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Default Implications of Bush's Visit...

Assalam Alaikum,

__________________________________________________ _____

Implications of Bush visit

By Tariq Fatemi
SOON we will have the US president in Islamabad. What message will the world’s most powerful leader bring us and what advantages can accrue to the country from this event? Pakistan’s current relations with the United States are close and cooperative. The government claims that the ties have never been as better as now. But similar claims had been made in the past as well. It is, therefore, not the Bush administration’s public pronouncements of Pakistan’s relevance in regional and global affairs that matter. Such declarations need to be transformed into substantive political and economic advantages.

The US must accept that it has a stake in Pakistan’s economic well-being and national security, specially in view of our status as a nuclear power, our contribution to the global war on terror, our efforts to normalize relations with India and our role as a major Islamic country. This is particularly important because US-Pakistan ties are being forged in an uncertain global environment.

Notwithstanding the close cooperation between the two countries in the pursuit of important objectives, especially as regards the global war on terror, this has not resulted in the relationship acquiring a strategic dimension so far. In particular, the people here see US cooperation with Pakistan as tactical and, therefore, a transient engagement. Many Pakistanis, like those in other Muslim countries, view the US with deep misgivings.

America is seen as engaged in schemes to humiliate Islam, occupy some Muslim states, threaten others and extend a carte blanche to Israel to perpetuate its repressive policies against the Palestinians. The US will, therefore, be judged by the way in which it treats issues that are close to Muslims such as Palestine, Kashmir, and not by mere statements of intent.

President Bush’s address at the Asia Society on February 23, followed by extensive interviews to the media have, however, facilitated the task of the analysts. Bush made it clear that his visit to Delhi represents a very important element in his quest to turn the relationship with India into a strategic vision for his country for the 21st century. He spoke out strongly in favour of making the civilian nuclear cooperation deal the centre piece of his India visit, for it would not only cement their friendship, but also raise the level of their ties to a much higher plane. Administration officials have reiterated that the US has de-hyphenated the India-Pakistan relationship. “What it does with one, will not be mirrored with the other”. US under-secretary of state Nicholas Burns claimed that the administration has reaffirmed “the central importance of Pakistan to the US, as a strategic partner for us in the war on terrorism”, while India is “one of our most important partners worldwide.” He has, however, emphasized that it would not be realistic to compare Pakistan with India, which the US is committed “to help become a major power in the 21st century”. The agenda with Pakistan is more limited .

Bush’s remarks confirmed that America’s primary interest in Pakistan remains this country’s role and contribution to the war on terror. On this issue, there was very close coordination between the intelligence and security agencies of the US and Pakistan and this was true even in the case of the Bajaur incident. This may explain the administration’s refusal to express any remorse over the loss of civilian lives in this tragedy. More revealing was the remark that “in the war against terror, we are allies and we coordinate.”

On terrorism, the Pakistani leadership is determined to remain a credible US partner . Nevertheless, there are aspects which need careful analysis. Will Al Qaeda gradually disappear or will the growing hostility of the West to Islam provide further impetus to terrorists and help them recruit new members and widen the scope and area of their operations? Afghanistan and Iraq have already become breeding grounds for extremists, but now, with growing hostility against the West, even in the traditionally moderate Muslim countries, Al Qaeda is likely to remain a major threat not only to the West, but to the establishments in the East, as well.

While it is true that Pakistan is no longer preoccupied with India as it was for more than 50 years, it would be naive to presume that India no longer constitutes a threat to Pakistan’s national interests. The American president reiterated that he was very pleased with the current normalization process between Pakistan and India that had permitted the US to build good relations with both. As regards the issue of Kashmir, he confirmed that it would figure in his talks in both New Delhi and Islamabad, but that he would not play any role in the resolution of this problem, confining himself to speaking about it and encouraging the leadership of the two countries to remain committed to dialogue and negotiations. But he underlined that any solution of the Kashmir problem should be in accordance with the wishes of Pakistan, India and the “citizens” of Kashmir.

Pakistanis will, nevertheless, be encouraged by Bush’s remark that “for too long, Kashmir has been a source of violence and distrust between these two countries.” This does not mean, however, that the Bush administration is prepared to use its new found influence in New Delhi to urge India to either reduce its military presence in the occupied territory, or to enter into a serious and result-oriented dialogue with Pakistan. The US agrees with India that resistance to Indian occupation in Kashmir amounts to terrorism and, therefore, accepts the need for the massive Indian military presence there. In fact, American academicians have suggested that formalization of the current status quo in Kashmir may be the only acceptable way out.

