Monday, December 26, 2011

Remembering A Crisis As Pak Sinks Into Another

Remembering A Crisis As Pak Sinks Into Another
Saeed Naqvi

President Bill Clinton’s five day visit to India in 2000 followed by a five hour stopover in Islamabad convinced New Delhi that the world order had changed. Relationships were to be shaped by the new post cold war realities, not old loyalties.

But quite as abruptly, this order was once again re fashioned by President George W. Bush, post 9/11. Pakistan became a frontline state all over again.

Oh, the praise that was lavished on President Musharraf, mornings and evenings, by President Bush as “our most reliable ally”. This “most reliable of allies” kept a plausible manner in fighting the American war on terror as its very own. This entailed a shrewd selection of enemy targets: which target to hit so as to minimize the blowback. That this was an impossible circus act, soon caught up with Musharraf. There were those deep differences with President Hamid Karzai who repeatedly pointed out Pakistani fingerprints on Taleban activity in Afghanistan

A regular pattern emerged in which Musharraf and Karzai accused each other of being “soft” on Taleban on the other side. This mutual recrimination implied an absence of concerted action against the Taleban. This suited Pakistan to the extent that it kept Pushtoon nationalism on both sides of the Durand line from flaring up uncontrollably. In Kabul this has never been much of a concern. It does not recognize the Durand line.

Contemporary International politics these days is sometimes not determined so much by ground realities as by the manner of their projection on Washington’s late night serious talk shows. These shows began to focus excessively on Musharraf’s “double dealing” in the war on terror. This at a time when the war in Iraq was by now an unmitigated disaster.

Republicans were proceeding towards the 2009 elections in a daze, with reversals in Iraq being compounded by the mess in Afghanistan. Noises in the US became more shrill by the day that Musharraf was either unwilling or unable to wage effective war on terror.

To still some of these noises, large scale US and Pak military action in Swat and Waziristan were launched with predictable consequences. The blow back shifted from Afghanistan to the Pak side of the border. The entire Pushtoon belt along the border was in a state of rebellion.

Lal Masjid in Islamabad had flared up occasionally since 2001 but in 2007, Ghazi Rashid and Maulana Aziz raised their decibel levels against Musharraf “fighting America’s war” against terrorism. Followed assassination attempts on him. Military action on Lal Masjid coincided with the lawyer’s agitation. Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry began to press for he missing persons cases, something that would have brought the Army’s participation in the nasty “renditions” under the arc lamps at a time when the Army’s reputation was the lowest in living memory.

Removing Musharraf at this juncture would have meant going soft on the “war on terror”. Also, President Bush could not be seen to be dumping his “most reliable ally”, particularly when the “ally’s” neck was on the line.

It was then that a formula was devised to have a troika consisting of a President, Prime Minister and Army Chief replace the lonesome figure of Musharraf. The troika, not just Musharraf, would be exposed to the ever stronger blowback from the war on terror.

Such was the wave of anti Americanism that when Benazir Bhutto landed in Karachi, after having recklessly promised a fight to the finish on terror and allowing nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to be interrogated, that she became easy prey for determined assassins. Asif Zardari is, therefore, an unintended consequence of a deal that was struck between the Americans, Benazir and the Army.

As Pakistan proceeds towards a new scenario which includes fresh elections, a few facts from 2008 elections: Nawaz Sharif untainted by American and Army affiliations, came up trumps in the Punjab. And, something I will never forget about that campaign: neither India nor Kashmir were mentioned even once. A common refrain in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi was: an enemity and a friendship have cost us dear. But that was many moons ago even though optimists may like to keep their fingers crossed as preparations are under way for the Commerce and External affairs Minister to visit Islamabad.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Turkey And Syria Press The Pause Button

Turkey And Syria Press The Pause Button
Saeed Naqvi

Just as Europe is beginning to look economically desperate, Turkey next door looks like the very picture of economic, political and strategic stability. The ultimate irony, ofcourse, is that after having prepared itself on every possible count for eligibility to enter Europe, Turkey is no longer interested in Europe.

Paradoxically, having to fulfill the criteria for European entry, Turkey has had to improve all its institutions. These many improvements will have stood Turkey in good stead whether or not it ever enters Europe. For the foreseeable future that project appears to be on the abandoned list.

For years German, French and various central European leaders have held that Europe was basically Christian in its religious and cultural orientation. And, now the sheer economic decline of Europe may trigger a rethink at a time when enthusiasm for Europe is at its minimal in Turkey.

A region where the Americans have been leaning on Turkish help has been the Balkans. The warmth in US-Turkish equation climaxed with the creation of a Muslim state of Kosovo.

It is therefore not surprising that whenever US-Russian relations dip, the Russians locate a place in the Balkans from where to exert pressure on the Americans.

Recently, at the time when tensions were being ratcheted up around Syria, the Russian sent their fleet into the eastern Mediterranean in support of the Bashar al Assad regime.

Since Kosovo has been carved out of Serbia, the northern enclave called Mitrovica, contiguous with Serbia, is often restive against Muslim Kosovar domination. The minority Serbs, who reject Kosovo’s statehood, have been blocking roads and border crossings dislocating supplies into Kosovo.

This year, in the process of poking their finger into the US and Turkish eyes, thousands of citizens of Mitrovica made a public demonstration of their application for Russian citizenship. The move was designed to underscore pan Slavic nationalism, as well as to expose the fragility of American hold on Kosovo. It is generally not recognized that despite all their joint exertions, the US and Turkey have not been able to mobilize recognition for Kosovo beyond a dismal figure of about 45 states which includes countries like Nauro.

