The General in his Labyrinth

The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2003

The precariousness of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has been exposed by two assassination attempts within 11 days on the life of Pakistan’s ruler, Pervez Musharraf. On both occasions, terrorists thwarted tight security in the garrison town of Rawalpindi and got dangerously close to Gen. Musharraf’s armored limousine. For certain, the U.S. has high stakes in ensuring the safety of Gen. Musharraf. But it should also secure continuity in Pakistan’s alliance with even if the general falters or departs from the scene.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistani support was crucial for U.S. military and intelligence operations against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. Gen. Musharraf abandoned Islamabad’s previous policy of support for the Taliban, became an American ally and promised fundamental changes in Pakistan’s direction. Until then, Pakistan had been a haven for militant Islamists, a holdover from its role as the staging ground for the anti-Soviet Mujahideen and a result of its pursuit of “unconventional” options in its rivalry with India.

As payback for the Musharraf U-turn, the U.S. bailed Pakistan out with economic assistance and debt rescheduling. But Gen. Musharraf’s policy of supporting the U.S. has been unpopular among members of Pakistan’s security services and Islamists, who have worked closely with each other for over two decades. Worryingly, the general has made little effort to mobilize domestic support for his post-9/11 pro-U.S. policy. Moreover, his domestic policies have increased the military’s grip on government and led to an environment of domestic unrest — in which America’s enemies feel they can end Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. by removing Gen. Musharraf from the scene.

Pakistan poses a challenge for U.S. policymakers because it cannot be characterized easily as friend or enemy. It acquired nuclear weapons in the 1980s despite assuring Washington that it would not do so. Recent reports emanating from the International Atomic Energy Agency suggest that Pakistan may have been the source of technology and materials for the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran. Pakistani officials say that the Pakistani government is not involved in nuclear weapons proliferation but they are investigating reports that individual scientists sold nuclear technology to others, including Pyongyang and Tehran, for personal financial gain. This official account of “private” leaks of WMD technology make Pakistan seem irresponsible and not in control of its deadly technology — and therefore worthy of greater international scrutiny and concern.

It is relatively easier for the U.S. to deal with rogue states like Libya, Syria or Iran, which can be subjected to sanctions or threatened with military action. Pakistan under Gen. Musharraf has become more like Saudi Arabia: an ally too close to Washington for public condemnation, but one engaged in actions that intentionally or inadvertently help America’s enemies. The focus of Pakistan’s hostility is India, not the U.S., and periodic cooperation with the U.S. has enabled Pakistan to get away with frequent lapses in good international citizenship. Pakistan served U.S. interests during the anti-Soviet Afghan war in the ’80s; in return the U.S. did not press too hard while Pakistan built its nuclear weapons. The understanding at the time was that India was Pakistan’s only international adversary and that Pakistani nukes would not directly target U.S. interests. India was known to have its own nuclear weapons capability and Pakistan was seen as seeking a regional deterrent.

So the U.S. treated Pakistan’s nuclear program more as an Indian problem than an American one. But the prospect of Pakistani nuclear technology being available on the international market to America’s foes makes Pakistan’s nuclear weapons a direct and urgent U.S. concern. The State department says that it trusts Gen. Musharraf’s assurances that there are no “transfers of WMD-related technologies or know-how going on in the present time.” But the U.S. must work on worst-case scenarios involving Pakistani nuclear technology falling into the hands of enemies of the U.S., including non-state actors.

Gen. Musharraf and his close military advisers have yet to implement a comprehensive strategic shift in Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policies. His approach to the multiple crises staring Pakistan in the face has been tactical. Only a day before the Christmas Day attack on his life, he concluded a deal with Islamist political parties in parliament to break a constitutional deadlock that has persisted since legislative elections in October 2002. Gen. Musharraf agreed to step down as army chief at the end of 2004, in return for the Islamists’ cooperation in approving arbitrary constitutional amendments introduced by him. The fact that he opted for a deal with political Islamists at a time when militant Islamists are trying to kill him, instead of befriending the secular opposition that seeks restoration of democracy, betrays his lack of overall direction.

