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LETTER FROM ISLAMABAD: Cartoon and other exhaustions
by Ayaz Amir
The consequences are before us. In India the American president is ecstatic in praising Indian democracy and Indias achievements in the economic field. In Pakistan he presses its military ruler on democracy and ‘the war on terrorism’. Gen Musharraf may say that Pakistan does not follow an ‘Indo-centric’ policy but with everything in Pakistan’s arsenal — from tanks to missiles to nuke capability — India-specific, there won’t be many takers for this newest theory.

OVER the cartoon issue the people of Pakistan have demonstrated themselves to a standstill. What are the various forms of protest? We, or rather the religious right (especially the Jamaat-i-Islami which was in the forefront of this campaign), have tried them all: rallies, strikes, a nation-wide near-shutdown, some spirited burning and looting in Lahore and Peshawar.

Not that the religious right was behind the burning and looting. Armchair analysts said that was the work of the ‘the exploited under-class’. That may have been so but the under-class vanished as quickly as it had emerged. Exploitation and the under-class haven’t ceased to exist. But where on earth have both disappeared?

Anyhow, the cartoon issue having been played out, exhaustion has set in. I doubt if transport and trade organizations will heed any more calls for strikes and shutdowns. Faith is faith and there can be no quarrelling with that, not in Pakistan where we tend to take such matters seriously, often over-seriously. But business is business and that too must go on.

In a quirky way, George Bush’s visit to Pakistan has helped pull the final curtains on the cartoon issue. For it has brought home to the people of Pakistan that:

‘Aur bhi gham hain zamanay mein, muhabbat key siwa.’

(‘There are other sorrows in the world beside love.’)

Before, it was the cartoon issue dominating the political landscape. Now the whole of political Pakistan (that part of it which takes such issues to heart) is mourning the Bush visit, comparing it unfavourably to his much more hyped visit to India.

Bush may have done Pakistan no other favours but for this shift of focus he deserves our thanks.

While we may have badly needed this splash of cold water on our faces, all in all the Pakistani reaction is still a bit strange and not a little tinged by something that can only be called paranoia.

What gifts were we expecting George Bush to bring with him? Didn’t we know that the Americans and the Indians had been discussing the terms of the nuclear deal they have now signed for some time? Wasn’t there a strong possibility that it would be signed during Bush’s trip to India? Weren’t we also aware that nothing similar had been discussed with Pakistan? So when all the pieces fell into place, why the surprise? There is fairly strong opposition to this deal on Capitol Hill because of fears it will undermine the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

But this deal alone does not define Indo-American relations. Whether it goes through or not, the uncomfortable fact remains that no one considers us and India to be in the same league.

Size and population and even history and culture go only some way to explain this invidious comparison. India is surging ahead economically and counts for something on the world stage. During the Cold War and the heyday of nonalignment, its principal export was moral self-righteousness, served ever so often with large dollops of hypocrisy. It was fashionable then to speak of the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. Alas, not any more.

We, on the other hand, who began on a fairly promising note, successfully laying the foundations of a new state and on the economic front doing better than anyone had expected, are now famous for other things: terrorism-related items, jihad, religious fanaticism and a benign tolerance of military dictators. Can we blame anyone for viewing us differently?

So what is all the mourning about? What were we expecting from George Bush? If we had any sense, we should have given this visit a pass, politely informing our American friends (no tongue-in-cheek remark this because they remain our friends) that there was just no way we could express our great love for George Bush in less than five days.

And if he couldn’t spare five days then we would wait impatiently for the time when he could.

In the event, we settled for a half-measure which, far from doing us any good, or adding anything to the well-known and established parameters of our relationship with the US, has only generated the feeling that the US is not a reliable friend and has let us down once again.

As nonsense goes, this is rich. The US hasn’t betrayed the terms of the alliance we struck with it post-September 11. As part of that deal we undertook to provide certain facilities — airbases and the like — and perform certain functions — like helping catch Al Qaeda elements — strictly in the context of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

In return, the US agreed to give us nearly 700 million dollars annually — half military assistance, half economic aid — for five years. It was also helpful in getting some of our loans rescheduled. We weren’t forced to accept this at gunpoint. This was the price Gen Musharraf, with open eyes, put on Pakistani cooperation.

There were personal benefits for Gen Musharraf too. Prior to Sep 11 he was considered little better than a tinpot dictator.

Post-Sept 11, after Pakistan agreed to become an ally in ‘the war on terror’, he became an overnight international sensation, presidents and prime ministers from all over the world desperate to visit Pakistan and shake his hand.

This must have been a heady feeling which perhaps goes some way to explain why Musharraf and those of his generals who were in the decision-making loop (a tiny number) didn’t look too closely at all the aspects of their pact with the United States.

Afloat on a self-generated tide of hype and spin they got hold of the word ‘strategic’ as if they had invented it, and applied it to every category known and unknown to man. Appearing on TV Gen. Musharraf declared that the new American connection would safeguard Kashmir policy, protect nuclear assets and boost the economy.

Kashmir apart, about which there is nothing that anyone can do, this wasn’t an inaccurate assessment. We know American concerns about nuclear non-proliferation, and if the US has been less demanding than it might have been in wanting to question Dr A. Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani A-bomb, suspected of trading in nuclear secrets, this is due in no small measure to our Afghan and Al Qaeda services.

If only our military leaders had stopped at the frontiers of realism. Instead they chose to step into fantasy-land, loading the American grid with more ‘strategic’ voltage than it could carry.

The false expectations were ours. America was scarcely to blame. The question of betrayal therefore does not arise.

Military dictators flourished once upon a time. They were even held up as models of virtue and progress. Their day is up. No one takes them seriously any more. The US is happy dealing with a military ‘strongman’ because it is convenient, decision-making becoming easier. But this does not mean the US will not exploit his weaknesses.

The consequences are before us. In India the American president is ecstatic in praising Indian democracy and Indias achievements in the economic field. In Pakistan he presses its military ruler on democracy and ‘the war on terrorism’. Gen Musharraf may say that Pakistan does not follow an ‘Indo-centric’ policy but with everything in Pakistan’s arsenal — from tanks to missiles to nuke capability — India-specific, there won’t be many takers for this newest theory.

In Pakistan the same man receives the US president one day and meets the Centcom commander, Gen Abizaid, the next, on both occasions stressing Pakistan’s services in ‘the war on terror’. Problems of style dog him.

For Bush he must wear a civilian suit, for Abizaid the trademark army uniform. The labours of Hercules look less complicated.

Posted by: Seafarious 2006-03-19
http://www.rantburg.com/poparticle.php?ID=145884