Remembering a crisis as Pak sinks into another

BY SAEED NAQVI

President Bill Clinton’s five day visit to India in 2000 followed by a five-hour stopover in Islamabad convinced New Delhi that the world order had changed. Relationships were to be shaped by the new post cold war realities, not old loyalties.

But quite as abruptly, this order was once again re-fashioned by President George W. Bush, post 9/11. Pakistan became a frontline state all over again.

Oh, the praise that was lavished on President Musharraf, mornings and evenings, by President Bush as “our most reliable ally”. This “most reliable of allies” kept a plausible manner in fighting the American war on terror as its very own. This entailed a shrewd selection of enemy targets: which target to hit so as to minimize the blowback. That this was an impossible circus act, soon caught up with Musharraf. There were those deep differences with President Hamid Karzai who repeatedly pointed out Pakistani fingerprints on Taliban activity in Afghanistan

A regular pattern emerged in which Musharraf and Karzai accused each other of being “soft” on Taliban on the other side. This mutual recrimination implied an absence of concerted action against the Taliban. This suited Pakistan to the extent that it kept Pushtun nationalism on both sides of the Durand line from flaring up uncontrollably. In Kabul this has never been much of a concern. It does not recognize the Durand line.

Contemporary international politics these days is sometimes not determined so much by ground realities as by the manner of their projection on Washington’s late night serious talk shows. These shows began to focus excessively on Musharraf’s “double dealing” in the war on terror. This at a time when the war in Iraq was by now an unmitigated disaster.

Republicans were proceeding towards the 2009 elections in a daze, with reversals in Iraq being compounded by the mess in Afghanistan. Noises in the US became more shrill by the day that Musharraf was either unwilling or unable to wage effective war on terror.

To still some of these noises, large scale US and Pak military action in Swat and Waziristan were launched  with predictable consequences. The blow back shifted from Afghanistan to the Pak side of the border. The entire Pushtun belt along the border was in a state of rebellion.

Lal Masjid in Islamabad had flared up occasionally since 2001 but in 2007, Ghazi Rashid and Maulana Aziz raised their decibel levels against Musharraf “fighting America’s war” against terrorism. Followed assassination attempts on him. Military action on Lal Masjid coincided with the lawyer’s agitation. Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry began to press for he missing persons cases, something that would have brought the Army’s participation in the nasty “renditions” under the arc lamps at a time when the Army’s reputation was the lowest in living memory.

Removing Musharraf at this juncture would have meant going soft on the “war on terror”. Also, President Bush could not be seen to be dumping his “most reliable ally”, particularly when the “ally’s” neck was on the line.

It was then that a formula was devised to have a troika consisting of a President, Prime Minister and Army Chief replace the lonesome figure of Musharraf. The troika, not just Musharraf, would be exposed to the ever stronger blowback from the war on terror.

Such was the wave of anti Americanism that when Benazir Bhutto landed in Karachi, after having recklessly promised a fight to the finish on terror and allowing nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to be interrogated, that she became easy prey for determined assassins. Asif Zardari is, therefore, an unintended consequence of a deal that was struck between the Americans, Benazir and the Army.

As Pakistan proceeds towards a new scenario which includes fresh elections, a few facts from 2008 elections: Nawaz Sharif untainted by American and Army affiliations, came up trumps in the Punjab. And, something I will never forget about that campaign: neither India nor Kashmir were mentioned even once. A common refrain in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi was: an enmity and a friendship have cost us dear. But that was many moons ago even though optimists may like to keep their fingers crossed as preparations are under way for the Commerce and External affairs Minister to visit Islamabad.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

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