At any given moment, Gen. Musharraf seeks only to deflect the pressure at hand, be it from foreign powers such as the U.S. or India, or from domestic sources. Seeking momentary success, he and his associates seem to ignore the need to define a strategic vision that goes beyond the traditional Pakistani paradigm. India remains The Enemy, the U.S. a necessary source of funds and weapons, and the institutional interests of the Pakistan army the core national interest. Nuclear weapons are still seen as Pakistan’s ultimate defense, a military-bureaucratic state the only means of ensuring stability, and an Islamic identity the only glue binding Pakistan’s citizens. Unless these basic premises are altered, and Pakistan adopts the goal of becoming a secular democracy at peace with India, Gen. Musharraf’s life will remain in danger. And U.S. interests in Pakistan would not be fully secure even if the general’s luck holds out.

U.S. Faces a Monumentous Task in Pursuit of Bin Laden

Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2003

With the Al Qaeda terrorist threat in the United States raised to orange, and with Saddam Hussein’s capture fresh in mind, the question is: Will Osama bin Laden be next? Here are five reasons why it won’t be easy.

The U.S. has committed far more people and resources to Iraq than to Afghanistan and environs, where Bin Laden has taken refuge since 1996. The U.S. has about 130,000 troops in Iraq, compared with 10,000 in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Afghanistan has fewer trained law enforcement personnel than Iraq, a smaller international military presence and limited intelligence-gathering capability. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has spent $11 billion a year on its military forces in Afghanistan and only $900 million annually on reconstruction aid, a fraction of what it has spent in Iraq over the last eight months.

In its haste to win a war against terrorism, the U.S. failed to root out Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network and its Afghan protectors, the Taliban, before moving on to Iraq. Although routed on the battlefield, the Taliban was allowed to melt into the Afghan countryside or escape into Pakistan, which had been its ally and mentor before 9/11. The absence of a U.S. military presence in vast swathes of Afghan territory makes this easier, allowing remnants of the Taliban to regroup and provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda. Although there is no likelihood of the Taliban’s return to power, it continues to pose a security threat. Proceeds of increased narcotics production in the Afghan countryside, estimated to earn poppy growers and traffickers an amount equal to half the Afghan gross domestic product, can finance a guerrilla war and an evasion-and-protection operation for Bin Laden for some time.

Unlike the hunt for Hussein, the one for Bin Laden is not completely in U.S. hands. The search for the terrorist leader depends on local Afghan warlords and the cooperation of Pakistani authorities. Frustrating the pursuit is the fact that the agendas of these warlords and local tribal chieftains often do not include a commitment to U.S. strategic objectives. Furthermore, elements within Pakistan’s intelligence service, as well as lower-level government functionaries, sympathize with Bin Laden’s anti-Western message. Pushtun tribes on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border adhere to a strict tribal code, called Pushtunwali, that calls for giving sanctuary to fellow believers, something Al Qaeda is known to have exploited.

Pushtun warlords and Pakistani tribal administrators can slow the flow of intelligence, throw the search for Bin Laden off track, even protect him in his mountainous redoubts. By contrast, the U.S. troops looking for Hussein could interrogate his family and clan and did not have to depend on undependable intermediaries.

Geography hurt Hussein but favors Bin Laden. The former Iraqi dictator had to hide in farmlands around his native Tikrit. The Shiite-dominated southern provinces of Iraq or the northern mountainous Kurdish zone were too hostile to him to be sanctuaries. Once he was pinned down to a house or farm, there was no escape for Hussein.

Most likely, Bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Here are caves and narrow gorges amid mountains
12,000 feet high. The area is not easily sealed off. Even after reliable intelligence on his location is received and a military operation is mounted to capture him, it is possible for Bin Laden to escape through the caves and mountain passes. Something like that happened soon after the fall of Kabul in December 2001, when Bin Laden is thought to have evaded capture despite a fierce military operation in the mountains of Tora Bora. Then, the U.S. thought that he had been killed, only to discover later that he might still be alive.

Despite their shared hatred of the United States, Hussein and Bin Laden espouse totally different beliefs, and Bin Laden’s ideology attracts greater loyalty from his followers. Hussein turned the secular nationalist Baath Party into an instrument of power dependent on personal and clan loyalties, or on support bought with favors and money. He had no large following. Bin Laden, on the other hand, embraced terrorism as a means to promote Islamic revivalism, an ideology that seeks to re-create the world of 7th century Islam. His ideology has significant support throughout the Muslim world, even among those not directly engaged in terrorism. In the region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, most sympathize with his Islamist worldview and consider the U.S. an enemy of Islam. Given such allegiance, there is little likelihood of intelligence tips coming from within Bin Laden’s inner circle. The U.S. would have to convince Islamists of their ideological error before they would give up their investment in a special place in paradise, which is how they view their support for Bin Laden and his terrorist
actions. Hussein was betrayed by a clan member.

