Close Comfort

Musharraf will be Bush’s closest ally in the war on terror

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

While British Prime Minister Tony Blair was George Bush’s closest ally in his war on terror during his first term in office, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is expected to occupy this coveted position during Bush’s second term beginning January 20. Between Blair and Musharraf, the latter is far more clever, opportunist and ruthless. Instead of grasping the import of this development which portends grave implications for Jammu and Kashmir and other national security interests, India is amongst three countries in the world, along with Philippines and Poland, which, in two separate global surveys (including one by the BBC) of people, have endorsed that, after 9/11, Bush, in his first stint in office, has enhanced global security. Whilst India’s position may appear non-tempered, exasperating and even shocking, it is not surprising. The majorities of Indian people are impoverished and know little about security matters. The educated and progressive middle class neither understands security matters nor cares about it. For them, the most important issue is personal advancement. A leading Indian English newspaper, The Times of India, in its editorial the day after Bush’s second inauguration captured the mood of these people by writing: ‘A significant reminder of the bonhomie between the two largest democracies is the ever-increasing number of Indians headed for the US.

While visitors from the rest of the world to the US have declined considerably since 9/11, Indians have been flocking to America. Over the past three months the number of US visas issued to Indians has jumped by 12 per cent. This includes a three per cent rise in student visas. If one factors in the two-million-plus Indian American population, our partnership with the US is surely on a sound footing.’ During his official visit to the US in September last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had noted that bilateral relations had touched a new high: ‘India and the US are at present cooperating on a range of security and economic issues.’ Similar sentiments are heard in corridors of the South Block (which houses India’s external affairs and defence ministries), and amongst majority of leading analysts. For example, an Indian external affairs ministry official on the US and Canada desk says, that it depends on the individual how he wishes to see the bilateral relationship, as half-full or half-empty. “Considering that the two countries had little interaction during the Cold War, it is gratifying to note that the US now recognises India as a major power alongside China in Asia,” he says matter-of-factly without hesitation. The truth, of course, is not so simple. To understand the implications of the US-led global war on terror for India, it is appropriate to go back to the 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan when Indo-US relations had nosedived.

The aftermath of the May 1998 nuclear tests had many unpleasant surprises for India. For one, the US leaked the letter written by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to President Bill Clinton, which mentioned the threat from China as a reason for India’s nuclear tests, to the media. For another, the UN Security Council resolution 1172 of 6 June 1998 drafted by China mentioned Kashmir as the main reason for dispute between India and Pakistan. For the first time since 1949, Kashmir had found mention in a UN document. Worse, however, was still to come. During his fortnight-long visit to China in July 1998, President Clinton signed a statement seeking assistance from his Chinese counterpart for stability in South Asia. This was the last straw on the camel’s back. The world’s dominant power and Asia’s major power had ganged up against India. In order to neutralise this strategic threat, India decided to go the whole hog to appease the US, and also mend relations with China. Prime Minister Vajpayee appointed Jaswant Singh as his point-man for the twin tasks, especially to improve relation with the US. As a consequence of the longest 10 rounds of diplomatic engagement between US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh, India agreed to go slow with its nuclear weapons capabilities and to limit ballistic missile prowess to exclude the strategic threat from China, and nearly signed the CTBT until it was rejected by the US Senate itself. In return, President Clinton visited India for five days in March 2000, and made a four-hours stop in Pakistan to lecture Musharraf on virtues of democracy. The US was upset with Gen. Musharraf for having started the 1999 Kargil war with India, and having dismissed the elected Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This was not all. Musharraf was under pressure from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which after overrunning Kabul in 1996, was either not listening or just partially acknowledging the Pakistan establishment which had created it. Worse, the Taliban has infected the Pakistan Army, the Inter-Services-Intelligence, its civil society, and were seeking space for itself in Jammu and Kashmir. This was India’s best and Musharraf’s worst moment until 9/11 happened and the world changed for ever. Nine days after 9/11, President Bush told the world that: ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.’

