Originally Published 2004-04-21 06:22:23 Published on Apr 21, 2004
In early February when Pakistan was seen as the epicenter of nuclear trade, the United States decided to downplay the entire episode by terming it ¿a part of the past¿. When A.Q. Khan was given a ¿pardon¿ by General Musharraf for all his proliferation activities, for the US, it was merelya ¿matter between Mr. Khan and his government¿.
Pakistan and US, Short term benefits and long term payments
nuclear trade, the United States decided to downplay the entireepisode by terming it "a part of the past". When A.Q. Khan wasgiven a 'pardon' by General Musharraf for all his proliferationactivities, for the US, it was merelya "matter between Mr. Khan andhis government". In fact, President Musharraf was applauded fortracking down proliferators in Pakistan. To top it all, Pakistanwas accorded the status of Major Non-Nato Ally (MNNA) .

Why is the United States downplaying the proliferation issue andfavoring Pakistan in all ways possible? What are the strategicinterests of the US at this juncture? What is the American gameplan in Pakistan? And why is General Musharraf willing to riskopposition from inside, in aligning closer to the US? Is heexploiting the A.Q. Khan scandal to achieve his own interests?

Nuclear Proliferation and MNNA

The American Game Plan

With elections round the corner and campaigning in full swingPresident Bush wants to pool-in as many success stories aspossible. Having failed to unearth weapons of mass destruction inIraq and capture Osama Bin Laden, Bush is finding hard to justifyhis foreign policy. Capturing Osama is expected to increase hisdipping ratings. Bush's primary objective now is to capture Osama;and Musharraf's role is essential in that. The A.Q. Khanproliferation episode came handy at the right moment when US wantedgreater leverage to handle Pakistan. US Defense Secretary PaulWolfowitz's allegation that Pakistan is "failing to co-operate withthe United States despite Washington's restraint over Islamabad'snuclear proliferation scandal" is to apply pressure on GeneralMusharraf. Wolfowitz made it clear that Washington would increaseits demand in downplaying the nuclear scandal.

Pakistani officials warning of the tribes in South Waziristan ofsevere action thus emanated from the American pressure.Subsequently, the Pakistani government gave a list of wanted men tothe Wazir tribal leadership who were supposed to have providedsupport and shelter to al-Qaeda and warned them of militaryconsequences. The tribal leaders eventually failed to meet thisdemand. Pakistan then deployed 70,000 troops in South Waziristanfor the first time since independence and used helicopter gunshipand artillery to raid several villages near Wana.

Clearly Musharraf's actions in South Waziristan, irrespective ofopposition from inside, led by the MMA, are to appease the US.Pakistan's game plan is to show some results in South Waziristan,so that the US would downplay of the entire nuclear proliferationissue. The US Secretary of State Collin Powell visited Pakistan inMarch, mainly to discuss and strengthen global efforts to curbnuclear proliferation and terrorism. "Get Osama plan" was high onhis agenda.

Powell's visit is to be followed by US Centcom Chief General JohnAbizaid who is also expected to pressurize Musharraf on "Get OsamaPlan". The US is aware, given the terrain and support from thelocal people, it would not be possible for it to capture Osamawithout any inside support. It is expected that the American taskforce 121, a conglomeration of US military and intelligencepersonnel, would assist Pakistan to capture Osama. However tilltoday Musharraf has denied any joint military operations with theUS forces inside Pakistan.

Pakistan has been accorded the status of major non Nato Ally (MNNA)which will enable Pakistan to be a beneficiary of militaryequipment and technology besides other arrangements. This has beendone to further express and strengthen the "special relationship'between the two allies and as a reward to the military backedgovernment of Pakistan for its co-operation in South Waziristan.

Economic and Political Stability

Pakistan's Game Plan

With threats from jihadi and sectarian organizations increasing,including the attempts on Musharraf's life and with Pakistan beingaccused of 'epi-center' of nuclear proliferation, many believed,both inside and outside the country, that Pakistan was heading forserious trouble. Musharraf wanted the American help to tide overthe crisis, especially on nuclear proliferation, without damagingthe image of the country in general and its armed forces inparticular.

The US could have over played the nuclear proliferation card; butunderplayed for obvious reasons. While AQ Khan was made as thevillain, the armed forces were absolved of any major involvement.The US was willing to accept the story. Besides, Musharraf has beenusing the military operations in South Waziristan to flush out theal-Qaeda forces from Pakistani territory.

