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Both traditional strands of Pakistani foreign policy evident in Musharraf’s Washington visit

Waseem Shehzad

There have been two inter-related constants in Pakistan’s foreign policy: appeasement of the US, and warding off predatory India. The latter has been the bane of Pakistani policy-makers since the country came into existence in 1947; the core issue that has soured relations with India is the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. On the domestic front, Pakistan has grappled unsuccessfully with the question of identity: is it an Islamic state, or a secular state with a Muslim majority? The issue goes to the heart of Pakistan’s existence, and casts a shadow over how it frames its relations with the rest of the world, especially the US. The ruling elites are thoroughly secularized, while the masses have a deep attachment to Islam. It is the divergent outlook of the two that has kept Pakistani society in tension since 1947.

These factors were much in evidence during Pervez Musharraf’s week-long visit to the US from June 23 in which he met US president George Bush at Camp David on June 24. During the Bush-Musharraf meeting, Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan’s role in advancing America’s agenda against "terrorism", and the issue of recognizing Israel were all discussed. These issues were augmented with economic inducements for Pakistan, although these were not considered adequate for Islamabad’s needs. In recent weeks there has been much talk about America urging both India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute by negotiations, a stand long advocated by Pakistan. While India has resisted such pressure in the past, in the new reality arising out of America’s status as the world’s sole hegemon, and the role assigned to Delhi under its global project to contain and eventually confront China, it has had to give in. But the solution to the Kashmir dispute advocated behind the scenes by the US – the Chenab formula, under which Pakistan would get the Muslim-majority areas while Hindu- and Buddhist-majority areas will remain with India – has grave implications for Pakistan’s future relations with China. In the US-crafted proposal, Pakistan will be forced into an unwritten alliance with India against China, as India’s military presence along the border with China will only be possible if India is given safe passage through parts of Kashmir that will fall under Pakistan’s control.

The Chenab formula was first broached on May 20 by Sikandar Hayat Khan, premier of Azad Kashmir. Clearly somebody suggested it to him, otherwise he is not known as a visionary. Although this proposal has been rejected by both India and Pakistan in the past, under US prodding both have been forced to moderate their reaction. Hameed Gul, the former chief of Pakistan’s ISI, has described the Chenab formula as "a US conspiracy against China" (Asia Times Online, May 30). Behind the Kashmir solution is an even more sinister plan: to dismantle Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Once the Kashmir dispute is out of the way, the US will insist that Pakistan do away with its nuclear programme. While resolution of the Kashmir dispute is neither guaranteed nor assured in the near future, US obsession with eliminating Pakistan’s nuclear programme, indeed that of any Muslim country, is a top priority and not necessarily conditional upon the resolution of Kashmir’s status.

While recognition of Israel is not in the cards immediately, under American pressure a red line has been crossed. Riaz Khokhar, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, said on June 23 that Islamabad had not decided to recognize Israel "yet", but then went on to point out that many Arab governments have already done so. Such pronouncements by the Pakistani foreign secretary point to a shift in Islamabad’s policy vis-a-vis Israel. This has obviously come about partly as a result of the headlong pursuit of secularization in Pakistan; otherwise it would be considered unthinkable at a time when Israeli brutalities against defenceless Palestinians have escalated greatly.

Pakistan has faced an acute internal dilemma because the ruling elites want to take the people in a direction in which they do not wish to go (towards secularization), while the people want the principles of Islam to be implemented in society. They want social, economic and political justice, commodities that are in extremely short supply in the "Islamic" Republic. The masses in Pakistan, as indeed elsewhere in the Muslim world, have an intense dislike of America because of its arrogant policies and its blind support of Israeli crimes. Yet the ruling elites in Pakistan talk about recognizing Israel precisely at a time when they should be leading the charge against the zionist state. Why? It cannot have anything to do with Pakistan’s interests, however defined. This policy has been foisted upon them by the US.

There is also an aspect of Musharraf’s personal interest involved here. He is a military ruler who has little political support in the country. In order to secure American backing for his continued rule, and to ward off political opponents, he has to sacrifice the vital interests of the country. These range from participating in America’s war on Islamic activists (while pretending to fight terrorism) to selling Pakistan short on Kashmir, and sacrificing the nuclear option. There is an easy solution to all these problems: a genuinely representative government that will seriously address the concerns of the people. The masses will then act as bulwark against American threats, and help to develop the country. After all, at the most crucial times in Pakistan’s history the masses have come forward to shoulder the burden; the elites and their children have often taken the first flight out.

The headlong pursuit of secularization carries another danger: the rank and file of the Pakistan armed forces are motivated on the basis of the spirit of jihad. This can only have meaning in an Islamic framework. Yet the message they are getting from their leaders is that Islam is a purely personal matter that has no bearing on any other aspect of life. Musharraf is in fact on record as stating to a western journalist that, under his watch, Islam has indeed been reduced to personal choice. He asserted that "both my colleague [pointing to another military officer] and I are Muslims but he prays regularly while I do it whenever I feel inclined." Such statements would bring down punishment in a truly Islamic state, but not in the "Islamic" Republic of Pakistan under the general. Offering salah is not a matter of personal choice; it is commanded by Allah in the Qur’an. If the self-styled head of state makes such pronuncements, what can anyone expect from his subordinates?

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 9

Ramadan 26, 14372003-07-01

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