The US had declared war on al Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which harboured Osama bin Laden. Even as the entire world stood by the US, India made the unusual gesture of offering unsolicited, unqualified assistance in double time. There was hope in India that the US would soon declare Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism. India’s top leaders went public in saying that the epicentre of terrorism was Pakistan and not Afghanistan, as the world knew that Pakistan had created the Taliban. However, this was not what the US thought. To decimate the Taliban, the Bush team was determined not to repeat the mistake of the Soviet Red army, which had entered Afghanistan in 1979 and left ignominiously in 1991. The US military strategy was to support the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban and to acquire basing rights for US Special Forces to operate in the north and south of Afghanistan. Musharraf was quick to understand his changed fortunes, and on US’ asking readily agreed to be part of ‘us’. As many as six Pakistani airfields were leased to the US forces. Next, after assuaging Russia’s fears about it’s ‘near abroad’, the US signed agreements for deployment of its ground and air forces in the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The US understanding with Russia and Central Asian states was that their respective wars on terrorism would be regarded by the US as their internal matter. With Pakistan, there were no pre-conditions, as Musharraf was clever enough to comprehend his vulnerabilities and strengths. Slowly as Musharraf won the trust of the US, his wish-list started unfolding: he wanted international legitimacy for himself and his brand of military democracy; he wanted massive doses of aid and writing off of huge debts to tide over Pakistan’s financial crisis; he wanted the US to understand his distinction between terrorism, which he condemned, and the so-called freedom struggle in J&K, which he supported wholeheartedly.

Even as Operation Enduring Freedom was underway against the Taliban, the US agreed to Musharraf’s piecemeal demands made in the most suppliant manner. After the fall of the Taliban, when Bush unveiled his agenda for the war on terror in his State-of-the-Union address to Congress on 29 January 2002, the world grasped the ramifications of what the US was up to. The global war on terror had become US’ war on terror, and the neo-conservatives led by US vice-president Dick Cheney were in control of the war agenda. Bush informed the world that three countries, Iraq, Iran and North Korea formed the ‘axis of evil’, and the US would take pre-emptive action, if necessary. On 20 March 2003, ignoring the world opinion against war on Iraq and the need for multilateral action through the United Nations, the US and its closest ally, the UK attacked Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Even as the Iraq war ended quickly, two things went terribly wrong for the US: Washington had failed to comprehend the unrest in Iraq in the aftermath of war, and a massive global proliferation scandal masterminded by Pakistan’s revered scientist, A.Q. Khan came to light. With US troops sucked into Iraq without an early exit possibility, it became essential that Pakistan provide greater support to President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan for taming wayward warlords and the so-called moderate Taliban elements. In any case, the Durand Line created by the British as the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has never been accepted by either side. Therefore, on Pakistan’s insistence, the US publicly ticked off India to not meddle in Afghanistan. Considering that the US military is prepared to tackle two simultaneous regional wars only, Bush, in his first term, had to remain content with seeking the stabilisation of Iraq, and hoping that, with Pakistan’s help, it would be possible to withdraw US troops, which are part of the international force, from Afghanistan. To confront the other two evil nations, Iran and North Korea, was not possible militarily after the Iraq setback. The US, however, set out to do preliminary work in Iran with Pakistan’s help. In this context, the article by US journalist Seymour Hersh in the January 19 New Yorker magazine reads credible.

The article alleges that with Pakistan’s help, President Bush has already authorised the penetration of Iran by US Special Forces functioning directly under the Pentagon and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Their mission is to locate Iranian underground nuclear installation which had been set up with help from the A.Q. Khan network. When asked, Bush did not rule out a military option against Iran. US vice-president Cheney gave a rather clever reply to the same question by saying that Israel could target Iran’s nuclear facilities. In all probability, a deal between US and Pakistan looks plausible: in exchange for winking at Pakistan’s decade-long nuclear proliferation to Iran, North Korea and even Saudi Arabia, and non-questioning of A.Q. Khan by US intelligence, Musharraf has agreed to assist the US to unravel Iran’s nuclear programme which his predecessors helped set up. As a reward for keeping the US war on terror going, Bush granted Pakistan with the Major Non-Nato Ally (MNNA) status, which implies two things: One, US arms and possibly F-16 aircraft to Pakistan, and importantly, that the US will do nothing to harm Pakistan’s interests including those in J&K, Afghanistan, and strengthening its conventional and strategic weapons capabilities vis-à-vis India. While reports that Pakistan is improving its nuclear weapons capabilities appear correct, not much should be read into hints by US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice that the US has contingency plans to take over Pakistan’s nuclear facilities if a need arose. Let alone outsiders, the Pakistan Army has never permitted its own political leadership to meddle with nuclear weapons wherewithal. From the above, it is obvious that should Bush continue with his first term policies, Musharraf would be his closet ally in the venture. Considering that Bush fought his re-election campaign as a war time president, this possibility is most likely. India, therefore, needs to understand that unless Musharraf meets with an accident or is assassinated, which is not ruled out, his position within his own army and with the US will strengthen in the days ahead.