Musharraf is using this opportunity to consolidate his power baseat home. Moderate political parties could be a source of oppositionto the rule of General Musharraf. Political parties like thePakistan's Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League- NawazFaction (PML-N) which could win seats in the National Assembly evenwhen their leaders were in exile can be a major opposition force ifthe leaders are back in the country. The PPP won 81 seats and thePML-N won 19 seats in the National Assembly in the 2002 assemblyelections. General Musharraf is using the nuclear trade issue tokeep the 'moderate democratic political parties' at bay as it wasconfessed by A.Q. Khan that it was during 92-93 and 97-98 that thenuclear trade was carried out and military was totally unaware ofthis. From the days of Zia-ul-haq Pakistan's nuclear weaponsprogramme has been handled by the military even during the rule ofthe democratic forces. Benazir Bhutto had stated that when she wasthe prime Minister she had to take the permission of the army tovisit the Kahuta Labs. It is thus not to be believed that Pakistanarmy was unaware of the 'trade'. In 92-93 and 97-98 the twopolitical leaders now in exile were heading the Government. Thisgives Musharraf an edge to keep the 'irresponsible party heads' atbay and thus not allow these leaders to make a comeback in thepolitics of Pakistan at least in the near future. Though in shortterm it may seem beneficial to both the US and Pakistan but in longrun it will have repercussions which would be felt not only inPakistan but far away in the United States.

In Pakistan, Musharraf was looked upon as a puppet of US takingorders from the 'Masters' and rolling back the nuclear programmeafter the proposed "full co-operation" with the US to trace downthe nuclear trade in Pakistan . Musharraf immediately after theFebruary 5 pardon to A.Q. Khan announced missile tests to make apoint that the nuclear policy and programme of Pakistan was quietindependent of any US pressure. Pakistan tested Shaheen II, a longrange missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and with a rangeof 2000 to 2500 Kms. This reflected the determination of thePakistan Government in carrying forward its nuclear programme.Musharraf can well flaunt in Pakistan that despite Pakistan beingcaught in the nuclear tangle, it is able to maintain and carryforward the nuclear and missile programme. This is only possiblebecause of the US backing which has bailed out Pakistan from thenuclear proliferation 'mess' by separating the individual from the'state'. On March 16 the Pakistan Government told the NationalAssembly that Pakistan had come out 'clear' from the nuclearproliferation scandal and there was no question of rolling back itsnuclear programme.

Besides this, the new found status of a major non-nato ally will befully exploited by Musharraf to further strengthen the army and hisposition in the country. Thus, Musharraf is making use of the US.First, the MNNA status means more American support to GeneralMusharraf and less support for the demand of moderate parties andtheir leaders, especially for Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, whoare under exile. Without any active support for the exiled leadersfrom the US, their return to Pakistan would remain a distant dream.Musharraf would be able 'control' democracy through the PML-Q,which is more than willing to support his policies, both inside andoutside the Parliament.

Second, Musharraf has been using the threat of fundamentalistparties and jihadis to get more concessions from the US. TheAmericans believe that Musharraf would be able to deliver themrather than the democratic forces. Third, Musharraf has been ableto increase his influence and acceptance among the people ofPakistan. The waivers and removal of sanctions means that Pakistanis acceptable to the international community, which is a welcometurn from being a pariah country. The sanctions - political andeconomic had hurt the Pakistanis including the businessmen,students and academics more. Now, they may not have to face thehumiliation that they received in the airports and inside thewestern countries. After all, they are from the US' MNNA country!

Fourth, by continuing his support to war on terror Musharraf isable to bring in a wave of economic reform to the country byattracting large funds and aids from all over the world especiallythe US. This has enabled Pakistan to touch a growth rate of 5.1percent in the fiscal year 2002-03, first time in last eight years.The accusation on democratic governments of 'money laundering' and'misgovernance' stands justified in this period of economic growth.Internationally, Musharraf is attaining a stature of a leader whomis against terrorism, helping in the reconstruction work and onewho is sincere in his peace efforts. Fifth, with the MNNA statusMusharraf will be able to strengthen his own power base in thecountry.

At the international level Musharraf has been able to satisfy IAEAwith the limited sharing of information which otherwise would haveadopted a stricter control regime. Pakistan's Information MinisterSheikh Rashid Ahmed on March 16 said in the National Assembly thatPakistan would never allow IAEA to inspect its nuclear sites whichwere in 'safe hands'. The flow of aid is continuing to Pakistan.The country has just managed to get out of the financial crunchafter the nuclear sanctions and as such is very much dependent onthe aid and help from other countries. Pakistan needs a growth rateof 5-6%per annum for a longer period to reduce poverty and provideemployment opportunities to its youth. Meanwhile, Prime ministerZafarullah Khan Jamali called in for more international support to"bolster reforms aimed at providing education and jobs as it werekey to moderate society in a country racked by Islamic extremism.

Thus, both US and Pakistan (read Bush and Musharraf) are using eachother for short term benefits. Bush is using Musharraf to getre-elected to white house and Musharraf is using Bush to strengthenhis position within Pakistan and crush the opposing forces(fundamentalist forces and the moderate democratic parties) in hiscountry. Pakistan is preparing for a longer military spell which inturn will further aggravate the growth of fundamentalist forces.Even if Osama is caught or killed before the US elections and Bushis voted back to power, he may have to deal with more Osamas in hisnext stint of presidency.

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