Originally Published 2004-03-26 04:57:54 Published on Mar 26, 2004
Pakistan's Rise to Grace
Ally (MNNA) in the coming months, the country will find a placeamong US allies like Japan, Australia, Egypt, Kuwait etc. and willenjoy advantages like priority delivery of excess defence articles,stockpiling of US defence materials, participation in cooperativeresearch and development programmes and so on. It would also implya close cooperation between the two countries' armed forces. Inaddition, Pakistan will be eligible to buy depleted Uraniumammunition and get US military training for its officers. There arealso worries that it will enable Pakistan to buy new weapons likeP-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes and Harpoon missiles, andperhaps F-16 fighter jets. However, MNNA status does not have thesame mutual security guarantees offered to the members of NATO. Thecontradiction in the whole rhetoric is, however, this: why wouldPakistan need US arms and their defense technology? To deter India,of course. But the US has, in many words, already said that itwould not mind giving MNNA status to India too!

The new-found increase in the Pak-US defense cooperation iswitnessed by the military-technical cooperation in the ongoingoperations in Wana, the deployment of the secretive Task Force 121,a team of CIA commandos and Special Operations soldiers who hadcaptured Saddam Hussein, the presence of US intelligence teams andplacing of high-tech equipments like eavesdropping technology inthe tribal areas, the US $3 billion assistance over a period offive years and a debt relief package of US $1.5 billion. On March24 2004, the US President waived the 1999-coup related sanctions onPakistan and the country has recently been brought back to theCommonwealth. On the same day, newspapers reported the US supply of2500 flak jackets to the Pak army to fight the tribals in SouthWaziristan. This is apart from the arms and ammunition which havebeen pouring into the region in the past few weeks.

In fact, the military cooperation between the two long-time alliesis nothing new. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, Pakistanhad allowed 57,800 US air strikes on Afghanistan from its soil withan estimated loss of US $ 10 billion to Pakistan's economy. The useof Pakistani airspace by the US Air Force adversely affectedvarious sectors like Civil Aviation, tourism, investment andshipping etc. According to the US Central Command, Pakistan hadprovided five air bases to the US with the permission that fighteraircrafts could land anywhere in case of an emergency. Pakistan'sPasni port was open to the coalition's naval operations duringOperation Enduring Freedom.

What caused this rise to grace?

While this rise to grace has been in the offing for some time, somenew developments have substantially contributed   to this tactical move by the US. One, President Bush is in anurgent need of Pakistan's assistance in capturing Bin Ladenespecially after the Spanish Prime Minister José MaríaAznar was routed in the Spanish national elections for his supportto the US war on Iraq and sending Spanish troops to Iraq foroffensive operations. Moreover, Bush's own reelection will greatlydepend on what happens to Al Qaeda. On the other hand, Pakistanneeds US economic assistance, and a promise that the US will notmake a big issue of the A Q Khan affair. The meeting point,therefore, is Pakistan's rise to grace and increased militaryaccess for the US into Pakistani territory. The loser is Al Qaedaand the victors are likely to be 'moderate Taliban', Hamid Karzaiand Musharraf.

Pakistani domestic reactions

Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal's (MMA) acting president Qazi Hussain Ahmadhas warned the government of dire consequences and claimed that theaggression against the tribals is done to please the US. MMA isalso unhappy about the fact that the MMA-led government in NWFP wasnot informed about the ongoing operations in Waziristan. It alsostaged a walkout in the National Assembly protesting against theattacks. Khurshid Ahmad, leader of Jammat-e-Islami, one of the sixparties which constitute the MMA, says that the MNNA status is atrap to make Pakistan a client state of America and it will turnPakistani soldiers into US mercenaries.

Iqbal Zafar Jharga, leader of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), haswarned that it would negatively affect Pakistan's ties with China.It has also staged huge demonstrations across the provinceprotesting against the military operations in South WaziristanAgency. This view is also echoed by Khwaja Muhammad Khan Hoti whois Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) NWFP chief.

South Waziristan's representative in the National Assembly, MaulanaMerajuddin has warned the Musharraf regime of dire consequences ifthe army is not withdrawn from the tribal regions. Awami NationalParty's central Vice-President, Haji Muhammad Adeel said that underthe pretext of flushing out militants from Wana, Pakistani army ismassacring the tribals. The chief of the Pakhtoowala Mili AwamiParty Mahmood Khan Achakazi has also reacted sharply against theoperations. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-Fazlur Rehman) staged aprotest rally condemning the ongoing military operations in Wana.