This, however, does not suggest that the US will do nothing to mend its strained relations with other nations. The problem is that if Bush continues with his present war on terror policy, whatever the US does will be less than the expectations of the international community which has initiated moves to meet Washington’s growing challenge. For example, Russia, China and Iran are concerned at the continued US military presence in Central Asian states. Russia views this as a further weakening of the Commonwealth of Independent States framework. Moreover, a long-term US presence in states around the Caspian Sea has its own implications. Reports suggest that the US oil companies have been working on a Caspian Sea oil and gas flow through Afghanistan through the Arabian Sea coast in Pakistan. It is no coincidence that the US special envoy in Afghanistan, Zilmay Khalilzad, is a former official of the US oil giant Unocal, which was hobnobbing even with the Talibans. There is a direct relationship between the US military presence in Central Asian nations and the strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Named in June 2002, the SCO aims to strengthen security, combat terrorism and amicably resolve differences. Considering that India shares views with Russia and China on the need for a multi-polar word and terrorism, Russia is keen than India be admitted into the SCO. Moreover, the Moscow suggested tri-angular interaction between Russia, China and India is also to be viewed in this context. The writing on the wall is all too clear. Should the US continue with its war on terror, Russia and China would harden their positions and seek greater areas of influence to neutralise US growing power in Asia. The debate on the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) is also to be seen in this context. It is an extension of US’ war on terror, and attempts by Asians powers to thwart US unilateral designs.

The BMD has two parts; the National Missile Defence (NMD) for the protection of the US continent, and the Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) for its allies like Japan and Taiwan and its own troops in Asia and the Central Asian republics. Following the July 1998 Rumsfeld report which argued that ‘the ballistic missile threat was broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the intelligence community,’ the US, after 9/11, accorded priority to the BMD, resulting in the unilateral abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty at a time when Russia had shown flexibility to amend the treaty. Moscow’s problems with Washington deepened with the release of another commission report chaired by Rumsfeld shortly before he took over as the defence secretary in the Bush administration. The report concluded that space warfare was inevitable. To ‘negate the hostile use of space against it, the commission said, the US would need to be able to project power in, from and through space’, a challenge neither Russia nor China will ignore. Once the US moves forward on the twin issues of anti-missile defence system and the militarisation of space, it would fundamentally change the world’s present military and political balance. For this reason, the US’ BMD policy and the abandonment of the 1972 ABM treaty is viewed as more than military in nature. A breakthrough would provide US with a quantum strategic leap and place it above the multi-polar world that most major world powers are hankering for. Therefore, Russia and China are expected to monitor the US technology advancements and to seek ways to frustrate them. Moscow is further unhappy on this issue as the US had rejected its proposal for a collective development of anti-missile systems to protect not only the US but other parts of the world including Europe and Asia as well.

Such a move would have taken advantage of the collective technology and intellectual resources, and importantly, would have eliminated suspicion that the BMD would be used in the interests of only one country. Outside Asia, the European Union (EU) led by France and Germany had steadfastly opposed the US war on Iraq. The EU and the US differ on many issues including Iran, the Middle East, sanctions on China, and on the broader question of the role of the UN; multilateralism versus unilateralism. There are suggestions of the EU and China as constituting an emerging strategic axis in world affairs. There is fast growing trade between the EU and China, and Beijing has agreed to participate in Galileo constellation system, which is the proposed EU rival to the US Global Positioning System. According to China experts, there is a convergence of views between the EU and China about the US, its foreign policy and its global behaviour. In other words, the EU, Russia and China feel that the US has to be constrained. This portends strategic partnerships, which have the potential to re-write relations between nations. Therefore, to understand where India stands and how it has been affected by the US-led war on terror, FORCE decided to look closer home; on the issues of Kashmir, north-eastern states, and proliferation. We also look at two other important issues which touch India: Islamic extremism and UN reforms.


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