Hussein had little experience in hiding and living on the run; Bin Laden has been evading one superpower or another for most of his adult life. Hussein ran from authorities in 1959, when he went into hiding after a failed attempt to kill Abdul Karim Qassim, Iraq’s military dictator. At the time, Hussein claimed that he swam the Tigris River, hid in a farmhouse in his native Tikrit and then escaped to Syria. Imprisoned after the Baath Party’s abortive 1963 coup, Hussein escaped from jail and again went into hiding. But running from Qassim’s security police as an unknown conspirator did not train Hussein for an underground life in U.S.-controlled Iraq in 2003. He was found, eight months after the fall of his regime, in the same general area where he said he had taken temporary refuge 44 years earlier.

Bin Laden gave up the comforts of a rich Saudi family to join the anti-Soviet jihad during the 1980s. Upon his return to Saudi Arabia, he became a dissident and moved to Sudan before finding refuge in Afghanistan. He has spent most of the last two decades operating underground. He learned to live in the caves and mountains of Afghanistan while fighting the Soviets. After President Clinton ordered a cruise missile attack on his likely hide-out in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 1998, Bin Laden enhanced security around him, and he has eluded capture ever since.

General Need for A Reality Check

Indian Express, December 24, 2003

One wonders what is worse from Pakistan’s point of view: the growing international perception that it is a major source of global nuclear proliferation or the official suggestion that individual scientists sold nuclear technology to other countries, including North Korea and Iran, for financial gain?
Either way the Pakistani state looks insufficiently responsible and worthy of international scrutiny and concern.

The decision by Iran and Libya to submit their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes to international inspections reflects growing recognition of changed global realities. The regimes in Iran and Libya have learnt that defiance of the world’s sole superpower, the United States, is no longer easy.

There may be many flaws in US foreign policy and a Pax America may not be easily established. But translating the rhetoric of Pax Arabica or Pax Islamica into reality is even less easy.

Instead of confrontation with the global hegemon, the clerics in Tehran and the maverick in Tripoli have opted to save themselves from the risk of regime change. Changed times required a strategic shift.

Many in the US think that leopards do not change their spots. They continue to distrust Colonel Qaddafi and the ayatollahs. Yet the two ‘‘rogue’’ regimes have demonstrated their realisation that the risks of operating outside international norms may no longer be worth taking.

In the realm of WMD at least, Iran and Libya cannot break their word without serious consequences.

Unlike Libya and Iran, Pakistan has never been on America’s ‘‘enemies list’’. The object of its confrontation is India, not the US — and periodic cooperation with the US has often enabled Pakistan to get away with lapses in good international citizenship as defined by Washington.

Pakistan served US interests during the anti-Soviet Afghan war in the 1980s. In return, the US did not press too hard while Pakistan proceeded with its nuclear weapons programme. The understanding was India was Pakistan’s only international adversary and Pakistani nukes would not target US interests.

India, of course, was known to have its own nuclear weapons capability. Pakistan was seen as seeking a regional deterrent. The US thought of Pakistan’s nuclear programme as an Indian problem, rather than an American one.

America’s concern that Pakistan could be a proliferator of nuclear weapons technology was addressed by assurances that the ‘‘pro-US military’’, rather than ‘‘irresponsible civilians’’, controlled the country’s nuclear programme.

The stories about sale of nuclear technology by Pakistani scientists to Iran — and Pakistan’s announced investigation into the role of some nuclear scientists — raises questions. Pakistan’s nukes may be intended solely for India. But the prospect of their availability in the international market and rumours that their components may have been sold to America’s enemies, makes Pakistan’s nuclear weapons a US concern.

Intelligence cooperation against Al-Qaeda and proclamations of an alliance with the US may buy General Pervez Musharraf time. The US may publicly say it trusts Musharraf’s assurances that there are no ‘‘transfers of WMD-related technologies or knowhow … in the present time’’.

But contingency planners in the CIA and the US Department of Defence are probably already working on worst case scenarios involving Pakistani nuclear technology falling into the hands of US enemies — including non-state actors.

General Musharraf and his team have yet to recognise that changes in the global order require a strategic shift in Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policies. His approach to crises has been tactical.

Soon after September 11, 2001, he announced a tactical abandonment of jihad in Afghanistan, arguing this was necessary to keep jihad alive in Jammu and Kashmir.

