US-Pakistan Relations “Broad-Based”
Four Suspected al-Qaeda Captured in Peshawar
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence along with, probably, the FBI arrested four foreign Muslims in Peshawar on Thursday. They are: Abdul Aziz of Kunduz,Afghanistan; Mustafa, a Turk; Sulaiman, a Spaniard; and Tulan, a Russian Muslim. The four are suspected of being al-Qaeda.
Pakistani intelligence has tracked down and arrested some 600 such al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, including big shots like Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad. Since the jihadis keep trying to kill President Musharraf, he has every incentive to pursue this quarry. US media cover this story less often than they should, but Reuters and other wire services report it from time to time (I’m linking to another Pakistani raid against al-Qaeda, in early March, which involves two Sudanese, a Qatari, and two others.)
US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker emphasized that the United States wants a broad-based and long-term engagement with Pakistan. Honest and straightforward diplomat that he is, Crocker admitted that the US had in the past sometimes allied with Pakistan on a single issue and then just walked away afterwards. Crocker is a career diplomat who knows the Muslim world intimately and has developed a reputation as an effective combatant against al-Qaeda in the field. The US could do with a couple hundred more of him.
On what basis can there be a broad-based US-Pakistani relationship?
1. Pakistani intelligence is on the front lines in the fight against al-Qaeda. If anyone finds Bin Laden, it will likely be them. Al-Qaeda’s capacity to strike US targets in South Asia and neighboring regions has been crippled because of the effectiveness of the Pakistanis.
2. Pakistan is a counter-weight to Iran in the region. A nuclear power with twice Iran’s population and a professional military some 400,000 strong, Pakistan is in geopolitical competition with Tehran for influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia, as well as in the eastern Arab world. President Musharraf is a Turkish-style secularist and Pakistan has been moving back to parliamentary governance, so that it could develop as among the biggest Muslim democracies.
3. Pakistan is an important back channel to China, with which it has had a longstanding and close alliance.
4. Pakistan’s cooperation is key to finding a peaceful and mutually satisfactory solution to the Kashmir issue, which is among the global flashpoints the US government must help resolve for the sake of US and world security.
If anyone is puzzled about why the US has relented and finally allowed Pakistan to have F-16s (after having earlier taken their money for the order, then cancelled it and kept the money), they should just imagine what those four characters in Peshawar were really up to, and what it might have developed into if Musharraf hadn’t sent the ISI in after them. Of course, the US military-industrial complex does benefit from such sales, but it would have benefited a decade ago when the US government forbade them. The change is not in profitability, the change is in the mutual long-term strategic interests of the United States and Pakistan.
Critics of the newly warm relations between the United States and Pakistan typically focus on past issues. It is true that the Inter-Services Intelligence used to be dominated by extreme fundamentalists. This orientation was if anything helped, however, by the funneling of billions to it by the Reagan administration for the purpose of inciting radical Muslims against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. These extremists have in large part been purged by Musharraf, in any case.
It is also true that Pakistan’s military governments at the very least winked at A.Q. Khan’s one-man nuclear proliferation program. But it was probably mainly accomplished in the days of the fundamentalist generals, and Musharraf and the current chiefs of staff are not the ones responsible for it.
The legitimate criticism of Pakistan’s current government is that Musharraf did not run for president against an actual rival, and refuses to take off his uniform. Parliament is therefore not really sovereign. Pakistan is not currently exactly a dictatorship, since the elected parliament can and does buck the president, not to mention criticizing him relentlessly. But if the US is to have long-term broad-based relations with it, Musharraf must make a choice between being the equivalent of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and being civilian president.
Good US relations with Pakistan must not come at the expense of good relations with India. Rather, the US should use its good offices to help the two make peace, which would benefit both of them economically and culturally. Indo-Pakistan peace would help create a huge new Asian commercial market. If Afghanistan could be put on a sound footing, you could have a truck trade from Delhi up through Pakistan to Kabul and Tashkent, and from there to Beijing, through Asia. A 21st century silk road would spread prosperity and promote democracy and peace.