition that Islamabad’s pre-9/11 alliance with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its strong ties to radical Islamic terrorist groups helped to create the environment that gave birth to Al Qaeda.

However, Cato noted that the 9/11 Commission report portrays Pakistan as “dramatically different” than it was before 9/11. The report implies that the decision by Musharraf to sever his country’s links to the Taliban and provide logistical support for the US invasion of Afghanistan marked a dramatic reversal in Pakistan’s approach to radical Islamic terrorism.

Cato disagreed with the commission’s conclusion that Pakistan has been evolving into a reliable ally of the United States in the war on terrorism, saying, “that conclusion is flawed. Pakistan is not a dependably effective strategic partner. The decision by Musharraf to abandon the Taliban after 9/11 reflected not a strategic choice but a tactical one. It was based on the clear recognition that anything less than full cooperation with the United States would result in punishing American military retaliation, including the invasion of parts of Pakistan, and possibly the overthrow of the Musharraf government. At a minimum, the refusal by Pakistan to back the American invasion of Afghanistan would have led to the total diplomatic and economic isolation of the regime, which could have played into the hands of rival India in its bid for regional hegemony.”

Cato said that the assumption that Pakistan has severed its ties with those who advocate a radical Islamic agenda is “based more on the rhetoric emanating from Islamabad than on the policy steps taken there since 9/11”. Referring to what the commission called “an extraordinary public essay” by Gen Musharraf, in which he called on Muslims to adopt a policy of “enlightened moderation,” to shun militancy and extremism, to seek to resolve disputes with “justice,” and to help “better the Muslim world,” Cato pointed out the this was in contrast to the fact that there are scores of Al Qaeda terrorists, many Taliban fighters and perhaps Osama Bin Laden himself, in Pakistan.

Cato said Pakistan had come frighteningly close to war with India over Kashmir and was the favourite stomping ground of terrorist groups. “Policymakers should focus on what attracts terrorists to Pakistan. In many respects, it is a ‘failed state’, corruption is widespread, the government is ineffective, and there is immense support among the general public and the elites for radical Islamic causes. Motivated by ideology and cheap tuition, millions of Pakistani families send their children to religious schools, or madrassas, which have become incubators for anti-Western propaganda that contributes to the terrorist problem.”

According to Cato, radical Islamism is backed not only by leaders of large political parties and by the tribes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but the Pakistan Army and intelligence services, in particular, are at best ambivalent about confronting Islamic extremists.

“Meanwhile, Islamic terrorists have found refuge in Pakistan’s un-policed regions, which now provide both a base of operations against US forces in Afghanistan and a safe haven for planning attacks against Americans inside the United States. Widespread support for extremist Islam in Pakistan may explain why many of the Pakistani government’s early efforts to pursue Al Qaeda members hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border failed. That sentiment may also explain why Musharraf’s government refused to vigorously pursue former Taliban and Islamic militants gathered in tribal, semiautonomous regions of Pakistan.”

Cato believes that the “disappointing results” of Pakistan’s early military offensives raise doubts about Gen Musharraf’s ability to challenge the power of the local tribal leaders in Waziristan. Despite the military pressure and the financial rewards offered by the United States, many Pakistanis continued to shelter the militants, including foreigners who operate there. At the same time, two assassination attempts on Gen Musharraf in December 2003 seemed to have mobilised the president to take action. The capture of several Al Qaeda operatives during the summer of 2004 indicated a growing willingness on Gen Musharraf’s part to pursue Al Qaeda terrorists.

Cato referred to Pakistan’s “uneven record” in pursuing Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and “troubling revelations” about Dr AQ Khan. It said the official explanation that it was a “rogue operation” were not believed by the people in Pakistan. “The Khan network may also have been a way for the military and intelligence services to gain access to funds for covert operations in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere. Musharraf’s decision to pardon Khan immediately following the revelations about his activities raises serious questions about Pakistan’s commitment to non-proliferation. It also calls into question the security of Pakistan’s own nuclear military programme and underlines concerns that Pakistan’s nuclear secrets could fall into the hands of Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists.” Cato claimed that throughout 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration agreed under pressure from Islamabad not to dispatch American and British forces to the tribal areas inside Pakistan where senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were believed to be hiding. Also troubling was the Bush administration’s decision to designate Pakistan a “major non-NATO ally”. Cato said American officials defend their support for Pakistan by stressing that US policy is driven by the short-term goals of the war on terrorism and also that Gen Musharraf’s government may present the only realistic chance to reach an agreement over Kashmir.

According to the think tank, “US policymakers should consider an alternate interpretation of Pakistan’s behaviour. Since 9/11, Musharraf has been opportunistic. He responded to political and military pressure from the United States by ending his country’s alliance with the Taliban and other radical Islamic groups, taking steps to liberalise his country’s political and economic system, and opening the road to an accord with India over Kashmir. But there are no signs that Musharraf and his political and military allies have made a strategic choice to ally themselves with US long-term goals in the war on terrorism by destroying the political and military infrastructure of the radical and violent anti-American Islamic groups in Pakistan. It is highly probable that Musharraf is not strong enough to do so. From that perspective, the partnership with the United States and Musharraf’s willingness to negotiate with India over Kashmir are nothing more than short-term moves aimed at winning US assistance and preventing India from emerging as Washington’s main ally in the region. If this alternate interpretation is correct, the current American relationship with Pakistan is, at best, a short-term alliance of necessity. Over the medium and long term, US policymakers should distance themselves from Musharraf’s regime, seek out ways to cultivate liberal secular reforms in Pakistan, and engage in more constructive relations with India.”