At any given moment, the general seeks to deflect the pressure at hand, be it from the US or India or from domestic sources. Seeking momentary success, he ignores the need for defining a strategic vision that goes beyond the traditional Pakistani paradigm.

India remains the enemy, the US a necessary source of funds and weapons and the institutional interests of the Pakistan army the core national interest. Nuclear weapons are still seen as Pakistan’s ultimate defence, a military-bureaucratic state the sole means of ensuring stability and a religious identity the only glue binding Pakistan’s citizens.

There is little if any longterm reflection over the security implications of economic failings. The number of those living below the poverty line is now estimated at 39 per cent of the population, up from 2002’s estimate of 31 per cent.

The recent initiative for peace with India too appears tactical rather than strategic. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee clearly considers normalisation of relations with Pakistan an integral part of his strategic vision of an economically vibrant India playing the role of a major world power. Peace with Pakistan is for him important to set India free of a regional irritant, so that it can claim its position under the sun.

But General Musharraf has so far shown only tactical thinking. A ceasefire along the Line of Control, a marked decline in infiltration and an offer to consider setting aside the demand for a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir in return for reciprocal gestures from India are shortterm steps.

Cynics can interpret these as part of an effort to secure a summit meeting with Vajpayee, to establish the general’s bona fides as a peacemaker without changing the status quo in India-Pakistan relations or the military domination of Pakistani politics.

That strategic rethinking has not yet taken place in Rawalpindi-Islamabad was borne out by the statement by Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali that dampened the euphoria about a possible breakthrough on Kashmir minus the insistence on a plebiscite.

A strategic change would come only if the basic premises of Pakistani policy are opened to revision. To disavow responsibility for leakage of nuclear knowhow by blaming individuals and the effort to score points in the build up to talks with India are examples of the old tactical approach of Pakistan’s permanent establishment.

In case of the nuclear leaks, the objective is to avoid a serious setback in relations with the US. With India, the purpose is to initiate a process of normalisation without really bringing down barriers.

But the global scheme of things is changing fast. The US will not always turn a blind eye to, say, past export of nuclear knowhow. India may be less willing to accommodate Pakistani concerns than it is right now.

Pakistan’s internal weaknesses — lack of a self-sustaining political system, military intrusion into civilian aspects of life, inadequate economic growth, jihadi militancy — are also going unattended.

Musharraf is simply muddling through, instead of evolving a clear vision backed by a coherent strategy to make Pakistan a normal — as opposed to a troubled — state.

For Clumsy Secularism Deadly Rewards

International Herald Tribune, December 22, 2003

WASHINGTON It would be better for French authorities to pay more attention to what is inside the heads of Muslims than to be distracted by what is worn on them. France’s Jacobin secularism, with its imitations in the Muslim world, has been one of the reasons more enlightened interpretations of Islam have failed to dislodge the inward-looking medieval orthodoxy that has done much to feed hatred of the West.

Although the recent decision to ban conspicuous religious symbols from public schools applies as much to Jewish yarmulkes and Sikh turbans as to Muslim head scarves, it is Muslims who are most likely to construe it as an attack on their religion. And the perception that Islam itself, rather than its fanatical or violent manifestations, is under attack from an ascendant West has been the main source of recruitment for militant Islamist groups.

Many Muslims translate secularism as lack of religion, particularly in light of the historic attempts by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, the Baathists in Iraq and Syria, and Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia to enforce a brand of secularism similar to the one preferred by the French. Muslim societies might have embraced secular politics more readily if secularism had been seen as representing a commitment to religious tolerance and separation between clergy and state rather than as an attempt to suppress religious devotion.

Islam’s first major secularist, Ataturk, paved the way for enforced and symbolic secularism at a time when several Muslim scholars were attempting to reinterpret Islamic texts in the light of modern ideas. Given the experience of reform movements in Judaism and Christianity, an Islamic reformation also needed an enlightened theology. But Ataturk showed no interest in the intellectual discourse of reform. He ordered men to shave, forbade the fez and the head scarf, issued decrees to close down religious schools and even mosques, and banned the call to prayer. As a result, in the Muslim mind secularism has become identified with eliminating religious tradition. France’s latest decree will reinforce that sentiment.

