Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Saving Pakistan

Heed the voice of Dawn’s Haroon

From The Statesman

ND Batra

Pakistan is undergoing political and cultural turmoil unnoticed by rest of the world, says Hameed Haroon, the publisher of the Dawn group of newspapers, in a piece published in the Wall Street Journal last week. People opposing the high-handedness of President Pervez Musharraf against “infringement of judicial independence” are lawyers, journalists and other “mainstream groups striving to bring Pakistan under the rule of law,” he says.

Since Musharraf removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9 on allegations of misusing authority, there have been countrywide protests. Pakistan’s landscape is much more variegated and complex than the Western media has been portraying: that religious extremists are keeping the country under siege. Haroon says that Musharraf has victimized the Dawn group “precisely for exposing his failure to firm up the country’s security situation. We have reported on the pattern of ad-hoc deal-making between the Pakistan government and pro-Taliban militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, not to mention the government’s continued covert support of Kashmiri militants.”

India should take note. The United States should redirect its resources in Pakistan.

Instead of depending upon the questionable political strength and commitment of Musharraf for war against terrorism, the United States should reach out to a wide variety of constituencies in Pakistan including the media, universities, businesses, non-profit organisations, tribal leaders and intelligence communities.

More than two months ago on a visit to Pakistan, Vice President Dick Cheney chided Musharraf for not doing enough to prevent Al-Qaida and Taliban from rebuilding and strengthening the infrastructure of terrorism in the safety of tribal areas from where they have been operating to carry out terrorist attacks against Afghan and NATO troops. The suicide bomber attack in Afghanistan during Cheney’s visit that killed 23 people provided enough evidence that the Taliban and Al-Qaida have been regaining strength.

Cheney is not known for his diplomatic subtleties but since he is the closest to President George W Bush, the Pakistani ruler should have gotten the message that US aid might be in jeopardy if the Taliban growth was not checked.

Pakistanis have never been enamoured of how Musharraf was forced into an alliance with the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks. But in order to cooperate with the United States in its struggle against terrorism, Pakistan has turned itself into a country warring against the very elements, Islamic extremism and militancy, that its super intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), nurtured as tools of foreign policy.

Musharraf has not been able, or may be he is not willing, to make a total break from the forces that have supported him in his hold on power and hence the reluctant approach toward helping the United States. Once again, especially after Musharraf cut the deal last year with tribal leaders virtually relinquishing sovereign authority over the tribal territory, Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al-Qaida and the Taliban.

John D Negroponte, Deputy US Secretary of State, told Congress in February that Al-Qaida was “cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.” Pakistani authorities have not challenged his statement.

In spite of what Dawn’s Haroon says about the administration’s attempt to control the media by withholding government advertisement, the question is whether Musharraf is indeed in full control of the forces operating in his fractured country. If not, what can the United States do about it?

First of all, the United States and NATO forces should not hesitate to cross into the tribal territories in pursuit of the Taliban, since Pakistan has virtually given up control over them. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, chief operations officer for the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last March that “we have all the authorities we need to pursue, either with (artillery) fire or on the ground, across the border.”

The United States should think of establishing direct relations with tribal leaders in order to wean them away from the Taliban and Al-Qaida. The United States must keep pressuring Musharraf to break the nexus between ISI and the Taliban and other sectarian extremist groups. In many ways ISI works much like an independent power center, a state within the state, and it may become necessary for the United States intelligence to establish direct relations with its hierarchy, since nothing happens in Pakistan without its acquiescence.

The United States needs to do much more aggressive public and business diplomacy in Pakistan to reach out to the intelligentsia and middle classes, who have the same global aspirations as other countries with growing economies. The prospects of rapid economic growth and rising prosperity would present Pakistanis with an alternative future, one based on science and technology and globalization.

Last but not least, heed the voice of Dawn’s Haroon. He is saying something that the world has not heard before. He represents a future that might happen: a progressive, liberal, and more or less a secular Pakistan.

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