This should not, however, discourage us from forcefully urging upon Bush that unless his administration takes a more active role in the peace process, it may soon run out of steam. After all, the US has, on many occasions, played a critical role in reducing tension and encouraging dialogue between India and Pakistan. Now that the US is forging ties with India and has declared Pakistan a non-Nato ally , it is incumbent on it make a determined pitch for durable peace in the region which would not be possible without a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

As regards US plans to provide highly sophisticated arms to India, this is not something which we can protest against, especially as the US is now providing Pakistan some weapons systems as well. But we can point out that any massive accretion to India’s offensive ability will neither help the normalization process nor add to stability in the region. The Bush administration needs to appreciate that deterioration in the conventional balance will only enhance Pakistan’s dependence on non-conventional weapons.

In this context, we must also take up forcefully the issue of US assistance to India in the nuclear field that would confer on Delhi the status of a near-acknowledged nuclear power. We should point out that we now have strict institutional and legal mechanisms to ensure total compliance with global non-proliferation requirements. Apart from our own acute need for energy, any move to discriminate between the nuclear status of the two South Asian neighbours would have a negative fallout on the region.

Nevertheless, the American president is likely to make new and more onerous demands on Pakistan, especially with regard to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the brewing crisis in Iran, and the evolving situation in the Middle East. As regards Afghanistan, it is quite clear that the Karzai government, even with Nato and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) presence, will find it difficult to crush the Taliban. The warlords remain a major headache for Kabul. Bush is, therefore, likely to ask for our acquiescence to US-led operations in the border areas, and this could give rise to fresh tensions in Pakistan.

Iran is likely to be discussed as well. Administration officials have refused to rule out an armed attack on Iran. Israeli leaders, too, have been urging upon the US not to waste time in negotiations, but to opt for a policy of ultimatums followed by armed action if required. Pakistan must point out that this would be a grave folly not only for the region, but even for American interests. We should affirm that we can have no role in any American schemes against Iran.

The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project would surely figure in both New Delhi and Islamabad, as evident from Bush’s first ever comments on the subject, when he called upon India, Pakistan and the US to “send a united message to Iran that development of nuclear weapons is unacceptable. Iran must get a unified message from all of us.” This was as a clear warning that, notwithstanding the energy needs of India and Pakistan, the US would not countenance a “member of the axis of evil”, gaining such an important advantage in the region.

I believe that after the Bush visit, we will see both countries cool their enthusiasm for the IPI project and opt for projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline or the Qatar-Pakistan-India project. This would be regrettable since the IPI is considered as technically the most feasible and financially the most attractive.

Trade is an important, even critical issue, between the two countries. Interestingly enough, the Bush administration is quite happy to dole out nearly seven hundred million dollars annually to Pakistan, but appears unwilling to provide greater market access to Pakistani products. Our pleas that increasing the volume of Pakistan’s exports would generate jobs and enhance economic activity that could best combat the spread of extremism have not fallen on receptive ears, so far. It was, therefore, gratifying to hear Bush acknowledge that greater market access for Pakistani products is a legitimate concern. The investment agreement that is to be signed during the visit is also likely to encourage American investors to look at Pakistan more favourably.

Pakistan’s relations with the US remains one-dimensional, based as it is on a single item agenda — cooperation in the war on terror; even though Bush claimed in an interview that “it is much bigger than just the war on terror”. This is reminiscent of the ‘60s when we were part of the western alliance in the Cold War and therefore, favoured with arms and economic assistance. Again, the political adulation and massive assistance extended in the ‘80s was a payment for our role in American-led efforts to oust the Soviet forces from Afghanistan.

Even if we are to presume that the war on terror is not likely to subside for decades, basing our relations with the world’s only superpower on this single issue is fraught with risks. Notwithstanding our efforts, influential elements in the US Congress and media even now question our role in the war on terror, alleging that the president “has been an intermittent collaborator in the fight against terrorism, rather than a fully committed ally.” As Ashley Tellis, the influential strategic analyst wrote in early 2005, “Pakistan today is clearly both part of the problem as well as part of the solution”, a sentiment shared by others.

We have to prove these people wrong, by our policies both at home and abroad. The US is unlike any other democracy. The executive has to share authority and influence with other centres of power. Institutions matter much more than individuals. These need to be cultivated assiduously, over the years. In this effort, Pakistani-Americans can also play a helpful role. But the real challenge is at home. Only a democratic polity, strengthened by a tolerant and liberal society, can enhance our credentials and make us genuine partners of the West. And the West, too, must recognize that if the global campaign against terrorism is a war “for the soul of Islam” as it claims, then it is incumbent for it to assist those that represent the moderate stream in Islam.

The writer is a former ambassador
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