American secularism is far more palatable to ordinary Muslims. In the United States, secularism is interpreted to mean that the state cannot promote any specific religion or its practices. Laws are made by elected legislatures but do not derive their sanction from religious texts. Although bigots may exist, as in all societies, the force of law is on the side of tolerance. In such an environment, a schoolgirl wearing a head scarf is not deemed to threaten the secular tradition. In fact, any effort to force anyone to change his or her dress, religiously ordained or not, is likely to be met with stiff resistance.

I know from personal experience that mind-sets, and not head scarves, are the real problem facing the world’s Muslims. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Karachi during the 1960’s, attended a religious school – a madrasa – part time and was surrounded by people strict about their religious observances. My father prayed five times a day, and my mother covered her head with religious devotion.

But my father, a struggling lawyer, also introduced me to diverse literature on Islam and other religions and encouraged me to educate myself about the suffering of all peoples. He taught me never to hate and shared literature about the Holocaust so that I would not grow up an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier, especially in view of the easy availability of hate literature in our environment. He sent Christmas gifts to the only Christian family in our neighborhood.

My mother, a teacher, devoted herself to the education of young women, teaching in remote neighborhoods and offering to play host to the daughters of distant relatives so that they could go to school in the big city. She often cited the injunction of the prophet Muhammad, making the pursuit of knowledge obligatory for all Muslim men and women. During Hajj, the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca, she admonished a member of the Saudi religious police for dictating to her what she must do. At the risk of being caned, she quoted from the Koran, “For you your religion and for me mine” and “There is no coercion in faith.”

At 84, my mother still covers her head when she goes out in public. So do her two daughters, my sisters, but none of her daughters-in-law or granddaughters wear head scarves. My mother is devoutly religious and equally an advocate of religious tolerance and modernity. She has brought up children who oppose bigotry and extremism in the name of religion. She did not approve when the Taliban forced women to wear burkas, arguing that what one wears is a matter of personal choice.

Al Qaeda supporters want her to give up her moderation to qualify as religious. It’s too bad Jacques Chirac’s France wants her to give up her head scarf to qualify as a moderate.


Think Again a Forgotten War

Center for American Progress , December 12, 2003

Two years after the U.S. dropped its first bombs over Afghanistan in President Bush’s global war against terrorism, the Taliban are reportedly regrouping in the lawless tribal region straddling the Afghan-Pakistan border. Last year, President Bush had described the post-Taliban period as “the new era of hope in Afghanistan.” Congress recently increased aid and military spending for Afghanistan as part of the $87 billion Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental appropriations bill. But the news from Afghanistan, which has slowed down to a trickle due to the media’s unwillingness to put reporters on the ground, is not particularly good. (See Joe Strupp’s ‘Few Newspapers Covering Afghanistan’ in Editor & Publisher Online) Americans are hearing plenty about America’s war of choice in Iraq, but almost nothing about the war that, had it been better funded, planned and executed might actually have done something to arrest the threat of terrorism. The news is not good. Here’s some of what we’re not seeing or hearing.

In addition to the resurgence of the Taliban, Afghanistan has resumed harvesting massive amounts of opium and now accounts for 77 percent of global opium production according to the latest annual report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Twenty-eight out of 32 provinces in Afghanistan now produce the drug crop, up from 18 provinces in 1999. Cultivation has spread outside the traditional eastern and southern producing areas. The 3,600 tons of opium produced in Afghanistan last year was processed into 360 tons of heroin. The total revenues of poppy farmers and traffickers amounted to more than half of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product of $4.4 billion. Drug money now finances local warlords and terrorists, possibly including the resurgent Taliban.

In military terms, the Taliban pose no significant threat to the 10,000 American troops based in and around Kabul. Their guerilla attacks have served only to scare away civilian aid workers and to limit foreigners to the environs of Kabul and other large cities. There is no chance that the Taliban will re-establish themselves as the rulers of any significant part of Afghanistan any time soon. But the absence of effective government and the persistence of security problems mean that an Islamist underground in Afghanistan will not be easily eliminated. The Taliban could continue to make Afghanistan ungovernable and could be serious wreckers of the planned process to build an Afghan democracy when elections are held as scheduled in 2004. Drug money would be another destabilizing factor in those elections. Afghanistan may never have been a candidate to become a new Vietnam, but it is clearly on its way to becoming a central Asian Colombia.

