Vol. 5 Num 994 Sun. March 18, 2007  

Going Deeper
Stumbling war on terror

US Vice President Dick Cheney's unannounced visit to Pakistan generated speculation about the extent of Pakistan's efforts on the pursuit of war on terror. Cheney does not go anywhere, says South Asian scholar Barnett Rubin, unless there is some trouble in the place he travels to.

One obvious reason for Cheney's visit was perhaps to encourage President Pervez Musharraf to redouble his efforts in controlling the reported increase of Taleban insurgents' incursions into Afghanistan from the lawless Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas(FATA).

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Musharraf have already engaged in public debate, each blaming the other, for the increased Taleban attacks on the NATO and Afghan forces that Karzai believes could not have been possible without sanctuary and assistance from the areas not fully under federal control, an area described by President Bush as "wilder than the wild West".

Cheney is reported to have warned President Musharraf that $3 billion given as aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy if Pakistan's current efforts to de-Talibanise the FATA and incursions into Afghanistan from Pakistan by the insurgents were not stopped.

Meanwhile former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has claimed that she would be able to stop the Talebans from increasing their strength inside Pakistan if she were to be re-elected prime minister of the country. Basically both Bhutto and Nwaz Sharif, along with many others, firmly believe that the current authoritarian rule under American patronage, reminiscent of Cold War tolerance of "democracy deficit," is responsible for the current mess.

But the history of Pakistan in the last fifty years of military rule intermittently intruded upon by democratically elected civilian administration provides evidence to the contrary.

While Samuel Huntington is celebrating the fourth wave of democratization following the changes in "East Europe" (a term former Soviet client states forcefully contest these days), and the dramatic changes taking place in Latin America, and President Bush is fighting doggedly the war on terror, described by some detractors as war on Islam, President Musharraf is going on full steam for re-election as president by the same parliamentary coalition of largely Islamist groups who gave him the presidency in 2002 without waiting for a new parliamentary election scheduled for January 2008.

The Americans are acutely aware of the fact that President Musharraf's deal with the tribal leaders of status quo ante if ties with the Talibans were cut and cross border raids were stopped has failed. Former intelligence czar, John Negroponte, told the Congress last year that the "tribal authorities are not living up to the deal" and that the cross border incursions into Afghanistan had doubled.

Such a record does not speak well of Bush administration's decision to designate Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally for the purpose of bilateral military relations. In 2003 Colin Powell, as secretary of state, had described Pakistan as "a moderate, modern Muslim nation, a nation that is becoming increasingly democratic" -- and allayed fears of the possibility of any sudden change in Pakistan's policy on the war on terror should President Musharraf be assassinated.

Colin Powell assured that the US was working with the government of Pakistan which did not rest on any single individual and that the US was reaching out to all levels of Pakistani society.

The notion of "major non-NATO ally" (MNNA) status first surfaced in 1989. For several years this status was limited to Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Though MNNA does not enjoy the same benefits of defense and security guarantee afforded to NATO members, yet there are defense related advantages in the up gradation of military relationship.

In the case of Pakistan, skeptics hoped that the Bush administration had given serious consideration to the question of the reliability of Pakistan as an ally of the US war on terror. Leon Haader of the Cato Institute advised Washington to view Pakistan, with its authoritarianism and insecure nuclear arsenal "as a reluctant supporter of US goals at best and as a potential long term problem at worst."

He did not see President Musharraf's decision to join the US on its war on terror as reflecting a structural transformation in Pakistan's policy but a tactical move to cut losses resulting from the demolition of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Political analyst Matt Thundyll compared the US policy of cooperation with Pakistan as an alliance with a lesser evil against a greater evil. In reality, wrote Thundyll, like the Soviet threat in 1945, the Pakistani threat is extant. While in the case of the former it was communism, in Pakistan's case it is Islamic extremism.

Since the partition of India in 1945, Pakistan has been largely dictated by the politics of religion. Except for some feeble attempts to bring about secular values, both civilian and military rulers had appealed to the religious sentiments of the Pakistanis to gain legitimacy and to ensure survival.

According to a report by the Brussels based International Crisis Group, mullahs and military worked together against common foes during the Cold War period and have identical views on Kashmir and towards India. The fundamental fact remains that Muttahida-Majlish-e- Amal (MMA), a conglomerate of religious fundamentalist political parties, has a considerable presence in the center and rules the two provinces bordering Afghanistan with a declared Islamisation agenda.

Additionally, Pakistan is bedeviled with religious sectarian conflicts. The Sunnis are divided into two groups, one following the Deobandi School and the other the Barelvi school of thought. The Deobandis are anti-Shia. The hard cores among them, the vast majorities --consider the Shias infidels and demand constitutional amendment to that effect.

Sectarian killings are considered as jihad. One has to admit that Islamisation is an irreversible fact of life in Pakistan with its implicit anti-Western and anti-American sentiments remaining as integral parts of the Islamist agenda.

The inescapable fact remains that Islamic fundamentalism threatens not only the West but the three sub-continental countries as well. It would be prudent for us all to be well aware of the peril and take national actions in concert with the international community to eliminate this divisive element from collective global values of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and the desire for democratic culture for all.

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and Ambassador.