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Powell pats the all-American Pervez

August 01, 2002

The Pioneer

Powell pats the all-American Pervez
By G. Parthasarathy

The widely-read Pakistani Urdu newspaper, Takbeer, carried an interesting report on July 22. It reported that Major Mohammad Amin, a former officer of the Pakistani Army who had resigned after the 1971 debacle and was now living in London, had said: "The fact is that two years ago General (Pervez) Musharraf had started using Omar (Omar Saeed Sheikh, now sentenced to death for his involvement in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl) for uniting all jihadi outfits. I met Omar's father and protested against it. The matter of great regret is that Omar's father had failed to convey my message or convince Omar to refrain from such activities."

It is now an established fact that Omar was in regular touch with Brigadier Ejaz Shah of the ISI in Lahore, after we released him following the hijacking of IC 814. Omar is also known to have met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. When we took up the case for his repatriation with the Pakistani Government, the ever-serious and perennially mournful-looking Abdul Sattar told us that the Pakistani Government had no idea about his whereabouts. It now emerges that the Chief Executive and Army Chief of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, was prepared to use a psychopath like Omar for promoting his jihad in Kashmir, even as his esteemed Foreign Minister was piously denying Omar's presence in Pakistan.

Omar Sheikh has to be silenced and will be duly executed. He is a man who knows too much. His execution will also enable the United States to avoid the inconvenient questions being asked about the terrorist connections of their present favourite General in Rawalpindi.

General Colin Powell's high regard for General Musharraf is no different from the that of John Foster Dulles for Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Henry Kissinger for General Yahya Khan and Alexander Haig for General Zia-ul Haq. And like his worthy military predecessors, General Musharraf will use his American connections to introduce his own brand of "genuine democracy" in Pakistan, debarring all politicians who have a political base and reducing the Prime Minister to a puppet and the Parliament to a rubber stamp. But one sincerely hopes that General Powell and his advisers will not expect us to share their assessment of the qualities of head and heart of their favourite General.

Anyone with even a cursory understanding of American priorities will understand that the Bush Administration believes that a substantive role for the Army in Pakistan's national life presently suits its interests in the war against the Al Qaeda and its supporters. But as far as India is concerned, it is dealing with a General who authored the Kargil conflict, proclaimed resort to low-intensity conflict and jihad as legitimate instruments of foreign policy and who then flatly denied he had given any commitment to the Americans about permanently ending cross-border terrorism.

General Musharraf's predecessors, like General Jehan-gir Karamat and General Asif Nawaz, genuinely believed dabbling in politics adversely affected the professionalism and morale of their men. General Musharraf has come to realise that, apart from wielding power and acquiring wealth without responsibility, many of his army colleagues genuinely believe they have a divine right to wield political power in Pakistan. Thus General Musharraf's own strategy is going to be based on seeing that his officers are well looked after not only while in service but also after they retire.

Hence his desire to retain substantive powers, including those for appointment to high posts. He has found that General Powell and Company will be more than willing to play ball with him in this effort. General Powell's silence on General Musharraf's farcical referendum is in striking contrast to the homilies dished out to India about "transparency" and "credibility". But how far General Powell and Company will go in supporting General Musharraf's external agenda, is a question of more than just academic interest to us.

Among the accomplishments General Musharraf is trumpeting is the rise in Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves after he joined the US war against terrorism. With Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves having exceeded six billion dollars, thanks to large doses of debt rescheduling and international assistance, General Musharraf now believes he has more than enough foreign exchange to commence an arms buying spree. The Bush Administra-tion has already assisted him by offering six C 130 transport aircraft at a price of $ 90 million that is well below the market price. But this is obviously only the tip of the iceberg.

General Musharraf is aiming for much more. On July 23-24 American and Pakistani military officials met in Islamabad for a preparatory meeting of their Defence Consultative Group, now scheduled to meet in Washington in December. The American delegation led by Air Force Colonel Jeffrey Paulk had a series of meetings, including one with Defence Secretary Lt General Hamid Nawaz Khan. Colonel Paulk hoped that the revival of the defence dialogue would "help both countries in moving forward on bilateral relations enabling things to move faster and further".

While one should not normally be too concerned about the acquisition of conventional weapons by Pakistan, we cannot ignore an institutional revival of the Pakistan-US military sales relationship. The latter often involves supplies of weapons ostensibly from Pentagon stocks at throwaway prices, as was the case with the supply of M 48 A5 tanks in the 1980s and the C 130 aircraft recently. The Pakistan wish list also involves a requirement for 28 F16 fighters that the US had refused to supply earlier.

Despite assurances to the contrary, Pakistan rewired the F-16s supplied earlier to enable them to carry nuclear weapons. There is little doubt it would do likewise when and if they get more F-16s. Given Pakistan's propensity to attempt nuclear blackmail on every conceivable occasion and the readiness of the US to press panic buttons and evacuate citizens and diplomats whenever Pakistan does so, one wonders how General Powell will rationalise such supplies with the professed commitment of the US to counter nuclear blackmail.

It is good that New Delhi has persuaded General Powell that there can be no question of a dialogue with Pakistan until General Musharraf fulfils his promises to permanently end cross-border terrorism. Apart from ending support to his jihadis and closing down terrorist training camps, General Musharraf will have to disband ISI-supported outfits like the United Jihad Council and also persuade us that his colleagues in the ISI have finally decided to call it a day on efforts to "bleed" India in Kashmir and elsewhere. Only then can we really be persuaded that the General intends to match his words with his deeds.

But both India and the US have to make a conscious effort to ensure their relationship does not get bogged down in the quicksand of Indo-Pakistani differences. It is primarily because of US President George Bush's stated policy to not get involved in a "hyphenated" relationship with India that there has been a measure of optimism in the future of India-US relations. We need to look at a broad framework within which we can not only expand cooperation bilaterally, but also look for a wider strategic partnership in the Indian Ocean region. As tensions in the Persian Gulf grow with the US's determination to deal with Saddam Hussein, and Al Qaeda backed terrorism spreads to South East Asia, there is need for a more intensive dialogue between India and the US on a very wide range of issues.

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