Pressures on Pakistan

Print edition : February 05, 2000

As Indian and U.S. concerns over "regional terrorism" converge, Pakistan feels the heat and faces isolation.

PAKISTAN is finding it difficult to contain the fallout of the hijacking of Flight IC 814 to Kandahar. Its chief problem arises from the attitude of the United States, which has begun to demonstrate a new toughness on the issue of terrorism.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth delivered a blunt message on terrorism to Pakistan's Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, during a two-hour meeting between them in Pakistan on January 21. Inderfurth's discussions were preceded by the formation in London on January 21 of an Indo-U.S. Joint Working Group (JWG) to combat terrorism together, the first initiative of its kind involving the two countries. This decision was taken at the 10th round of the "strategic dialogue" between Ext ernal Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Maulana Masood Azhar, the Muslim cleric who was freed by India in the militants-for-hostages swap in December, with his supporters in Islamabad on January 27.-AZIZ HAIDARI/ REUTERS

Although the formation of the JWG has so far not had any tangible impact, there is little doubt that Pakistan feels isolated by the action the U.S. has planned along with its arch rival, India.

It is clear that Indian and U.S. concerns on "regional terrorism" (stemming from Pakistan and Afghanistan) have converged. Washington's principal concern relates to the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden and his worldwide terrorist network and the inability of Pakistan to influence its ally, the Taliban, to deliver bin Laden, who is hiding in Afghanistan, to stand trial.

Linked to the bin Laden concern is the determination by the U.S. that the fundamentalist Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was responsible for the serial rocket attacks on U.S. installations in Islamabad on November 12, 1999. The Harkat, as is well known, has been on the U.S. State Department's watch list of terrorist organisations since 1997. It operates from Pakistan, unfettered. There is also little doubt that militant groups such as the Harkat enjoy the support of Pakistani intelligence agencies.

To a question whether the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate was linked to the Harkat, the U.S. State Department spokesman said on January 27: "This is a matter of extreme concern to us. That is an organisation we have declared a ter rorist organisation, and there have been some links providing general support to a number of groups operating in Kashmir, including this one. That is one of the issues we raised with them (the Pakistani Government) in these (Inderfurth-Musharraf) discuss ions."

Inderfurth spoke directly about U.S. concerns over terrorism during his visit to Islamabad. He asked Pakistan to bring the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane to book and to check the terrorist groups operating from the country. At his press conferenc e Inderfurth said, evidently as an exercise in public diplomacy: "There is a clear need to take the next step with respect to the hijacking, which is to find the hijackers and bring them to justice... We urged them (the Pakistani side) to make every eff ort to determine their (hijackers') location... I believe that the hijackers will be found. I believe that they cannot simply disappear from the face of the earth..."

He went on: "We believe that the presence and activities of these groups give Pakistan a bad reputation in the world community and thus works against Pakistan's national interest... We hope that every effort will be made to address those violent, militan t groups that are threatening citizens of other countries as well as the long-term stability of Pakistan itself."

Earlier, reading from a prepared text, Inderfurth stressed the "need for cooperation to reduce the threat of terrorism which stems from this region and directly threatens the U.S. and Pakistan as well as the region and the world. This was dramatically il lustrated by the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft."

The other issues of concern to the U.S. that were discussed included the need for a comprehensive road map with milestones for a return to democratic civilian rule in Pakistan, the need for regional stability, prevention of an arms race in South Asia and restoration of a productive dialogue with India.

The statement said: "All of these measures, we believe, would enhance Pakistan's security. Finally, we stressed the urgency with which the President and Congress view these issues. We trust our messages have been received and understood, and that we have increased our mutual understanding on them."

Information made available to Frontline suggests that Gen. Musharraf asked for "time" to take action against the militant groups operating from Pakistan. He is said to have told Inderfurth that he did not feel strong enough at the moment to take o n these forces.

It appears that the U.S. is of the considered opinion that the Musharraf Government is the "last chance" for Pakistan to come out of the "jehadi mindset", which is creating all kinds of domestic problems for the country. The U.S. seems to believe that if Musharraf fails to deliver on these crucial issues, there is no "Plan B" for Pakistan to fall back on.

FOR the U.S., the issue of religious fundamentalism is linked to Pakistan's overall development, both economic and political. If there is no crackdown on these "jehadi groups", then Pakistan's prospects are bleak, according to current U.S. analysi s.

