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    South Asia
     Jul 13, 2007
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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,

were 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.

By 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 Anti-Terrorist Structure).

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".

The 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.

The SCO, 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 Lavrov.

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.

Washington has 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.

Indeed, Monday's CFM meet seems to have taken into account the entire range of regional and international developments. Its

Continued 1 2 

Pakistan's post-mortem (Jul 12, '07)

Pakistan's iron fist is to the US's liking (Jul 11, '07)

All roads leading to Pakistan (Jun 23, '07)

1. Pakistan's post-mortem

2. $10bn scramble for India's fighter deal     

3. The Chinese dollar hoard thunders forward

4. A fallacy that bombs - literally   

5. Death from above

6. Pakistan's iron fist is to US's liking

7. Moody's blues

8. Let's talk about sex

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, July 11, 2007)


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