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Tense Dilemma In Islamabad

Tense Dilemma In Islamabad

Author: Arnaud de Borchgrave
Publication: The Washington Times
Date: November 15, 2001
URL: http://www.washtimes.com/commentary/20011115-81805556.htm

For Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf it was an unmitigated disaster. Already the Pakistani media are accusing the U.S. of betrayal and Gen. Musharraf of being rolled by President Bush. Pakistan's enemies are now in Kabul.

Hours after September 11, President Bush called Gen. Musharraf in Islamabad and asked him point-blank whether he was ready to join the U.S.-led war against transnational terrorism, i.e., against the Taliban regime and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

First Gen. Musharraf wanted to know whether this meant the U.S. was turning a new page in relations with Pakistan. Mr. Bush assured him he was not wedded to the anti-Pakistani positions of previous administrations and that relations would be restored to the close alliance that existed prior to Pakistan's nuclear buildup. Economic and military sanctions were to be lifted and a generous package of debt relief measures and other assistance would be put together as a matter of top priority. Gen. Musharraf then agreed to join Mr. Bush's coalition as a full partner without reservations.

The acid test of a new military relationship was to be the delivery of 28 F-16 fighter-bomber that Pakistan paid for in the 1980s, but that were impounded and mothballed in Arizona when Congress cut of all aid and military sales in 1990. Pakistan's secret nuclear weapons program, that was a response to India's similar program that began in 1974, was cited as the reason.

Gen. Musharraf brought up the matter last week in his talks in New York with both Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was turned down, which was interpreted in Pakistan as a victory for the Indian lobby in Washington. Adding insult to injury, another U.S. assurance was also violated. Mr. Bush told him that Afghanistan's Northern Alliance forces, backed by Russia, Iran and India, and more recently by the U.S., would not enter Kabul pending the formation of a broad-based coalition.

Not only did victorious Northern Alliance forces roll into Kabul today, but they began executing Pakistani volunteers who did not realize that Taliban forces had suddenly decided to fall back on Kandahar, their religious capital. Gen. Musharraf arrested Pakistan's extremist religious leaders who had called for tribesmen to join the war against the American infidel. But now his domestic enemies have fresh political ammunition to undermine him.

Pakistani newspapers are also filled with speculation that the U.S. deliberately dragged its feet on the creation of a post-Taliban coalition. Key tribal leaders in both Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province, including some who had sent secret messages to U.S. intermediaries that they were ready to turn against Taliban, are yet to be contacted by U.S. representatives.

Pashtun tribal leaders who command anywhere from 100,000 to 400,000 fiercely loyal subjects are angry with Gen. Musharraf. Taliban followers are equally at home on both sides of the border. They have used both Quetta and Peshawar as rest-and-recreation centers. Many Taliban leaders also have homes in these cities where they have kept their families during the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Pakistani authorities have faced Baluchi secessionist movements ever since independence half a century ago. If Taliban is pushed out of Kandahar, Baluchistan could quickly become Taliban territory, thus fracturing Pakistan. Without a U.N. peacekeeping force of "blue helmets" drawn from Muslim nations in charge in Kabul, tribal leaders can only assume Pakistan has been stabbed in the back by the U.S. - yet again.

While Gen. Musharraf was traveling in France, Britain and the U.S. last week, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency continued to undermine him. Despite Gen. Musharraf's denials in last weekend's interviews, ISI remains powerful and arrayed against him. The dismissal of Gen. Mahmood Ahmad as ISI director two days before the U.S. bombing started in early October has not changed the agency's anti-American mentality. ISI has overseen Taliban's Pakistani supply line since the early 1990s.

More recently, ISI has been encouraging extremist religious groups to send heavily armed Pakistani tribesmen and religious militants into Afghanistan through a variety of mountain passes. ISI's key man for the operation was Mullah Sufi Mohammed, head of Tanzeem Nifaz Shariat-I-Mohammedi (Organization for the Implementation of the Prophet's Teachings). He has been directing the operation from Kunarh Province. Most of the volunteers proceeded to Jalalabad, the Afghan city closest to the Khyber Pass and a one-time al Qaeda stronghold.

Some 15,000 armed jihadis (holy warriors) have crossed the border via the Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies that are controlled by ISI.

Pakistani newspapers are still supporting Taliban, Osama bin Laden and religious groups while condemning U.S. policies. And Gen. Musharraf is the leader who got snookered by the U.S. with an aid package worth about $1 billion. Pakistan's annual foreign debt servicing charges run $3 billion. The failure to obtain the release of Pakistan's 28 F-16s is seen as Gen. Musharraf's military donnybrook.

Even Pakistan's moderate political cognoscenti, in telephone conversations with this writer, talk about Washington's ulterior motives in the region. They see the Bush administration seizing September 11 as an opportunity to establish a land route from the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea in order to control the future of the world's oil supplies from Central Asia. In Pakistan, when you offer some pols a penny for their geopolitical thoughts, you get change.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times, a position he also holds with United Press International.

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