Page 1 of
2 Pakistan heading for a
crackdown By M K Bhadrakumar
When the commander of the Central Air
Command of the US Air Force, Lieutenant-General
Gary L North, touched down on Tuesday at the
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) base in Sargodha,
northwest of Lahore in Pakistan's heartland Punjab
province, the poignancy of the moment couldn't
have been lost on him.
The chief of staff
of the PAF, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood
Ahmed, and the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W Peterson,
waiting on the tarmac to receive the US general.
North was arriving after a continuous
eight-hour flight across the Atlantic. He was
flying an F-16 Fighter Falcon capable of carrying
nuclear missiles. Another F-16 accompanied him.
They are the first of a fleet of a dozen F-16
aircraft that the PAF will receive in the coming
months "at very nominal prices" (to quote Ahmed).
Pakistan, in addition, may get a further batch of
16 F-16s, bringing the total to 28.
coincidence, the handing-over ceremony in Sargodha
was held just ahead of President General Pervez
Musharraf's calculated decision on Tuesday to
order the Pakistan Army to attack Lal Masjid (Red
Mosque) in Islamabad. Last weekend, US Deputy
Secretary of State John Negroponte told the Urdu
service of Voice of America in an interview that
the United States was prepared to help Pakistan
"in any way we can".
In essence, the US is
making up for the 28 F-16 aircraft that Pakistan
paid for in the early 1990s and Washington failed
to deliver once Pakistan lost its importance as a
pivotal state in US regional policy in the
post-Cold War period.
SCO joins the
fray The huge US gesture comes at a
critical juncture in the geopolitics of the
region. What emerges is that the summit of the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), scheduled
to take place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in a little
more than a month, is already casting its shadow
on Pakistan's regional role. Islamabad has barely
disguised its interest in forging closer ties with
the SCO, and the summit opens a window of
opportunity. The SCO comprises China, Russia,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
From the proceedings of the meeting of the
SCO's Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) held in
Bishkek on Monday in preparation of the summit on
August 16, trends are available that must
definitely be annoying Washington. There is no
mistaking that the SCO is slouching toward
Afghanistan and Pakistan with an irresistible
offer of mutual engagement in terms of shared
interests of regional security and stability.
The CFM particularly stressed the
"importance of intensifying further collaboration
with the SCO observer states as well as with the
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan within the
SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group". More important, it
decided on "creating mechanisms of cooperation by
the SCO with international partners, particularly
under the auspices of RATS" (Regional
The SCO summit
by all indications may turn out to be one of the
most productive in the organization's history.
Taking place against the backdrop of the deepening
chill in US-Russia relations, the summit is
invested with added significance. Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov, who took part in the CFM
meet in Bishkek on Monday, highlighted the SCO's
"quest for a new world order, which will rest on
international law and collective action to solve
global, regional and other problems".
CFM has decided to recommend to the SCO summit
that observer countries such as Pakistan must be
involved "more actively" in the organization's
activities and projects. It concluded that the
stability of the Central Asian region is directly
linked to the stabilization of Afghanistan.
For the first time, the SCO is likely to
pose a challenge to the United States' monopoly of
conflict resolution in Afghanistan. The CFM has
taken the view that the existing pattern of
involvement by the international community is
restricted to specific sectoral problems in
Afghanistan. It concluded that such a narrow
issue-based approach on the part of the
international community will not serve the purpose
of stabilizing the country.
therefore, intends to pitch for a "comprehensive
approach" that will include its participation not
only in Afghan reconstruction work and in
countering drug trafficking but also in terms of
"support for national consensus within Afghanistan
on a principled basis of barring access to power
for the Taliban leaders who, with the backing of
al-Qaeda, had brought Afghanistan to the condition
in which it was not so long ago" - to quote
Cold war in the Hindu
Kush Plainly speaking, the SCO is
unambiguously proclaiming its intention to work
closely with Kabul and Islamabad - a turf that has
hitherto been tacitly accepted by the regional
powers as more or less the exclusive playpen of
the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO). This runs counter to the consistent US
approach based on keeping Russia out of
Afghanistan, and disrupting any Russian-Chinese
coordinated policies in Afghanistan.
Washington, in fact, incrementally stifled
the French initiative at NATO's Riga summit last
year for forming a "contact group" of countries
interested in an Afghan settlement. American
diplomats have barely been able to disguise their
displeasure over Moscow's proactive moves toward
Kabul in recent months.
been propagating a "Great Central Asia" strategy,
aimed at rolling back the influence of Russia and
China in the region, and encouraging the Central
Asian states to form partnerships with the South
Asian region instead. The strategy is a barely
disguised attempt to undercut the raison
d'etre of the SCO.
CFM meet seems to have taken into account the
entire range of regional and international