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    South Asia
     Nov 17, 2007
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Musharraf remains the US's best option
By M K Bhadrakumar

The visit by US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Islamabad on Friday has a parallel in an extraordinary American mission jointly undertaken by the then-secretary of state Warren Christopher and national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to the Pakistani capital almost 28 years ago. The photograph of Brzezinski at the Khyber Pass peering down the sights of an AK-47 into Afghanistan under Soviet occupation still stands out in the annals of the Cold War.

Analogies are never quite in order in politics, but what is useful to

remember is that the two top-ranking officials of the Jimmy Carter administration were actually dealing with a Pakistani regime much weaker than the one President General Pervez Musharraf presently heads. Pakistan wasn't a nuclear power in February 1980, and General Zia ul-Haq was the pariah of the international community.

Zia had all the infirmities that dictators were afflicted with - an abominable human-rights record, his nuclear intent, his aversion to pluralism, his dalliance with religious bigotry, to name a few. He ignored pleas from world capitals and executed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former prime minister. The Pakistani armed forces were in terrible shape, and the country's economy was losing steam. The US Congress' Symington Amendment barred all US economic and military aid to Pakistan.

US officials (and newspapers) were confident Zia would grab the Brzezinski-Christopher package offered as inducement for fighting a clandestine war in Afghanistan. In the event, it took a further 14 months for Washington to work out the terms and conditions for bringing Zia's regime on board. An account of the riveting drama was later made available to readers by the then vice chief of army staff, General K M Arif, in his memoirs, Working with Zia.

The salient point is that Zia simply decided he would be better off not dealing with the "lame duck" Carter. Like the George W Bush administration today, Carter's administration too was wounded in the loins. The Islamic revolution in Iran of 1979 had inflicted a near fatal wound on Carter. Zia patiently waited for the regime change in Washington that brought in Ronald Reagan. After all, Pakistan had a future to consider beyond Carter's term in office.

A 'transactional relationship'
Negroponte would do well to remember that episode of the Zia era when he flies in from Africa on Friday and sits down with Musharraf in Rawalpindi. He should disregard the cacophony that Musharraf has his "back against the wall", or that the people have risen in revolt and the Pakistani military is about to refuse orders to fire on them, or that the Taliban are looking over the walls of Army House in Rawalpindi. Equally, he is unlikely to get very far unless he correctly estimates the "check list" of the Pakistan armed forces. That was also the problem 28 years back.

Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (and a presidential aspirant) correctly identified the problem when he said this week that the relationship between the US and Pakistan is "largely transactional - and this transaction isn't working for either party". Biden argued, "We [the US] must move beyond this transactional relationship - the exchange of aid for services - to the normal functional relationship we enjoy with all our other military allies and friendly nations."

What he means is that the US and Pakistan must end their illicit nocturnal relationship. Indeed, the problem is that the Pakistani regime doesn't like being treated as an occasional fling when Washington is in heat. It doesn't think it is getting from Washington what is its due as the US's unique "non-NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] ally" in the region, and as a nuclear power with a big standing.

This is not a problem restricted to the Pakistani military. Biden noted, "Many Pakistanis believe that the moment Osama bin Laden is gone, US interest will be gone with him." The perennial Pakistani grievance has been that America is not a reliable ally and that US support is purely tactical. Does it require much ingenuity to see why the Musharraf regime's participation in the "war on terror" remains ambivalent at best?

Biden put his finger neatly on another aspect of the problem when he sized up that Pakistan harbors a great grievance about "our blossoming relationship with rival India". The grievance takes an acute form when Washington brusquely tells Islamabad that it does not qualify for the sort of nuclear cooperation that it proposes to have with New Delhi. Curiously, while opinion in India seems divided about the proposed nuclear cooperation with the US, Pakistanis see it as a dream deal that they would give anything to secure. Pakistani interlocutors never tire of complimenting Indian officials for negotiating such a good deal.

Washington doesn't seem to notice the Pakistani military's sensitivities about the US's perceived step-motherly attitude. From the military's perspective, the US is forging a strategic partnership with India, which is bound to elevate the latter into a super league of world powers. In comparison, the Pakistani military is entrapped in the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal tracts as a border militia.

Biden is right in saying it is time Washington addresses the core issues of the US-Pakistan relationship. The issue is not about Musharraf alone. There is doubtless a massive undercurrent of "anti-Americanism" in Pakistani society. Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid recently noted that the animus against the US runs "most markedly in the educated middle classes".

Democracy on Musharraf's terms
In sum, Musharraf and the Pakistani military would see no reason to succumb to US pressure tactics. The increasingly defiant tone, almost unwillingly, in Musharraf's stance with regard to Washington must be carefully noted. Anyone who thought Musharraf and Bush were dissimulating disagreement would have realized by now that is not the case. Through a series of deft maneuverings, Musharraf shook free of US shackles.

Conceivably, pushed against the wall, the Pakistani military would choose to wait (like Zia did) to open a fresh page with a new administration in Washington. Pakistan can afford to do that. As it is, 75% of all supplies for the US forces in Afghanistan flow through or over Pakistan, including 40% of all fuel. The Pentagon press secretary admitted on Wednesday that the supply lines are already "a real area of concern for our commanders in Afghanistan". Also, Islamabad cannot be unaware that apart from the Afghan war, regional tensions involving the US with Iran, Russia and Central Asia are likely to accentuate in the near term, which in turn will only increase US dependence on Pakistan.

The Pakistani corps commanders met in Rawalpindi on Sunday. Since then, through a series of public statements, Musharraf and people close to him have revealed much about what Negroponte 

Continued 1 2 

US eyes Pakistan's nuclear arsenal (Nov 15, '07)

Pakistan, Bush and the bomb (Nov 15, '07)

Besieged Musharraf plays for time (Nov 7, '07)

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(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Nov 15, 2007)


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