The U.S. moved on to Iraq without first rooting out Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In their hurry to win the first of many wars against terrorists and their supporters, administration officials over-simplified their strategy for Afghanistan. The poorly-equipped Taliban were bombed from the skies by the U.S. Air Force and pressured on the ground by troops of the Northern Alliance. When they abandoned the capital, Kabul, victory was declared and Hamid Karzai’s government was installed through an internationally brokered settlement. But the Taliban were allowed to melt into the countryside, and go across to Pakistan, which had been their ally and mentor before 9/11.

An international force was sent in to secure Kabul but security in the provinces was entrusted to local warlords. Although the Karzai government is struggling to expand its writ throughout the country, it is poorly funded and insufficiently equipped. In the first two years, the United States spent $11 billion a year on its military forces in Afghanistan and only $900 million on reconstruction aid. A Rand Corporation study of recent nation-building efforts showed how the Bush administration tried to rebuild Afghanistan – the country where the 9/11 attacks were planned by Al-Qaeda under Taliban rule – on the cheap. Compared with 18.6 international peacekeepers per 1,000 people in Bosnia and 20 in Kosovo, the 4,800 person international peacekeeping force in Kabul amounts to fewer than .2 people per 1,000 Afghans. Even if we include the 11,500 (mostly U.S.) combat troops, we are still left with fewer than one per thousand. Per capita foreign aid for the first two years of conflict in Bosnia was $1,390 and in Kosovo $814. In Afghanistan, it is $52.

Afghanistan’s problems are linked, in part, to the continuing tribulations of its eastern neighbor, Pakistan. The United States has looked to Pakistan as a major ally in its ongoing war against Al-Qaeda, beginning with General Pervez Musharraf’s decision in September 2001 to abandon the Taliban, whom Pakistan had previously supported. Although Pakistan has cooperated with the U.S. military and law enforcement in capturing Al-Qaeda leaders and operatives, it remains ambivalent regarding Islamist violence in the Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir, over which it has an ongoing dispute with nuclear-armed rival India. Jihadi elements within Pakistan maintain covert links with global terrorists, making them potential threats to U.S. interests as well as a destabilizing factor in India-Pakistan relations. The Bush administration, however, refuses to acknowledge Pakistan’s military regime as part of the problem.

Washington’s virtually unconditional support and several hundred million dollars in aid have bolstered General Musharraf’s authority. He now appears to have a free pass on most issues from human rights violations to covert support for Islamic militants (See Ahmad Rashid’s article at the Yale Global and mine at the Wall Street Journal).

The Bush administration’s message seems to be that professed Pakistani support for the war against terrorism and the periodic handing over by Pakistan of arrested Al-Qaeda figures is sufficient to qualify Pakistan as America’s ally. The Pakistanis were responsible for arresting almost every significant Al-Qaeda leader now in US custody and the U.S. certainly owes General Musharraf for that cooperation. But Pakistan’s military leadership has a long history of obliging the U.S. in one area to be able to get away with a lot more in other spheres. Support for the Reagan administration’s anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan enabled Pakistan to ensure that Washington turned a blind eye to its nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. Now, once again, a narrowly-focused American policy is strengthening a Pakistani military dictatorship which has a domestic and regional agenda that is not always consistent with U.S. interests.

Pakistan’s regional interests and those of the U.S. are simply not the same. Pakistan’s military leadership views the world from the prism of its rivalry with India. It wants Afghanistan to be a loyal backyard, free of Indian influence. That was the main reason for Pakistan’s pre-9/11 support for the Taliban. Despite professing support for the U.S., General Musharraf and his military colleagues are not willing to shut down the Taliban’s support network in Pakistan. The Taliban are mainly ethnic Pashtuns and share their ethnicity with Pakistanis living in provinces bordering Afghanistan. Musharraf and the Pakistan military want to retain the Taliban as instruments of influence in Afghanistan if and when the U.S. interest there wanes or the Karzai government fails.

For decades, the Pakistani military’s worldview has been shaped by its hostility to India and its desire to retain a dominant role in Pakistan’s politics. For both purposes, the Pakistani military needs the Islamists as, at least, covert allies. The Islamists keep Pakistan’s secular democratic politicians at bay and help create an anti-India frenzy, something the Pakistani military finds useful. That is the main reason that Musharraf, after a strictly-controlled parliamentary election last year, allowed an alliance of Islamist parties to secure power in the provinces bordering Afghanistan. He has reserved his repression for secular democratic parties, accused of incompetence and corruption, while clamping down only cosmetically against Islamist militants.