Although there was no reference as to how the U.S. would use the economic lever in the form of International Monetary Fund (IMF) funding to Pakistan, it is clear that Washington is conscious of such a factor. An American analyst, Selig. S. Harrison, arg ued in the January 18 issue of The Los Angeles Times that the hijacking had "vividly dramatised why the United States should stop coddling the military regime in Pakistan and use its economic leverage to promote an early return to civilian rule".

Harrison argued: "So long as the armed forces retain absolute control, Islamic extremists will wield power out of all proportion to their real influence in Pakistan society. This means that Pakistan will continue to oppose American interests in South Asi a, and support Taliban rule in Afghanistan as well as militant Kashmiri insurgent factions opposed to political accommodation with India based on Kashmiri autonomy."

He wrote: "Given Islamabad's desperate need for IMF aid, the U.S. has enormous leverage. Washington should insist on a clear timetable for a return to constitutional, civil and democratic government as the precondition for U.S. support of further aid fro m international financial institutions. On his projected trip to South Asia, President Clinton should not visit Pakistan unless a timetable is announced. The President should not authorise further military sales to Pakistan that would undercut relations with India.."

Harrison added: "Islamic extremists have never done well in Pakistan at the polls, but they are likely to grow progressively stronger in the streets as disenchantment with the military regime deepens... Moving to a new elected leadership offers the last, best hope to consolidate secular resistance to a fundamentalist take-over and to defuse regional tensions. Indefinite military rule is the road to internal chaos and another Indo-Pakistan war."

THERE is little doubt that relations between India and Pakistan have never been as bad as they are today, and the two countries have the ability to sink their relations further to depths that have never been fathomed before. The Pakistani establishment, in its blind support to the jehadi forces, needs to realise that the mood in India is harsh, and that no unilateral initiative should be expected by the military rulers after the hijacking incident.

The growing impression is that Pakistan provides sanctuary to anti-India, anti-U.S. terrorist forces, whether they are released militants or hijackers. The fact that Ibrahim Azhar or Athar, brother of Masood Azhar, who is suspected to be the Kingpin of t he hijack drama, has not appeared in public even a month after the incident, makes it clear that he is one of the hijackers.

Even as diplomatic pressure is mounted on Pakistan, the need to focus on peace in the region cannot be ignored. "Limited war" doctrines or warnings that India could cross the Line of Control (LoC) are best avoided in a tense environment. Also, it is clea r that there is no "one truth" about incidents that occur along the LoC: Pakistan has its own "truth" and India has its own. Often, there is no meeting point between these conflicting versions.

Pakistan is a state which can say anything to its citizens about India and get away with it. A questioning approach on issues related to India, barring some honourable exceptions, is absent in the country as a whole. Sustaining an artificial "consensus" on India is central to Pakistan's foreign policy approach.

In a refreshingly candid piece in The Friday Times (January 28-February 3, 2000), Khalid Ahmed, a Pakistani analyst, writes: "Pakistan's foreign policy can be summed up in short order as confrontation with India and commitment in Afghanistan... bo th Kashmir and Afghan policies were a continuation of the policy of subterfuge adopted during the jehad against the Soviet invasions. The world knew that Pakistan was deeply involved but accepted its denials and voted overwhelmingly for Pakistan-s ponsored resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly.

"Pakistan embraced the practice of a 'deniable' foreign policy and made it permanent. But after the Soviets left Afghanistan, international opinion gradually veered away from accepting it without questioning it. Afghanistan and Kashmir were linked togeth er under the simple principle of good management. The militants for Kashmir were also trained in camps in Afghanistan. Jehadi militias operating in Held Kashmir straddled Pakistan, making a bridge out of it. Their proliferation gave birth to rogue and se mi-rogue outfits that Pakistan had to tolerate to save its foreign policy from collapsing...

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth. He delivered a blunt message on terrorism to Pakistan.-AP

"It is no longer possible to defend the 'deniable' foreign policy in Kashmir and Afghanistan. International opinion may be critical of India's violation of human rights in Kashmir, but it is more troubled by Pakistan's intervention in Held Kashmir.

"Those who wish to stick to the old policy are simply resisting internal change in Pakistan either because they favour what is happening inside Pakistan or are simply too fearful of defying the internal trends... They may be scared of Talibanisation of P akistan but will not factor that into their consideration of Pakistan's Afghan policy..."

Clearly, the stark contradictions in Pakistani policy are apparent to right-thinking Pakistanis. The question, of course, remains: can the military government of Pervez Musharraf distance itself from the jehadi forces and return Pakistan to a genu inely moderate Muslim state, rather than converting it into an Islamic state whose chief export is "jehad"?

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