To balance the US creation of Kosovo, Russians too have not been tardy: they have carved out of Georgia, the two pro-Russian enclaves of Abkhazia and Ossetia.

The tight embrace between Russia and the Southern Slavs of Serbia is on account of two factors: the inseparable Slavic bond and an equally durable Orthodox Church linkage.

For Turkey the Balkans are an area of co-ordination with the US and possible contention with the Russians.

In Iraq, one would normally expect the Turkey-Iran rivalry to extend. But this has not been the case so far. In fact the very fact of American presence in Iraq has had the effect of bringing Teheran and Ankara together on the Kurdish issue.

The evolution of the Akhwan ul Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world has generated some enthusiasm among the Justice and Development party (or AK party). First, Prime Minister Teyyip Erdogan was welcomed in Cairo and Tripoli with the sort of fanfare which was once reserved for leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The extraordinary charisma of Erdogan became a huge incentive in the rapidly transforming Arab world. He became a model to emulate. Turkey became the democracy to follow.

That Erdogan has Akhwan ul Muslimeen roots, makes him interested in the expansion of the Akhwan turf across Arab lands.

It was this positive response to the Brotherhood that was at the heart of Erdogan’s change of heart towards Syria.

Kemal Ataturk’s secularism was a mirror image of the Ba’ath secularism in vogue in Damascus. But after Erdogan won three elections in succession on a platform of mild, Islamic conservatism, Kemalist secularism became irrelevant to his purposes without his having to do anything about it.

This mild variety of Islamism which is Erdogan’s hallmark, was sought to be promoted in Syria. Bashar al Assad was invited to accommodate this variety of the Brotherhood in the political reforms he was being persuaded to undertake.

But before Assad could get into his stride, Stephen Ford, a 007 like US ambassador, was running around the country creating conditions for civil war. This kind of aggressive diplomacy has had the effect on Assad to press the pause button which has then been played up by the media as his dictatorial obstinacy.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

US-Pak Love-Hate Takes A Dip

US-Pak Love-Hate Takes A Dip
Saeed Naqvi

Major General Ashfaq Nadeem, Director General, Pak Military operations, says NATO Forces were alerted that they were attacking military posts but the helicopters kept attacking. The death of 24 officers has raised a storm in Pakistan.

During the early years of the US invasion of Afghanistan, it was fairly common for the US, NATO or ISAF to hit wrong targets. Military officials, attached to various embassies in Kabul, were full of stories on how the local “contacts”, part of the improvised mercenary intelligence, had deliberately misled the Americans to attack, say, a wedding party belonging to a tribe with which the “contact” had an old score to settle.

Countless scores were settled. Every incident had its own novelty, but the broad pattern was similar. The military official, mostly American, would be taken to an obviously secure place to meet a “contact” who would demand money, arms, and thousands of yellow packets of food. The “contact” would ask the US official to hold his fire until he, the official, got a signal to summon the helicopter gunships to exhaust their magazines on the other side of the hillock on an Al Qaeda training session. On numerous occasions, the target was a wedding party.

Double dealing with the Americans was built into Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s U-turn to fall in line in the war on terror. Musharraf was being invited to destroy exactly the forces Pakistan, Saudis and the Americans had diligently trained to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan.

As the center of gravity of the war on terror gradually shifted from Afghanistan to the Pakistan side of the border, consuming Musharrf, destabilizing an internally tense and divided Pakistan, bringing a new set of political actors, the Pakistan army became less willing to part with all the “Mujahideen” assets it had built up once an Afghan Endgame became the incantation.

This enlarged the trust deficit between the Pak Army and the Americans. The US sergeant incharge of a communications center involved in the attack which killed Pak soldiers, gave no credence to Pakistani protestations. The US and Pakistan are coordinating their war on terror in an atmosphere of total mistrust.

There is a school of thought in Kabul, close to the intelligence community which believes that Pakistanis cross border mischief in Afghanistan will continue until the Americans frontally take on the GHQ in Rawalpindi.

The growing divide between public opinions on both sides of the Af-Pak border may also come in handy at a time when the Strategic Partnership Agreement with the US is in the bargain. It reflects on the adversarial Af-Pak equation that the souring of US-Pak relations helps soften the Afghan mood towards the US, an enabling condition for the Agreement.

Pakistan has no option but to respond to Public outrage. Blocking of the two NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and denying the use of a Baloch airfield to the CIA is actually a low risk retaliation when Iran, Hezbullah, Syria are much more in the eye of a huge, global storm.

Iran’s Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh of Aerospace Division, has raised the stakes in the region by declaring that Teheran will target NATO missile shield in Turkey if Iran is attacked by Israel or the US.

All these distractions notwithstanding, the blocking of the NATO supply routes is no trifling matter either. Even though a large percentage of the supplies now take the central Asian routes, at least 40 per cent of supplies have to traverse Pakistan.

Further, Islamabad’s virtual absence from the Bonn conference on Afghanistan upsets the White House script on an issue of considerable interest in the build upto the November 2012 US Presidential Election.

President Barack Obama has created an illusion the US is withdrawing from Afghanistan by, say 2012. The script will emerge in bolder relief by May 2012 when Obama will host an important conference on Afghanistan. The conference, in Chicago, with NATO and other stakeholders in attendance, will take stock of the situation at that stage. It is just conceivable the global recession will be overshadowed by a war for which clouds are already gathering in and around the straits of Hormuz. Will a nice, big war help Obama’s re election?

Whoever wins the election, the script in Afghanistan until 2014 and beyond will be written by that new administration after November 2012. You need a superior clairvoyant to enlighten you where President Hamid Karzai may be resident after 2014?

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