Pakistan takes to the world
stage By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Despite the bad international
press it receives for some of its policies,
Pakistan remains an integral part of the US-led
"war on terror", and Islamabad is increasingly
taking a more active role on the world stage in
promoting "enlightened moderation" as the best way
to counter extremism and terrorism.
most important development in this US-prompted
initiative is that President General Pervez
Musharraf will address the American Jewish
Congress (AJC) in New York on September 17 - the
first leader of a Muslim country to do so.
The Washington-based online newspaper
South Asia Tribune quoted a memo from the chairman
of the Council for World Jewry (CWJ), Jack Rosen,
to top leaders in the Jewish community: "I am
pleased to announce that President Pervez
Musharraf of Pakistan has accepted an invitation I
extended to him last May in his Islamabad office
to address the most pressing global problem – the
need for Muslims to embrace modernity with
tolerance." The CWJ is
part of the powerful AJC.
The memo also
disclosed that Musharraf had indicated he had
tested the domestic Pakistani waters over the
Israel issue and felt that diplomatic ties could
only follow an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Pakistan has no diplomatic ties with Israel, and
its official position is support of the
Palestinians' call for an independent state and
demands that Israel end its occupation of
that before requesting Musharraf to speak to the
Jewish community, he consulted President George W
Bush at his Texas ranch, who gave his approval.
But the process started when Musharraf himself
invited Jewish leaders to Islamabad, Rosen's memo
"At President Musharraf's
invitation, I went to Islamabad last May with
AJC-CWJ vice chairman Phil Baum and director David
Twersky. During our discussions, which addressed
the Israeli-Palestinian situation, terrorism and
relations between the Islamic world and the West,
we proposed that he publicly address a broad
sector of the American Jewish community in New
York. I am pleased to announce that President
Musharraf has accepted our invitation."
Backchannel diplomacy between Israel and
Pakistan started soon after Musharraf took over
the government after a bloodless military coup on
October 12, 1999. The main initiator of dialogue
was former chief of army staff, retired General
Jehangir Karamat, a close friend of Musharraf and
once his immediate boss in the army.
retirement, Karamat, whom Musharraf refers to by
his initials, JK, joined a US think-tank.
Pakistani diplomat and now UN envoy in Baghdad,
Jehangir Ashraf Qazi, was another player in the
backchannel diplomacy. He met Israeli diplomats in
the US as well as in Israel.
emphasized better Israel-Pakistan relations as a
way to helping establish Pakistan as a regional
powerbroker. He initiated debate when he was chief
of army staff, and when he was forcibly retired by
former premier Nawaz Sharif, who installed
Musharraf in his place, Musharraf embraced the
"Officially, Pakistan does not
recognize Israel, and nobody is allowed to travel
to Israel on a Pakistani passport. However,
unofficially, Pakistan International Airline [PIA]
staff are allowed to visit Israel and they are
welcome by Israeli authorities. PIA book seats for
pilgrims for Saudi Arabia and then takes the
passengers from Amman [Jordan]. After opening
channels with Israel, Pakistan will have limited
diplomatic ties and open trade of both commercial
and military goods," said a top Pakistani official
in an exclusive briefing with Asia Times Online.
Insiders say that in this emerging
friendship, Israel has been the more keen. In the
many backroom meetings, Israeli diplomats assured
Pakistan that they did not consider Pakistan as
their enemy, and wanted Pakistan to play its role
in taming hardliners in the Jewish state.
Pakistan's vision Pakistan-Israel relations are only one aspect
of Pakistan's strategic vision in today's changing
geopolitical world. Islamabad aims to position
itself in the middle of the power game between
China, Russia and the US.
The US has
relocated its focus to Eastern Europe from Western
Europe, with the chain stretching up to Russia.
The US is not an "empire" in its basic ambitions,
it aims to trade interests with various regions.
Key to this is its strategic presence in
Afghanistan and in the Central Asian republics.
China, too, has its eyes on the region and
has already succeeded in Russia at the expense of
the US. Since the emergence of the China-Russia
strategic partnership, bilateral trade between the
two countries has risen dramatically, and by 2010
is estimated to reach up to US$80 billion.
China is planning to increase its oil
imports from Russia by 50% in 2005 to 70 million
barrels. More than $6 billion in Chinese loans has
been provided to Rosneft, the main state-owned oil
exporter to China. A central interest is now
Siberia, where nearly half of all the proven oil
reserves of the former USSR lie, as do 70% of all
Russia's coal reserves. Siberia is Russia's
largest producer of oil, the second-largest for
coal and a major center for metal industries. Some
140 out of 200 of the largest enterprises in
Siberia are weapons manufacturers.
growing alliances between China and Russia has
effectively upset US designs, and Russia is now
becoming a ring, separated from US post-Cold War
investments from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.
At the same time, the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, which includes Russian and China and
four Central Asian states, has spoken against the
presence of US military bases in the region, and
Uzbekistan has demanded the evacuation of the US
base in its country.
At the same time,
both China (Muslim-majority Xinjiang province) and
Russia (predominately Muslim Chechnya ) face
home-grown separatist movements, while Islamist
movements in the Central Asian republics are a
threat to the interests of both Beijing and
Therefore, the two countries are
looking for an alliance with Pakistan to combat
these regional and domestic problems.
"Whether it is Uzbek [Islamic Movement of
Uzbekistan] leader Tahir Yaldevish or the leaders
of Xinjiang, all have taken refuge [at some time]
in the Pakistani tribal belt. Pakistan has
arrested many and is pursuing the arrests of the
rest. Recently, China advised Pakistan that its
citizens were attending Pakistani madrassas
[seminaries] and then returning to the country and
joining the separatist movement. The [Pakistani]
decision to expel foreign students from the
madrassas was a result of Chinese demands.
Pakistan has already signed agreements with the
Central Asian republics under which it will hand
over terror suspects arrested in Pakistan to their
countries of origin - this will help these
countries to get to the local networks," a senior
security official told Asia Times Online.
Another official involved in Pakistan's
strategic decision-making said, "The situation is
very well settled in Pakistan's favor. China and
Russia seek Pakistani assistance to combat terror,
and therefore they are ready to extend ideal
investments in the country. Despite this, the US
cannot push Pakistan out of its camp as its [the
US's] presence in Afghanistan is heavily dependent
on Pakistan. And US interests in Central Asia and
Russia are of major importance to the US, it
cannot afford to retreat from the region. Pakistan
has already removed all its hang-ups over Israel
and its obsession with its strategic depth
concepts. Now it is interested in strengthening
its grip in the present power game and prove
itself as the lone South Asian powerbroker."
Pakistan has already reaped some rewards.
Recently, Islamabad and Beijing signed contracts
for the construction of four warships for the
Pakistani navy. The F-22P frigates will add to the
operational capabilities of the Pakistani navy and
also help guard the sea boundaries of the country,
according to a statement from Pakistan's Defense
Ministry. The frigates will be equipped with
helicopters specially designed for anti-submarine
warfare, with surface-to-surface-to-air missiles
and numerous associated self-defense systems. The
agreement also involves the transfer of technology
between the two countries.
China are likely to implement 19 trade and
investment agreements worth US$350 million in the
next five years. Bilateral trade between the two
neighbors now stands at $2.5 billion.
Chinese investors have shown a keen
interest in Pakistan's oil and gas sector,
telecommunications, information technology, ports
and shipping, infrastructure projects, housing,
pharmaceutical, chemicals and engineering.
Currently, 30 Chinese companies operate in