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Power and Interest News Report (PINR)
July 02, 2003:
For a map of Pakistan, visit the actual URL of this article at:
"A Relationship of Opportunity: Washington and Islamabad"
Drafted by Matthew Riemer on July 02, 2003
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his populous Muslim country will
play a vital role in the Bush administration's plans for Central and South
Asia. But Pakistan's storied and rich past along with its volatile religio-
political situation serve to complicate the development of Washington's long-
Since September 11th, Musharraf has been a staunch supporter of the "war on
terrorism": he was quick to offer Washington assistance for the war in
neighboring Afghanistan. In addition, he pledged to fight not only insurgent
forces fighting in Afghanistan who used Pakistan as a staging ground but
also those insurgents involved on the other side of his country in Kashmir.
The Bush administration's policy has been to accept Musharraf at his word
when it comes to fighting terrorism. Subsequently, he's visited Washington
on more than one occasion -- including his most recent visit during which he
was called a "courageous leader" and offered a proposed $3 billion in aid by
U.S. President George W. Bush.
Critics of Musharraf and the Bush administration's trust of him point to his
dubious rise to power in a military coup, ousting then President Nawaz
Sharif, along with his country's conspicuous ties to terrorism, especially
through the Pakistani intelligence organization -- Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI). The leadership in New Delhi has long claimed that
Musharraf sympathizes with those fighting in Kashmir and that he has aided
such individuals: offering support through funding and by easy access across
the line of control. Also open to speculation is how much Musharraf is
actually doing to "crack down" on the plethora of militant Islamist groups
that call Pakistan home.
The ISI has seemingly always had a significant role for U.S. interests in
the region: during the Soviet occupation it was the ISI that acted as the
middleman, helping U.S. military technology reach the Mujahideen. Factions
within the ISI, sympathetic to more hard-line schools of Islamic
fundamentalism -- Wahhabism, Deobandism -- then aided the rise of the
Taliban and nourished many important madrassahs in southern Pakistan.
Well aware of this pertinent history, Musharraf sought to cleanse the ISI by
relieving key figures of their posts; most significantly, on October 8,
2001, Musharraf replaced the ISI director general, Lieutenant General
Mahmood Ahmed with the ostensibly more liberal General Ehsanul Haq. Yet
despite Musharraf's purges the ISI and many of its former employees have
remained key political players in the region's political cauldron.
When it came to the "war on terrorism," Musharraf only had one real choice:
cooperation. To challenge Washington in the wake of the tragic feelings that
were saturating America following September 11th would have been completely
untenable and threatened Musharraf's hold on power. For the Pakistani leader
taking sides with the Americans was as much an instinctive reaction based on
self-preservation as it was indicative of a deeper and more sincere desire
to fight what Musharraf must have difficulty seeing in the same light as
President Bush does, namely, "terrorism."
It also put Pakistan in the position to have more influence with Washington
over negotiations concerning the ubiquitous conflict in Kashmir as well as
other Indo-Pak points of contention; however, it's questionable how much
influence Pakistan's good behavior will have in the realm of U.S. foreign
policy. Pakistan remains under sanctions while its chief (and nuclear)
rival -- India -- is able to buy weaponry from a variety of countries
including France and Russia. During his most recent visit to the United
States, Musharraf spoke out and warned of creating a power imbalance in
South Asia through increased purchasing power for the hawks in New Delhi.
Musharraf is also touting the pledged $3 billion as Pakistan's economic
springboard to prosperity.
The Bush administration, going into a Central Asian war, knew that Pakistan
was a key regional state, if only because it's home to over 100 million
Muslims and shares an extensive and strategic border with Afghanistan. There
were other advantages as well: Pakistan was home to a burgeoning
fundamentalist movement galvanized by the war in Afghanistan, and an
alliance would afford the U.S. an inside track for investigations within
Pakistan; and a strategic alliance with Islamabad would act to indirectly
check up on India both militarily and economically.
However, there are long-term consequences for these relationships of
Washington's position, which is more desirable and flexible than
Islamabad's, sees Pakistan more as a means to a mid-term end -- the creation
of a Middle Eastern/South Asian anti-terror infrastructure that would allow
Washington to squash all threats to its regional hegemony -- rather than as
a long term and permanent relationship.
Though Musharraf has announced there will be elections held in five years,
that doesn't mean that either he or stability will remain until that time:
he recently spoke of his own endangerment at the hands of such groups as the
MMA in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Subsequently, as Pakistan
moves towards uncertainty, Washington will take great interest in the
political situation there. If Pakistan were to enter into a period of
significant instability it would endanger the U.S. agenda for the region and
possibly be the forebear of a realigned Pakistan, one more along the lines
of a Taliban era Afghanistan. It is the understanding of this possibility
that fuels Musharraf to pledge that Pakistan will not undergo a process
of "Talibanization." Washington's fear of a destabilized Pakistan is to
Islamabad's advantage, though it may be one neutralized by the fact there's
really no alternative for Musharraf.
It is also Washington's need of the continued presence of the Musharraf
regime -- and the political and military context it offers -- that
essentially renders criticism of the Pakistani leader and the relationship
in general moot: the Bush administration has no intention of disciplining
Musharraf over his human rights problems or his, at times at least,
lackadaisical approach to far-reaching counterinsurgent efforts.
The U.S. and Pakistan will remain strategic allies for the time being,
though Washington's long term plans for the region see a radicalized and
populous Muslim country led by an unelected military figure at odds with the
vision of the widely-discussed "reshaping" of the Middle East.
The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an analysis-based publication
that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into various
conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. PINR approaches
a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral
judgments to the reader. PINR seeks to inform rather than persuade. This
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