Thursday, March 09, 2006

Venu Menon: Bush leaves Pakistan in the cold

President George W. Bush's visit to Pakistan last week may have weakened and demoralised President Pervez Musharraf in pursuing the US-led war on terror.

The American President's low-key stopover in Islamabad was little more than a spot check to see how General Musharraf was getting on with the job of hunting down Taleban and al Qaeda militants operating from Pakistani territory.

Given the doubts cast lately about the general's sincerity in cracking down on militants, notably by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Bush's pat on the back for Musharraf lacked real conviction and his visit did little for the Pakistani leader.

General Musharraf had two key requests. First, he wanted President Bush to adopt an even-handed approach to signing nuclear agreements. Second, he sought US intervention to settle Pakistan's dispute with India over Kashmir. President Bush rejected both requests.

The US President invoked Pakistan's shoddy track record on nonproliferation to deny it equal treatment with India. Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, A. Q. Khan, had been selling nuclear weapons technology to other countries.

President Bush's stand on Kashmir was that the dispute should be settled through dialogue between the parties concerned.

But President Bush's alibi for favouring India with a nuclear deal he could not offer Pakistan has not won support for General Musharraf. It is clearly not an argument the Pakistani President can use to silence the opposition parties who denounced President Bush's visit as a disaster for Pakistan.

The nuclear pact clinched in Delhi could cloud US-Pakistan relations. President Bush broke the golden rule of staying equidistant from the two nuclear rivals on the subcontinent.

But signs of a shift in US policy in the region were already there. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Delhi: "There was a time when Americans had a problem mentioning India without Pakistan and mentioning Pakistan without India. That's not the way it should be."

However, the Bush Administration's desire to break out of the notion of a hyphenated relationship between India and Pakistan could damage General Musharraf, a key ally in the war on terror.

President Bush was going along with the current wisdom in Washington that India, as an emerging economic power, would be a counter-weight to China.

But by granting India access to nuclear technology and denying that access to Pakistan, President Bush may end up weakening General Musharraf and strengthening the radical Islamists out to destabilise him.

The Pakistani President, who has deftly juggled US strategic interests in the midst of an increasingly volatile domestic context, has suddenly lost his drawcard. His credibility as America's frontline ally in the war on terror is now in question.

The West is uneasy in accepting Pakistan as a "major non-Nato ally", a status bestowed by President Bush for General Musharraf's contribution.

US-Pakistan relations may be moving away from an era of coddling a military dictatorship in Pakistan that is unable to consistently deliver in the war on terror. General Musharraf may come under increasing pressure to restore democracy to Pakistan, a key demand of the West.

A token measure towards democratisation came in the form of a controversial referendum in April 2002, where voters agreed to extend the general's rule for five years. This was followed by general elections in October.

But the National Assembly was deadlocked for months because the opposition refused to recognise the constitutional changes General Musharraf had pushed through.

In December 2003, as part of a deal with hardline Islamic groups to break the deadlock in Parliament, General Musharraf agreed to step down as Army chief by January 2005.

The pledge remains unfulfilled.

General Musharraf's low rating on democracy may come back to haunt him if he fails to deliver in the war on terror.

During his meeting with President Bush in Islamabad last week, General Musharraf was at pains to discredit allegations raised against him by President Karzai of Afghanistan. President Karzai accused General Musharraf of soft pedalling on the crackdown on militant activity in Pakistani territory that was spilling into Afghanistan.

Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistani authorities of turning a blind eye to Taleban training camps operating inside Pakistan and cross-border infiltration by militants was an issue President Bush raised with General Musharraf.

Pakistan deploys around 80,000 troops in North Waziristan, where a protracted stand-off with al Qaeda and Taleban fighters is being keenly watched by the US as a test of General Musharraf's commitment to fight terrorism.

President Bush's refusal to heed General Musharraf's request for US intervention on Kashmir comes at a time when Pakistan's relations with India are on the mend. Both countries have been making friendly noises lately, however Kashmir remains a stumbling block. Pakistan and India have fought two wars in the past over Kashmir. Pakistan lays claim to the territory on the grounds that its population is predominantly Muslim. India sees Kashmir as non-negotiable.

Pakistan wants the US to intervene. India wants no third party intervention.

By publicly rebuffing General Musharraf's request for US intervention on Kashmir, President Bush will be seen to be tilting in favour of India.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home