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Musharraf cooks up an American banquet
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf's visit to the United States and his meeting with President George W Bush on June 24 are likely to lay the foundations for landmark changes in Pakistan's policies, including those on Israel, Kashmir, its nuclear program and the army.

Sources in the Foreign Office familiar with the agenda say that key decisions likely to be agreed on by Musharraf and Bush at Camp David include the following:

  • A clear road map for resolution of the Kashmir conflict in which the "Chanab" formula, which envisages the division of Kashmir along religious lines, is likely to be adopted. Thus, the Muslim-majority areas would be allowed to join Pakistan, while the areas where Hindus and Buddhists are in the majority would remain with India.
  • A rollback in Pakistan's nuclear and missile program pursuant to the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
  • Deployment of Pakistani troops in Iraq, subject to a financial deal to be agreed on by the US and Pakistan.
  • Renewed assistance in Afghanistan to contain the burgeoning revival of the Taliban movement. Before the elections scheduled in Afghanistan later in the year, Pakistan will help the US to eliminate the power vacuum in the country by mediating talks with the various Afghan groups, including the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Taliban and other Pashtun factions.
  • Cutbacks in the Pakistani armed forces. Pakistan has already laid off 300,000 personnel.
  • Recognition for Israel. Initially, the two countries would establish "track II" diplomacy, and once the grounds were prepared, Pakistan would announce its recognition of the Israeli state. In return, the US would waiver US$1.8 billion in bilateral debt. The US has already written off $1 billion in return for Islamabad's support after the September 11 attacks and for its reversal of support for the Taliban.

    Unlike with previous visits, much spadework has already been done to ensure that Musharraf's visit results in something meaningful and substantial. Recently, a US State Department director for South Asia visited Pakistan and held three separate meetings with Pakistani politicians, including Chaudhary Ihsan Iqbal of the Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz Group, Chaudhary Eitezaz Hussain of the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians, and Professor Khurshid Ahmed of the Jamaat-i-Islami. According to Chaudhary Ihsan Iqbal, the US official concentrated on Kashmir, the situation within armed forces and Musharraf's role as Chief of Army Staff in politics. He mentioned that the purpose of his visit was a part of the preparations for Musharraf's visit to the US.

    And for the first time, the official met top army officers for one-on-one meetings. These meetings were held in secret, with no official word on them given to the press.

    Further, the Minister of Finance, Shaukat Aziz, who is a former banker in the US and official of an international lending institution, visited Pakistan's atomic installations at the Kahota Research Laboratories (KRL). It was the first such visit of its kind. Aziz was accompanied by a team of army officers. They toured highly-classified areas, including uranium enrichment plants and KRL's mainframe computers. According to KRL sources, even the prime minister of the country has not been allowed to visit the premises in the past.

    The combined Pakistani parliamentary opposition took issue with the visit and demanded to know in what capacity Aziz made it. Initially, there was no reply from the government, but when opposition parties maintained that Aziz in fact visited KRL as the "US's inspector", the government claimed that as Aziz is the finance minister, he needed to go to the plant for budgetary purposes.

    Pakistan's nuclear and missile program has been widely capped at its present level. Two of the country's top scientists, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, and the chairman of the Pakistani Atomic Commission, Dr Ashfaq Ahmed Khan, were removed from their posts several months ago. Pakistan has an estimated 15 to 20 nuclear warheads, but the real issue is its missile program, which has the ability to carry warheads long distances.

    All of the issues on the table in Washington, if agreed on and fully implemented, would dovetail with US aspirations for the South Asian region, and would significantly marginalize China, Iran and Russia. On the domestic front, though, Musharraf's reputation in some hardline Islamic quarters as a stooge for the US would be further damaged, raising the prospects of more internal strife.

    (Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
    Jun 18, 2003

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