Implications for Pakistan

What are the implications of the new-found military status and theongoing anti-tribal operations in Wana for Pakistan? First of all,Pakistan will soon be faced with a two-front problem with therestive tribal areas being the second front. The ongoing strong-armtactics of the Pakistani army in the tribal regions have neitherbeen easy and nor without reactions from the tribals. While 50-55armed personnel from the army, police, Frontier Scouts and thegovernment service have been killed by the tribals and Al-Qaedamembers, 19 scouts, four volunteers, and two political agents havebeen reportedly missing or taken hostage by the tribals and themilitants. As recently as on March 23, tribals attacked theHeadquarters of Pakistan's paramilitary forces and other governmentoffices in Peshawar. Most of these attacks are carried out welloutside the area surrounded by the Pakistani army where they thinkthe terrorists are holed up. This shows the extent of support theterrorists enjoy among the tribals. The Pakistani governmentdecided in the third week of March that 300 houses and 450 shops ofthe Yargulkhel tribe in South Waziristan will be demolished foraiding and abetting the terrorists. Such decisions by thegovernment over and above the indiscriminate killings of thetribals, and the increasing causalities among the Army have placedboth the tribals and the army in a retaliatory mood.

In fact, a war-like situation of rampant attacks and counterattacks is already prevailing in the area. The Pakistani army hasdetained hundreds of tribals for interrogation. The Pakistaniinterior minister, in the meanwhile, has said in no ambiguous termsthat the 'search and destroy' operations will continue to clean upthe tribal areas. Tribals of the surrounding regions of Wana arealso raising their voices against the operations. A week ago,around seven thousand people gathered in the village called SpinKey, 90 km. east of Wana, shouting slogans against America andMusharraf.

The fact that the Pakistani army had to air-bomb its own territoryindicates that the region is spiraling out of control and it isincreasingly becoming difficult to control the anger of thetribals. The adverse implications of the ongoing operations wouldbe felt throughout the country considering the fact that thevarious terror outfits loyal to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda operating inplaces like Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Rawalpindi would attacksoft targets in the days to come.

The ongoing operations will also have deep impact on the Pakistanarmy given the fact that 30 per cent of its officers and soldierscome from NWFP and are thus ethnic Pushtuns. This unrest in thearmy could snowball into a larger crisis if the present operationsagainst the tribals who are ethnically Pushtun is read along withthe discrimination against the Pushtun officers of the Pakistanarmy at the instance of the US. Moreover, the Pakistan army as awhole would not be in a mood to accept the steadily increasingcausalities among its men. Despite the causalities and otherlosses, the army has not been able to catch the 'high-value target'in a war that is being fought against its own people. Theoperations will be labeled as a pleasing act and a failure thusincreasing dissatisfaction within the forces.

While there has been no widespread condemnation in the country ofPakistan's accepting the MNNA status, it is likely to draw protestsonce the operations fall apart and when the word spreads that theentire exercise has been to please the Americans. Added to thatwill be the accusation that at the end of the day the establishmentdid allow the militants to escape striking a deal with the US firstand then the militants. Moreover, all those countries who have beengiven the status of MNNA either have their troops in Iraq orAfghanistan, or have US troops in their territory. Won't thePakistani establishment be asked to send their troops to Iraq andAfghanistan? What will be its internal implications? The US may askPakistan to sign a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) which wouldthen allow the U.S. personnel to have special concessions inmatters like criminal and civil jurisdiction, wearing the uniform,carrying arms, tax and customs relief, entry and exit of personneland property, and resolving damage claims. The US has signed SOFAswith countries like Japan who fall in the MNNA category. Suchagreements will prove to be disastrous for the Musharraf regime inthe long run since the anti-American religious elements in Pakistanthat undoubtedly have a mass base in the country will make a lot ofhue and cry about this. Moreover, this will also add to the alreadyprevailing disgruntlement with in the Pak military itself as itwill have to toe the US lines to a great extent especially onoperational matters. On the other hand, Pakistan itself may becomea target of attacks by militant outfits wedded to anti-Americanismand religious extremism.

Does India need to worry?

Should India need to worry about the MNNA status given to Pakistanby the US? The Indian reactions so far have been mixed with theofficial reactions indicating disappointment and the media dealingwith it with more confidence. One of the reasons for the officialreactions of surprise and despair is the impending parliamentaryelections in the country. The ruling alliance in India has beenclaiming that during its regime it has managed to cement astrategic partnership with the US. The new twist in Pak-Usrelations can shatter this claim.

However, India does not need to be unnecessarily worried aboutPakistan's rise to grace for three reasons: 1) US' friendship withPakistan has always been tactical in the sense that their closefriendship has always ended once the US achieved its objectives. Inreturn, the Pakistani state received weapons, money and a place atthe high table for a limited time. On the other hand, USrelationship with India has been, or is increasingly becoming,strategic in nature. An emerging middle power like India shouldrestrain from making loose statements of despair and frustration inpublic regarding the relationship between other countries. Suchconcerns should be taken up in the appropriate forums. 2)Pakistan's new-found friendship and the consequent offensiveagainst the tribals are likely to put Pakistan in a two-frontproblem which will subsequently increase anti-establishmentextremism all over the country. This, perhaps, may force Pakistanto tone down its anti-India rhetoric and adopt cooperativestrategies. 3) Pakistan's MNNA status is likely to anger Chinaforcing it to increase the pace at which it is getting closer toIndia and distancing itself from Pakistan's state-sponsoredreligious extremism.

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