US Pak ties replay the past

Gulf News, July 5, 2006

Soon after the 1999 coup d’etat that brought him to power, General Pervez Musharraf telephoned General Anthony Zinni, Commander of the US Central Command (CentCom).

Both Musharraf and Zinni have publicly confirmed their conversation.

In his book Battle Ready, written with Tom Clancy and published in 2004, Zinni says that Musharraf told him “what had led to the coup and why he and the other military leaders had had no choice other than the one they took”.

Zinni also mentions Musharraf’s help, two months later, in arresting some terrorists sought by the US, which led Zinni to tell Washington, “Now do something for Musharraf.”

In the aftermath of a military coup that entailed toppling an elected government, Musharraf found it expedient, possibly necessary, to seek the advice and support from the top American general dealing with the Middle East and Central Asia.

Subsequently, too, Musharraf has been proud of his American connections, citing on more than one occasion US support since 9/11 as somehow conferring legitimacy on his military regime.

Now, however, when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly expressed support for “democratic, free and fair elections in Pakistan in 2007”, Musharraf’s regime has taken a suddenly nationalistic stance.

A statement by the Pakistani Foreign Office rejected Rice’s comments, saying, “On the democratic processes in Pakistan, we do not require advice from outside.”

Pakistan’s military leaders have followed a familiar pattern since the country’s first military coup in 1958.

They begin by trading on Pakistan’s strategic location and securing US support for military modernisation as well as an economic bonanza for the country’s elites.

During the honeymoon period with the United States, cooperation with the US is cited as crucial for Pakistan’s security and economic well-being.

Friendship with the US, political stability and economic development are the mantras of Pakistan’s military leaders during the first several years of their otherwise unconstitutional regimes.

Then comes what an American friend recently described to me as a “Kabuki situation”, a reference to the Japanese popular drama involving “highly stylised singing and dancing” and slow and cautious movements.

While consolidating their rule as US allies, Pakistani military rulers do not completely conform to the US strategic vision and engage in policies that are considered unsavoury by the Americans but in the Pakistani state’s interest by Pakistani officials.

For example, Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s military regime (1958-69) joined US-led anti-communist alliances and provided Americans with a secret air base and listening posts.

In return, Pakistan received large amounts of aid and World Bank financing that enabled Ayub Khan to claim that he presided over a decade of development.

But Ayub Khan was unwilling to forgo a budding alliance with China and Pakistan’s adversarial relationship with India.

After the 1965 war, fought by Pakistan against US advice and in the mistaken hope of invoking America’s military alliance commitments against India, relations between the US and Pakistan soured.

Ayub Khan summed up his resentment of later US policies towards his regime in the tile of his autobiography Friends, Not Masters, arguing that he wanted Washington as a friend but not as a master.

General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) followed Ayub Khan’s pattern in consolidating his regime with US assistance, this time by offering Pakistan as the staging ground for the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

The irritant in the US-Pakistan relationship this time was Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Looked the other way

The US looked the other way for as long as was necessary but after the Geneva accords and the Soviet withdrawal in 1988, the interests of the Pakistani regime and the United States diverged.

Zia-ul-Haq died in uniform and his military successors bitterly criticised the US for “abandoning” Pakistan yet again.

Musharraf’s military regime might now be gradually entering its own “Friends, Not Masters” phase of relations with the United States.

Musharraf has delivered only partially on the promise of rooting out Islamist terrorists from Pakistan, notwithstanding his government’s high profile support of the US effort against Al Qaida.

Allegations of Pakistan’s covert support for the Taliban are casting a shadow on Islamabad’s ties with Washington.

Above all, the US is unwilling to see Pakistan as an equal of India even though it is prepared to have balanced ties with both countries and describes both as strategic partners.

Musharraf followed the script of Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq in consolidating power with American backing and by buying off Pakistan’s elites with economic prosperity.

By reacting angrily to Rice’s support for democratic processes in Pakistan, Musharraf might inadvertently be copying his military predecessors once again.

Of course, like Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq, the Musharraf paradigm is also unlikely to ensure institutional governance in Pakistan or secure long-term international partnerships.

Pakistan will attain independence, sustainable strength and real development only when the Pakistani people, and not a vice-regal elite, determines its fate.