The Bush administration’s willingness to look the other way over a range of issues, from non-proliferation to support for regional Islamic militants to lack of progress toward democracy, in return for limited support from Pakistan’s military regime will aggravate its problems in Afghanistan. The rise of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban was blowback from U.S. support of the anti-Soviet Jihad in the 1980s, waged in Afghanistan with Pakistan as its staging ground. Just wait for the blowback from the current U.S. engagement in that region.

India Pakistan Viewing Each Other With Mutual Suspicion

Gulf News, December 7, 2003

The ceasefire along the Line of Control, LoC, in Jammu and Kashmir is significant because it is the first time since the Kargil debacle that India and Pakistan have not dismissed a confidence building measure initiated by the other. But the South Asian neighbours remain further apart than they were in 1998, when Prime Minister Vajpayee met Nawaz Sharif in Lahore and agreed to a comprehensive dialogue.

Indian faith in Pakistan remains shattered by Kargil. Pakistan, on the other hand, remains suspicious of India’s willingness to deal with the Kashmir issue once it has no pressure from Jihadi militants. Building confidence between New Delhi and Islamabad would require more than the LoC ceasefire or even the restoration of rail links and overflight rights.

India could reassure Pakistan somewhat by addressing its fears of encirclement from India’s growing influence in Central Asia since the ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, on the other hand, needs to affirm a commitment to the Lahore process that would put bilateral relations in the hands of diplomats and politicians thinking strategically rather than being subject to the tactical military “brilliance” of military commanders and intelligence officers.

Political considerations in both India and Pakistan make significant movement toward lasting peace difficult at this stage. The Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, faces national polls next year and several state elections in between. Despite Vajpayee’s desire to be remembered in history as the architect of an India-Pakistan peace it is unrealistic to expect him to make any serious concession over Kashmir.

Musharraf, on the other hand, derives his legitimacy from being the army chief and the political legitimacy of the Pakistani military, in turn, rests on its being the final line of defence against India.

The political mythos in Pakistan is that the country‚s military is “invincible”. Pakistanis have consistently been told that they won every military encounter against the Indians (including Kargil) only to be betrayed by incompetent diplomats and politicians.

Concessions to ground realities from the Pakistani side are difficult to make without changing these myths of invulnerability and military strength. The moment Musharraf starts negotiating realistically, he demonstrates weakness to his domestic constituency.

Hence his repeated pleas to India (and the international community) for a “dignified” solution, which is only code for a face-saver. The General cannot help but remember the fate of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who was forced to sign the Tashkent Peace Treaty after the 1965 war, without any reference to Kashmir.

A Pakistani nation that had been told that Ayub Khan had led Pakistan to a “brilliant military victory” simply could not understand why they had to be so humble in peace after having been victorious in war.

Musharraf could, of course, change the political discourse at home and inform Pakistani public opinion of Pakistan’s limitations. He could then seek the backing the major mainstream political parties for a comprehensive dialogue with India, sacrificing the institutional supremacy of the military-intelligence apparatus but securing a stable regional peace.

But Musharraf will not pay that price just as Vajpayee won’t risk breaking the hearts of his Hindutva constituents in accepting that Kashmir’s future status is open to negotiation, with Pakistan as well as with Kashmiri representatives.

But Pakistan needs to normalise relations with India to be able to normalise its daily life, which faces numerous distortions because of the perennial confrontation with India. India, on the other hand, needs stable relations with Pakistan to end a major distraction in its pursuit of global major power status.

The Jihadi challenge to Pakistan’s modern ethos, sectarian terrorism, and poor human development indicators are some of the direct consequences of the India-Pakistan conflict and political culture it has spawned in Pakistan.

The country simply cannot stay of bad news in the international media. Not long ago, an American court convicted three persons (including a Pakistani allegedly affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba) of involvement in a terrorist mission near Washington DC.

The British press exposed a botched attempt by the MI5 intelligence agency to bug the Pakistan High Commission in London. And more reports surfaced of Pakistan’s alleged backing for the regrouping of the Taliban along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The traditional Pakistani way of dealing with such bad press has been to invoke conspiracy theories. But believing that everything going against you is the handiwork of your enemies stops one from thinking of solutions or analysing one’s own mistakes.

The fact is that Pakistan’s mistaken policies in supporting the Taliban as well as other Islamist militants have created doubts about Pakistan’s national direction in the minds of the world’s major powers. And the exaggerated belief in the invulnerability of Pakistani military power has complicated Pakistan’s relations with India.