Issue No 86, April 4-10, 2004 | ISSN:1684-2057 |

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General John Abizaid, US Centcom Chief (R) meets Pakistan Vice Chief of Army Staff Gen. Muhammad Yousaf Khan in Rawalpindi

Musharraf's Newest American Badge Means Deeper Trouble

By Punyapriya Dasgupta

NEW DELHI: Two days before Colin Powell flew in to Islamabad, this time to deliver an ultimatum on how Pakistan’s efforts to catch the top leaders of al Qaeda should proceed, General Pervez Musharraf looked a worried man before 500 invited tribal leaders at the Governor’s House in Peshawar.

The soldier-president waved a foreign news magazine which had a story about Pakistan’s not doing enough to track down al Qaeda leaders, allegedly hiding in the tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province. The general told the tribal jirga that the foreign militants must be expelled from Pakistani territory and failure to do so would have “very serious repercussions for the country”.

What kind of repercussions, he did not say. But bold words that there were no foreign forces hunting for al Qaeda on Pakistani soil and that he would rather resign than allow American troops to operate inside his country carried insufficient conviction.

He himself admitted before the tribal elders that over two dozen Americans were already inside NWFP, searching for clues to the whereabouts of al Qaeda’s top guns. Add this to the US Secretary of State’s conferring on Pakistan the status of a Major Non-NATO Ally and the follow-up proclamation by President Bush ending the sanctions that had so long signified American disapproval of General Musharraf’s coming to power by a coup.

The earlier reports in the international media that American and British forces were ready to jump into Waziristan make the picture complete. What General Musharraf is worried about gets clear enough.

India is understandably incensed that Mr Powell stopped here on his way to Pakistan, talked about many things but did not utter a word about the new MNNA badge he was going to pin on General Musharraf’s chest.

New Delhi had a right to be told beforehand what Pakistan’s new international military status might mean for India. BJP-led India has done much to please America but is not prepared to be taken for granted, especially when a significant upgrading of Pakistan’s strategic resources is engineered.

Nor is New Delhi ready yet to wear the livery of the kind bestowed on Pakistan. The expressions of Indian unhappiness have had some effect and Washington appears to be anxious now to offer some compensation acceptable to New Delhi. India may soon be offered assurances that the US will treat Pakistan as an MNNA only in the context of al Qaeda and the Taliban in NWFP.

For General Musharraf his newest American badge means deeper trouble. The MNNA status is a double-edged sword. The unilaterally imposed alliance is a goad Washington will use to force General Musharraf to prosecute a total war on the tribals of NWFP until they are cured of all tendencies towards hospitality to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Such a war may have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. The British were the last in a long line of foreign conquerors to learn that the fiercely self-willed tribes like the Waziris, Mehsuds, Mohmands and Afridis were best left to their own medieval lives in their mountain fastnesses on the border between Afghanistan and pre-partition India with the minimum possible interference from outside.

Lord Curzon discovered a hundred years ago that the “forward” policy of his predecessors was a waste of men and money. He withdrew British forces from most of the tribal areas and retained only a few strong points which could be connected by road or railway. Yet the British had to cope with many tribal rebellions until a few years before the handing over of power in that area to Pakistan.

And then Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan decided to abandon even the handful of fortresses the British had retained and hope for Islam and economic development to integrate the tribals of NWFP with the rest of the country at an unhurried pace.

Pakistani policy was actuated not so much by magnanimity as the wisdom of averting costly recurrent wars with truculent tribes which could inflame the then flickering passion for a Pashtunistan — independent or as a part of Afghanistan.

There are warnings already of another Bangladesh in the making in NWFP. The opposition to General Musharraf is uniting against the Pakistan army’s operations in South Waziristan. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the Islamic alliance now in power in NWFP and Balochistan, is bitterly complaining that under American pressure Pakistani troops are killing Pakistani citizens.

The army says on the other hand that foreign terrorists, sheltered by a few of the tribes, are killing in cold blood captured Pakistani soldiers and therefore there must be collective punishment according to an old tribal tradition dictating mass demolition of homes. A rebellion in NWFP’s tribal areas broadening into a civil war looks likely . General Musharraf has little hope of freeing himself from the trap he is now in.

Faced with a 48-hour ultimatum after 9/11, he placed his Pakistan at the American Bushmen’s disposal and has been forced into acting as an anvil to a US hammer. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed confessed last weekend that the Pakistani army operation in South Waziristan was “to avoid any external interference”.

The taped call by Ayman Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s No. 2, for General Musharraf’s overthrow added, in a curious way, to the compulsion for the present leader in Islamabad to do against his own people as Washington wants.

He cannot pause to consider the opposition’s advice that the campaign against al Qaeda calls for more tact than force since the Pakistani tribesmen are traditionally against surrendering themselves or their guests.

America, now dressed as a Major Non-Nato Ally, is breathing impatiently down General Musharraf’s neck. “Non-Nato” is a strange reminder of the Nato treaty provision for one ally rendering military assistance to another after “mutual consultations” in certain security situations. - Courtesy Deccan Herald

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