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Accepting a 'helpful' role
By Anwar Syed
This article was published in the
Dawn The Internet Edition on
07 Oct 2001
Accepting a 'helpful' role

By Anwar Syed

Following the events of September 11, President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell told General Musharraf that they needed Pakistan's "cooperation" in finding and punishing Osama bin Laden and in penalizing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that harboured him. The general's recent address to the nation makes it obvious that the American demands were accompanied by threats of punitive action that would result to Pakistan in case it chose to reject them.

The Americans have demanded access to Pakistan's intelligence resources concerning Osama bin Laden and his organization, and the Taliban-supported terrorist camps. In addition they have demanded the use of Pakistan's airspace and logistical support for air and land-based raids on Afghan territory. Sharing of information poses no serious problem. Use of airspace may or may not involve use of Pakistani air bases. But what does logistical support include?

Ordinarily, logistics refer to the procurement, placement, maintenance, and transportation of military material and personnel for warlike purposes. According to official Pakistani spokesmen, the United States has not so far specified the logistical help it will require, but Pakistan's agreement to provide whatever may be needed would cover several types of facilities, including military bases from which raids on Afghanistan may be launched.

As a first reaction, it does seem weird that we have agreed to aid a foreign power in hitting Afghanistan, a brotherly Islamic country, bound to us with historical, ethnic, and cultural ties that go back hundreds of years. No wonder then that the Islamic parties and "Jihadi" groups in the country are agitated at the prospect of our government aiding any American military operation directed at Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime. Qazi Hussain Ahmad (JI), Maulana Fazlur Rahman (JUI), Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani (JUP), and their counterparts in other Islamic organizations are threatening a mass movement to overthrow the present government if it aids America's design.

Not unexpectedly, the government is worried. Even though its response to the United States appears to have had the support of the great majority of the Pakistani people, the ulema in opposition do have the ability to disrupt further the already fragile state of public order. They could conceivably bring about a civil war. As compared to the sanctity of their own version of Islam, the integrity of Pakistan means little to them.

General Musharraf, his foreign minister, and other spokesmen have been trying to dilute the domestic impact of their assurances to the United States. They are trying to assure all concerned that they do not want Afghan interests to be hurt, that they will not support any campaign to overthrow the Taliban (even while saying that the Taliban's days are numbered), and that they will not allow the use of their territory for launching attacks against Afghanistan. At the same time, and somewhat incongruously, they say also that they favour the establishment of a "broad-based" government in that country which, needless to say, cannot happen without the Taliban's ouster from their present position of supremacy.

Assuming that the government of Pakistan will set aside these ambiguities and place itself squarely on the American side, another train of thought is gaining steam. We are being urged to stand firm and demand an adequate compensation for supporting the American campaign. In their public statements official spokesmen have been coy. They claim that they are acting out of principle, not for reasons of expediency; that they have always opposed terrorism, that their offer to cooperate in fighting it is therefore nothing novel, and that they are not demanding any quid pro quo. Another interesting twist to their position is that they are answering not America's but the world community's call for concerted action against terrorism.

These positions misrepresent the reality on the ground. At this time the world community is not doing very much beyond passing American-sponsored resolutions in the United Nations. Great Britain appears already to have committed a small number of military personnel to the American mission, and other NATO members are willing to bolster American efforts. But make no mistake about it: what we are about to witness will be basically an American operation whose scope and specifics will be determined by American officials. They will consult allies, but one doubts that the latter will be able to veto American plans.

That we do not want a quid pro quo may sound noble but it is untrue. Some of us want remission of all of our foreign debt - $35 billion or thereabout - plus more. We can be sure that our government will try to get whatever it can in return for its assistance. But it should be understood that our compensation will have to bear some proportionality to the services we render. That will depend partly on what the Americans ask us to do.

It seems that the United States knows what it wants to do in the very near future, but its medium-term and long-term plans for combating terrorism remain to be made. The immediate focus of its attention is Afghanistan. It will send in persons, trained in this sort of work, to look for Osama bin Laden. It will try to destroy his camps. It will also want to wipe out terrorist training facilities maintained by the Taliban. Lastly, it will want to overthrow the Taliban regime since in its view that regime is, by its very nature, a breeder, promoter and protector of terrorists.

Beyond sharing information about terrorist camps and hideouts, what can Pakistan do to advance American goals in Afghanistan? I doubt that it can do very much by way of locating Osama bin Laden. In order not to infuriate domestic opponents any further, it will probably refrain from sending its own forces to help the Americans in destroying terrorist camps in Afghanistan. For the same reason, it may not join military moves to overthrow the Taliban. What exactly then are the services Pakistan will render for which it will want to be rewarded? Rewards as well as the services may turn out to be modest.

It is possible that, out of concern for its domestic peace and stability, America will not even ask Pakistan for much of "logistical" support. Its military aircraft have already landed in Uzbekistan, which is ready to give it air bases and ground facilities to launch its raids on Afghan territory. Other Central Asian republics have made similar offers. They too expect to be rewarded.

Americans cannot limit their mission merely to finding Osama bin Laden, a mission whose success is, in any case, problematic. They have to go beyond Osama and move to replace the Taliban if they are to be seen as having accomplished something worthy of their status and even remotely commensurate with the damage inflicted upon their own country. If they overthrow the Taliban, they cannot then just depart and once again leave Afghanistan to its own devices. This time they will have to stay on and put together an alternative government.

Will Pakistan have a voice in the fashioning of a post-Taliban regime? It cannot claim a role simply because it knows the lay of the land and the ways of its people. Others too have that knowledge, notably the Northern Alliance and its supporters in Central Asia. Pakistan's influence on the post-Taliban course of events is not likely to be much greater than its role in the Taliban's overthrow. Normally, one cannot have it both ways or, as they say, have one's cake and eat it too.

Much of what is currently being said in our newspapers carries the impression that the United States and Pakistan have once again become allies. Is this anything more than wishful thinking? If Pakistan is not to play an active role in removing the Taliban, what would the goals of this imagined alliance be? And what would its goals be after the Taliban are gone? How can Pakistan help in eradicating terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world? Other countries in each region may be more likely candidates for that role.

The present turn of events in our relationship with the United States may represent nothing more than a transient coincidence of interests. The tendency to regard it as an alliance carries the risk of a trauma to our national psyche. When the American mission in Afghanistan is accomplished, or abandoned, and America turns its attention to other places, leaving us alone, we will once again come to the agonizing conclusion that we have been "betrayed." Or could it be that our policy makers think America has goals in Central Asia where we can help?

Lastly, one does not expect that somewhere along the line the United States will call upon friendly Muslim governments - albeit quietly - to do what they can to restrain the forces of Islamic fundamentalism. That persuasion is not popular in most of the Muslim countries but, then, nor are their governments. The struggle for the victory of moderation over fanaticism is bound to be long and hard. But of this more later.