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Tuesday, October 02, 2001

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Pakistan-U.S. strategic idiom

By P. S. Suryanarayana

AMERICA'S ``WAR'' on international terrorism is now being plotted in a nebulous strategic environment. In a sense, the global strategic milieu remains clouded by the fallout of the September 11 attacks on America. Yet, the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush, has outlined an arguably `post-modern' doctrine of ``war'' against the ``global network of terror''. However, the old war- principle of U.S.- friendly ``frontline states'' still seems to apply. Not a surprise, therefore, is Pakistan's sensitive decision to make common cause with the U.S.

A question now is whether the evolving U.S.-Pakistan strategic idiom will serve as a stabilising factor in South Asia and the world. There can be no instant answer. Nor is it plain at this stage that the latest U.S.-Pakistan entente will turn out to be an essentially flawed alliance. The notion of a possibly flawed new relationship is rooted in recent bilateral history. In the past, Islamabad has felt ``betrayed'' by the U.S. in respect of three episodes of their strategic togetherness, although Washington alone cannot be blamed.

Pakistan's present understanding with America is unique. Mr. Bush believes that Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is a suitable tactical ally in Washington's efforts to begin a campaign against globalised terrorist networks. Why? As a military ruler, Gen. Musharraf is reckoned to command Pakistan's shadowy secret service (ISI) which controls neighbouring Afghanistan in a bid to enhance Islamabad's ``strategic depth'' in relation to India. Of interest to Mr. Bush is the ISI's patronly sway over Afghanistan's Taliban regime that ``hosts and harbours'' Osama bin Laden.

For Gen. Musharraf, though, the choice has not been easy. Osama and the Taliban are sources of inspiration for a significantly proactive Muslim minority within Pakistan. So, Gen. Musharraf has defined his alleged Faustian deal with the U.S. in strategic terms that transcend the country's identification with its religious credentials. According to him, the pro- U.S. stance in the war against global terror will not only help safeguard Pakistan's ``strategic nuclear and missile assets'' but also enable it to sustain the Kashmir ``cause''. However, prominent opinion-makers in Pakistan tend to believe that Gen. Musharraf has merely responded in a pragmatic manner to Mr. Bush's insistence that Islamabad choose the U.S. or be deemed to support terrorism. In this complex process, Pakistan's only ``stable'' institution, the military establishment, has backed Gen. Musharraf despite the presence of a salient religious lobby within it. This new reality, if not reversed, will do Pakistan a lot of good.

As David Halberstam has pointed out in a different but pertinent context, the U.S. at present tends to be increasingly cognisant of the ``what-if factor'' while planning strategic operations. The Vietnam syndrome is said to account for this. The U.S. recognises that its military and political supremacy might not suffice to promote American global interests if an unforeseen event begins to affect any meticulously planned campaign to promote them. True to this, the U.S. Defence Secretary, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, has now spoken of plans for ``floating coalitions'', consisting of different countries for various purposes, so that America could wage the ``war'' on globalised terror with some comfort.

As a result, Pakistan may even find itself out of the U.S.- centric loop as the international ``war'' on terror enters qualitatively different phases. Yet, the U.S. will owe the Pakistanis a pay-off (not in a negative sense) for their cooperation unless they botch it up altogether. Economic benefits are now in the pipeline like in the previous instances of U.S.- Pakistan alliances - the anti-communist pact in 1954, the secret Pakistani project of bringing about a Sino-American rapprochement in the early 1970s and Washington's anti-Soviet coalition with Islamabad and motley Muslim guerrillas in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Pakistanis argue that they got precious little as genuine strategic rewards on all these occasions. Moreover, it is alleged, the American funds and the U.S.-sponsored multilateral aid which did flow to Pakistan were siphoned off by its own ``corrupt'' rulers. However, there is a huge qualitative difference between the earlier U.S.-Pakistan links and the latest one. America had never before been threatened as directly as at present. Should Pakistan now stay the course as desired by the U.S., Islamabad may even discover that the saga of ``betrayals'' by America is a matter of the past.

How did Pakistan first win America's attention? Through most part of the 1950s, India counted upon the newly communist China as a potential friend. It was then that Ayub Khan, Pakistan's military chief and later its ruler, placed his country firmly in an orbit around the U.S. in the light of arguments which suited the McCarthyist America of the time. Western diplomats such as Sir Morrice James noted in their chronicles of that period how Ayub Khan, still a military chief, took the U.S. for a ride. By professing anti-communist policies in regard to China and the old Soviet Union, Ayub Khan was said to have cleverly concealed his own agenda of acquiring military prowess as a gift from the U.S. in relation to India. So, he managed to take Pakistan into the U.S.-inspired multilateral alliances of the ``Free World'' (a hype popularised by John Foster Dulles).

However, the view from Ayub Khan's citadel was that the publicity which preceded the 1954 U.S.-Pakistan Mutual (Military) Assistance Pact offered India a pretext to renege on holding a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, it was not long before cracks appeared in the U.S.-Pakistan nexus. Beijing, increasingly wary of a stabilising India in the late 1950s, began smiling at Ayub Khan. And these cracks became deep fissures as Washington and London empathised with New Delhi following China's incursion into India in 1962. So, in a display of realpolitik thereafter, Ayub Khan entered into the 1963 Boundary Agreement with China for a strategic link-up. A pro-Pakistan scholar, Alastair Lamb, has argued that the accord was no proof of any Pakistan-China axis. Much later, Pakistan itself viewed the 1962 episode as ``India's China war'' by echoing Neville Maxwell. But, during the 1962 crisis itself, Ayub Khan was angry with the U.S. over its perceived eagerness to befriend Nehru's democratic India.

From Ayub Khan's perspective, the subsequent Pakistan-India war of 1965 brought further evidence of Washington's latent tendency to hold the scales even in South Asia. Much later, a Pakistani White Paper debunked Ayub Khan's belief in the mid-1960s that America could influence India over Kashmir. Lyndon Johnson was said to have told Ayub Khan to get this idea out of his head and Kashmir out of his system. By the mid-1960s, the Anglo- American efforts at facilitating talks between India and Pakistan also ended, because Washington became embroiled in Vietnam. That set the stage for a Soviet mediatory role and the India-Pakistan talks at Tashkent in January 1966. However, the changing dynamics of global politics in the period immediately prior to the 1971 war over the liberation of Bangladesh rendered external mediation concerning Kashmir quite impracticable.

In a related but separate development, Pakistan capitalised on its friendship with China of the 1960s, a dynamic that remains vibrant to this day, to bring about a strategic rapprochement between Washington and Beijing in the early 1970s. Also, the Soviet Union's Afghan intervention towards the end of that decade enabled Pakistan to gravitate towards a `grateful' U.S.

Yet, the collapse of the Soviet Union by the early 1990s and India's rising prominence through the 1990s pushed Pakistan to the sidelines of the U.S.' strategic calculus. It is this aspect that Pakistan is now seeking to rectify in the context of the latest American compulsions.

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