Bombing Pakistan back to the Stone Age
A controversy has broken out over US threats against Pakistan in the wake of September 11, 2001.
Pakistani opposition politicians are taking advantage of it to attack Gen. Musharraf for having folded in the face of US threats. In fact, Musharraf met with all the major political figures at the time and they appear largely to have concurred with him that they had to turn on the Taliban. Musharraf’s big worry was that if Pakistan did not accede to Bush’s demands, the US would make an alliance with India against Pakistan. That might well have finished the country off, and most in the Pakistani elite at the time understood that. Aside from the fundamentalist Jama’at-i Islami, almost no one even complained.
I am here reprinting one of my widely circulated emails on this issue, sent by email on September 17,2001 to an academic and journalistic discussion list. The posting and the newspaper article appended to it show that the US threat to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age if it did not turn on the Taliban was known to the Pakistani press at that time.
‘ Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 07:19:48 -0400 (EDT)
To: gulf2000 list
From: Juan Cole
The United States demanded last week that Pakistan close the borders with Pakistan, cut off fuel to the Taliban, open its air space to the US for an attack on Afghanistan, and indicate a willingness to have US and allied troops stationed on its soil.
The response from the right wing (the old ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] officers e.g.) of the Pakistani military was quite defiant. In an interview with Deutche-Welle’s Urdu service broadcast on Saturday 9-15, former chief of staff Aslam Beg rejected the demands as the sort that would be made on a “slave country” (ghulam mulk), and confidently predicted that neither Pakistani air space nor its soil would be opened to US forces. He complained that Pakistan had given enormous support to the US both during the anti-Soviet struggle and the Gulf War, and had been left in the lurch each time (the US cut off aid to Pakistan after the Russians left, citing the nuclear weapons program–though that existed in the 80s, too). Former Inter-Services Intelligence chief Hamid Gul spoke in a similarly defiant manner, though he said he said he realistically expected the US to be able to use Pakistani air space, given that it was a superpower. Gul attended the All-Parties conference on Saturday, held under the auspices of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami, that issued a call for non-cooperation with US moves against Afghanistan (all parties did not actually attend). It is hard to imagine that current ISI Chief Lt-Gen Mehmud, who reportedly is hand in hand with the Taliban, felt any differently.
By now, Pakistan has acceded to virtually all explicit US demands, and President Musharraf appears to be troubled and puzzled that he is also being pressured to accede to many as yet unstated demands without knowing what they are. As I write, Lt.-Gen. Mehmud is in Qandahar trying to impress on Mulla Muhammad `Umar, head of the Taliban, that he should hand over Usama Bin Ladin immediately.
The Pakistan military and what is left of its civilian bureaucracy has therefore acquiesced in President Bush’s demands, even though Pakistan has declined to involve its own troops in fighting outside the country.
What accounts for the alacrity with which Musharraf has moved on this issue? First of all, he appears to have been bluntly threatened. Dawn quotes Pakistani officials as saying, that ” ‘Pakistan has the option to live in the 21st century or the Stone Age’ is roughly how US officials are putting their case.” It is astonishing that the US is talking like this behind the scenes, if true, though presumably the blunt language is coming from aides & lower-level bureaucrats. If Aslam Beg took umbrage at Pakistanis being ordered around like servants, what does he think of them being threatened as though by mafiosi? It shows that in some senses we are already in a war, that a Manichean lining up of assets and enemies is going on, with all countries being the one or the other, willy nilly. It also reveals what those US officials think lies in store for Afghanistan (though as many have pointed out, Afghanistan doesn’t have far to go in that direction anyway).
In addition, Musharraf himself is a moderate to secular man. Early on after making his coup against Nawaz Sharif, he announced that he thought Turkey would be an excellent model for Pakistan. This remark provoked a firestorm of protest and he subsequently gave in to the enormous influence of the religious right. But having had to give in may have chafed, and he has plenty of potential allies in civil politics in Pakistan who deeply dislike the religious Right, including much of the Pakistan People’s Party (which pointedly did not attend Saturday’s All-Parties Conference). Musharraf may in part see this episode as a way of reducing the power of the religious right and reviving his mildly Ataturkist vision.
Finally, he clearly wants, and told Bush so, a resolution of the Kashmir issue under the good auspices of the US, though he was careful not to make anything a quid pro quo (people with one foot in the Stone Age are apparently anyway not in a position to present any quids). Musharraf must hope that the US will finally be eager to invest diplomatic efforts to quieten any situation that inflames Muslim political passions, and that after inflicting substantial attrition on the Bin Ladin network, the US will turn to being an honest broker on Kashmir.
Monday morning in Pakistan, the Peshawar-based Frontier Post was reporting that the Taliban had already set up anti-aircraft batteries on their side of the Khyber Pass, aiming them for the first time in Pakistan’s direction. It speculates that will be given the use of the Budbher air force base, which it once used to spy on the Soviet Union. It also reported that 50 US military personnel had already landed at Peshawar on Saturday. If true, this report suggests that Musharraf’s actual decision-making took place even faster than his tentative public statements of Friday would have suggested.
Juan Cole History University of Michigan
Dawn (Karachi), 9-17-01 But the most immediate concern for the Musharraf government is the US pressure. Close associates of President General Pervez Musharraf say that he is under tremendous pressure because “events are moving at a bewildering pace.” Saturday night’s telephone call from the US President George Bush was not just to thank him on his support but to also ask what has Pakistan decided on providing logistical assistance to the military operation. The US is not keeping according to the schedule of Pakistan’s final decision; it wants a decision and a final detailed yes according to its own plans – not all of which have been shared with Pakistan.
Pakistan according to some officials wants the US to also provide it with some incentives: economic and military assistance, removal of sanctions, debt relief, active role in helping it to solve the Kashmir problem and no role of India and Israel in this military operation.
However, the signals from Washington are that while these demands will be considered sympathetically, at this point in time the only incentive that is available to Pakistan is negative. “Pakistan has the option to live in the 21st century or the Stone Age” is roughly how US officials are putting their case. ‘