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Pakistan as a 'key non-NATO ally'
By Ehsan M Ahrari

US Secretary of State Colin Powell brought good news to Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf on Thursday. The United States will elevate its military relationship with Pakistan as a major ally outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). That is the ultimate reward for Musharraf's willingness not only to do a lot of heavy lifting to capture or kill the top al-Qaeda leadership, but also for risking the very stability of his country by getting so close to Washington. But risks for Pakistan might not be as heady as they appear at a glance. For India and China, the elevation of Pakistan by the Bush administration poses new questions.

From the vantage point of domestic politics in Pakistan, Musharraf's "never say no" attitude toward the United States' demands regarding its global "war on terrorism" is not likely to win him many friends. However, that is not to say that anti-Americanism is on the rise in Pakistan. The March 17 findings of the Pew Research Center underscore that America's image in Pakistan, Turkey and Russia has improved from its last survey of May 2003. As a general principle, a majority of Pakistanis are showing their revulsion against what al-Qaeda and its cohorts inside their own country represent. However, Musharraf still has to worry about the Islamists of his country and their commitment to Osama bin Laden's world view and to his primacy of jihad. Those Islamists have enough clout to cause ample trouble in certain sections of Pakistan. In addition, they will continue their anti-government and terrorist activities, including carrying out further assassination plots.

Pakistan's elevation as a key non-NATO ally by the administration of US President George W Bush is a diplomatic coup de theatre for the Musharraf government. From the perspectives of regional politics, Pakistan is likely to get special access to conventional weapons of all sophistication from the United States. For now, one can speculate that Pakistan will get the same treatment as Israel, Egypt, or Jordan. But in reality, Pakistan would do well if it could be treated on par with Egypt. No key ally of the US will be treated with the kind of generosity in the realms of economic and military assistance as Israel has been receiving from Washington since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Even in agreeing to go along with President Bush's recommendations for the transfer of weapons to Pakistan in the coming months, the US Congress will insist on heightened transparency from Islamabad regarding its nuclear-proliferation activities, and complete information on the nuclear-proliferation-related activities of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. That is an issue that will not go away for Musharraf.

India, China watch carefully
By elevating Pakistan as a key ally, the US will be forced to conduct a constant balancing act vis-a-vis its strategic partnership with India. That partnership has grown considerably and is not about to be unraveled, barring unforeseen mishaps. There is little doubt that New Delhi will apply its own behind-the-scenes pressure on Washington to elevate its own special strategic status further under the new circumstances. How far the US is willing to go in terms of accommodating India's strategic predilections will be determined by who is occupying the White House in January 2005. The global "war on terrorism" under John Kerry is not likely to take up as much of his energy as it has Bush's, barring no further terrorist incident in the United States. Thus, under a Kerry administration, India might enjoy a slight edge over Pakistan. More substantially, Washington's job of balancing the interests of India and Pakistan will be considerably easy if both South Asian nations succeed in keeping their mutual ties steady and free of tensions leading to a potential war.

China is certainly scratching its head over the implications of Pakistan's newly elevated strategic status for its own ties with that country. In the short run, Sino-Pakistani ties are not likely to be affected. However, in the long run - especially if Islamabad were to get even more economic and military benefits from Washington - the traditional Sino-Indian strategic rivalry might be revisited by Beijing and Delhi. There is little doubt that if Pakistan were to accrue the kind of military and economic payoffs that it expects to get from Washington, the strategic balance in South Asia will undergo a noteworthy mutation. Such a transformation would not be welcomed by New Delhi or Beijing, for different reasons.

India will not be appreciative of any changes in Pakistan's status in conventional arms. That is an area where India has assiduously built up its own superiority for the past 40 years. Beijing, for its part, does not want to lose Pakistan as a key partner in keeping India off balance in the Sino-Indian rivalry. Unbeknownst to Washington, by elevating Pakistan's status as a key ally, it has started a new era of strategic realignment, or at least a major reassessment toward a potential realignment. All in all, such a reassessment is not at all unwelcome, especially since it guarantees the role of the United States as a long-term balancer in South Asia.

Ehsan Ahrari, PhD, is an Alexandria, Virginia, US-based independent strategic analyst.

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