Wednesday, September 26, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Pak, USA discuss war plan
Islamabad to get aid for refugees: EU

Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf listens to his guests, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel
Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf listens to his guests, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique during a meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday. Islamabad was the first stop for a European Union mission, which will tell leaders of five Muslim countries this week that the war on terrorism involves the whole world and is not a war on Islam, an EU official said on Tuesday. 
— Reuters photo

Islamabad, September 25
While his army officers were locked in talks with a US team on possible war preparations today, Pakistan’s military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, was busy with diplomacy, meeting a European Union delegation.

Top European Union officials, led by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, were meeting General Musharraf on a whirlwind tour of Islamic countries to drum up support for a global anti-terror campaign in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

“Basically, it is a mid-level US military team and it has come to Pakistan only for assessment of the situation. For deciding specifics, there will be a senior level military team which will visit Pakistan in days to come,” The News quoted a senior Pakistani official as saying.

It said a higher-level US military delegation would visit Pakistan this month to discuss the specifics of the operation.

General Musharraf has promised full support to the USA in its fight against terrorism but has also underscored the limits of that help in view of a possible backlash by Islamic groups in case of US strikes on Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, European Union has decided to provide Pakistan with 20 million euros in emergency aid to help it cope with refugees and is considering upgrading its ties with the country, a delegation of senior officials told Pakistani leaders here today.

Mr Chris Patten, the EU’s Commissioner for External Affairs, told Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar that the EU wanted to boost business and trade links and to upgrade political relations between Islamabad and the 15-nation bloc, EU diplomats said. Reuters, AFP


Pak against US-Alliance pact
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi September 25
Apprehending a strategic quagmire for itself, Pakistan is trying to impress upon their American military interlocuters currently in Islamabad that extending support to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan might spell disaster for the Bush Administration in Washington.

There is discernible unease in Pakistan’s military circles with the USA wanting to see the back of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan by extending allout support to what is being viewed in Islamabad as staunch anti-Pakistan forces like the Northern Alliance.

The powerful military establishment in Pakistan finds itself barking up the wrong tree as USA’s war against terrorism seeks to enlist the Northern Alliance as an important ally in cornering the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden dead or alive.

The Bush administration has no doubt that Osama bin Laden and his Al Queda terrorist outfit are responsible for the September 11 airborne terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in which an estimated 7000 persons were killed.

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime in Islamabad finds itself pushed to a corner as America firmly believes that the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan can provide sensitive information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in ‘Black Tuesday’ attacks in the USA.

This is buttressed by the observations of American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that “these people (the Northern Alliance) know the lay of the land and have ideas to deal with the Taliban as they know some targets that are useful.”

Pakistan is acutely aware of the debilitating repercussions if the USA goes ahead with its military operation against terrorism by enlisting the help of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Therefore, Islamabad is working overtime in trying to throw up what it feels can be a feasible alternative to the Taliban and its supreme leader Mullah Omar.

It is clear that the American military team currently in Pakistan wants Islamabad to share its intelligence input about the Taliban and the likely hideouts of Osama bin Laden as well as other terrorist outfits operating from Afghanistan.

The argument sought to be advanced by Pakistan is that any military campaign involving the deployment of American forces on the ground against the Taliban militia which controls 90 per cent of the area in Afghanistan might turn into another Vietnam for the USA.

The consequences of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan which is harbouring Osama bin Laden will necessarily create a dangerous security environment for Pakistan which has also been aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism for more than a decade.


Pakistan on a short leash
I.A. Rehman

Lahore, September 25
General Pervez Musharraf was quite frank when he told the people of Pakistan that he had decided to support the USA in its campaign against Osama bin Laden and his protectors as this was the less costly of the two options available. In reality, he had no two options. Whatever the circumstances in which he had to take his decision, he realised that the unavoidable consequences of saying no to Mr George Bush ruled out that course as any option at all.

It must be said to the General’s credit that he grasped Washington’s agenda fairly well – that what Mr Bush had in mind was not a hit-and-run operation against Osama but destruction of the Taliban’s military strength and a change of rulers in Kabul as a first step towards attacking radical militants of different hues elsewhere. Staying out of the coalition Washington was building up would have meant putting Pakistan in the list of targets. That was no option anyone could have considered. The General took the only course open to him.

The immediate task before General Musharraf was to rationalise his decision in a manner that also enabled him to devise a damage-control mechanism. Anticipating criticism that he was abandoning Afghanistan or the Afghans or that he was violating the bonds of Islamic fraternity, he decided upon a pre-emptive strategy. Without breaking off the ties with the Taliban, he argued that an attack on the Taliban did not amount to a war against Afghanistan or the Afghan people. Sending a delegation to talk to the Taliban leader to persuade him to give up Osama and thus avoid war was a sound strategy in that it implied Pakistan’s continuing concern for the Afghan people’s welfare.

The second part of the defence was an elaborate argument that far from breaching Islamic solidarity, the decision to back the USA was in fact in accordance with precedents from the most glorious phase of Islamic history. What could be better than telling the Pakistani people that the path delineated by the Holy Prophet himself had been rediscovered.

It is difficult to assess the impact of these arguments on the audience, but there is reason to believe that General Musharraf’s plea in defence of Pakistan’s national interest had the desired effect. National interest demanded, he declared, that Pakistan’s ability to pursue the Kashmir case was not compromised, and that its strategic assets (nuclear capacity) were not threatened. These were the two emotive issues on which the people were called to rally behind the government. The reference to the need to save Afghanistan from passing under a regime unfriendly to Pakistan was outside the comprehension of the masses. The General said nothing about the wages for the services to be rendered and that was left to the imagination of the people – which was rightly presumed to be boundless.

Thus, General Musharraf has won the first round on the home front, perhaps more comfortably than he expected. The moral issue — whether the pursuit of some people suspected of a great crime could justify a war against a whole people — has been bypassed. It is raised only by small peace activists, whose call is unlikely to be heeded by the masses. The political groups, with the sole and intriguing exception of the Nawaz Sharif faction of Muslim League, are competing with one another in enthusiastic endorsement of Islamabad’s policy. They have been joined by a host of opinion-makers who are always eager to capitalise on a strong lead.

Many believe that Pakistan is about to receive a windfall of the kind General Zia had benefited from in the eighties. That expectation has been reinforced by the US decision to ease sanctions and official comments that the country’s economic worries will be greatly reduced. That leaves only the religious parties and their militant formations in the camp opposed to the government policy. For some reason the government believes these jihadis can be contained.

That in the process General Musharraf’s popularity graph at home has gone up should not be doubted. One did not need Mr Colin Powell’s testimony to offer a verdict on the stability of his regime. The external pressure on definite movement towards a return to democratic dispensation has apparently disappeared. Domestically, too, such pressures are likely to ease. But at the same time, the feeling that when the country is faced with a grave crisis it needs a political, consultative decision-making apparatus will get stronger. General Musharraf himself may realise that he has to broaden the base of authority beyond the military council because the fact of Pakistan being on a short leash cannot be ignored.

So far the government has been concerned with preparing the ground for a role Pakistan may be asked to play in the gathering storm. And the exact parameters of that role are as yet unclear. How many of the present assumptions will survive if the conflict in and over Afghanistan gets prolonged, the number of Afghans seeking refuge in Pakistan becomes unmanageable, and people see on TV images of women and children getting killed? Even if Pakistan takes every possible step to demonstrate that it is not at war with brotherly Afghans, the task of countering public perceptions to the contrary will be far tougher than what General Musharraf has so far accomplished.

— The writer is a veteran journalist and well-known political commentator.

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