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DAWN - Opinion; April 16, 2006

April 16, 2006


What are strategic ties?

By Anwar Syed

IT has become common to use the word, “strategic,” loosely. The United States is professedly interested in developing “a long-term strategic relationship” with Pakistan. It is also firming up a strategic relationship with India, which has traditionally been an adversary of China and Pakistan. Pakistan has been stressing its strategic ties with China for many years.

Washington wants to enable India to act as a counterpoise to China. But during a visit to New Delhi in April 2005, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, and Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart, announced that they were forming a “strategic partnership” to promote peace and prosperity all around. Manmohan Singh added that together their two countries could “reshape the world order.” Will wonders never cease?

The words, “strategy” and “strategic,” may be used in non-political contexts also. For instance, a corporation may develop a marketing strategy to maximize its sales and profits. The captain of a cricket team may have devised a strategy for winning the next match with a rival team. With uses such as these we are not concerned.

Students of international politics used to have a fairly precise understanding of what the word, “strategic,” meant. It was generally used with reference to certain weapons to distinguish them from others that had been designated as “tactical.” For instance, nuclear warheads, each capable of destroying whole towns and killing many thousands of persons, and vehicles capable of carrying them over long distances — such as heavy bombers, inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) or the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) — are clearly strategic weapons. By contrast, short and medium range missiles and small nuclear warheads, whose destructive capability is limited to a radius of a mile or so, deployed to destroy troops and installations on or around a battlefield are generally regarded as tactical.

The distinction between strategic and tactical can be fuzzy. Massive bombing with conventional warheads, carried out by hundreds of warplanes within the space of a few hours, may virtually destroy a city and kill thousands. More than the weapons themselves, it is the purpose behind the move that makes it strategic. If the purpose is to destroy the targeted country’s economic ability to make war now and in the foreseeable future by bombing its cities, factories, rail and road transportation networks, communication systems, oil refineries and power generation stations, the operation is strategic. It is tactical if the objective is to thwart specific enemy moves by hitting its troop concentrations, command and control facilities, airfields and ammunition dumps.

Apart from overt military action, strategic moves are such as have the purpose of changing the status quo significantly to the disadvantage of one’s adversary; tactical moves, by contrast, are the ones intended to preserve the status quo and thwart the other side’s attempts to change it.

America’s purpose in its alliance with Pakistan between 1954 and 1965 was strategic in that it wanted the latter’s assistance in containing the Soviet Union, the opposing superpower. Pakistan did not really share this objective. But it was pleased to receive American military assistance as a means of bolstering its military capability against India, an objective in which the United States had little interest. The strategic element in this relationship thus got botched up inasmuch as the “allies” did not have common goals.

The two countries became “allies” again in the 1980s. At President Reagan’s urging Pakistan agreed to serve as a conduit for the supply of American funds and weapons to the Afghan groups that were fighting the Soviet occupation forces in that country. It was well compensated for rendering this service. Once again, it would be implausible to regard this phase of the Pakistan-American relationship as strategic, since Pakistan shared the American objective only peripherally and acted more as an agent than as a full partner.

The alliance became dormant once again after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988 and did not come to life until the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. American officials concluded that the Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban, located in Afghanistan and along its border with Pakistan, posed a threat to American security, and that they should, therefore, be eradicated. President Bush called upon General Musharraf Pakistan to aid the American campaign against these groups. This his government has been doing diligently.

In 2004, President Bush designated Pakistan a major non-Nato ally, whatever that may mean, and he and other American spokesmen have regularly praised its contribution to the war on terror. The United States is providing Pakistan assistance in the amount of about $700 million a year, half of it in the form of military hardware.

Yet, Pakistan’s anti-terrorist role is an exceedingly complicated affair. Along with the United States, it once supported the Al Qaeda and Taliban in fighting the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. It helped the Taliban against the other warring factions and in taking power in that country. In other words, Pakistan treated them as friends. Then, all of a sudden (after 9/11) the United States called upon Pakistan to start treating them as enemies. This abrupt change of policy and posture, maintained for some 20 years, has not been easy for Pakistan to execute.

The Al Qaeda and Taliban oppose American policies which they regard as imperialistic and expansionist. Many Pakistanis think the same. They tend also to link the issue of terrorism with that of justice in the resolution of international disputes. They will, for instance, not condemn Palestinian violence because they see it as the weaker side’s response to Israel’s state-sponsored terrorism and its persistent confiscation of Palestinian land and usurpation of their rights.

It is not likely that these Pakistanis will regard their government’s partnership with America in the war on terror as strategic, in the sense of being desirable, in the context of Pakistani interests and purposes. Note also that this partnership has little relevance to the horrific problem Pakistan has with indigenous terrorists wreaking havoc in its cities and other places (Balochistan and Waziristan).

At the conclusion of his visit in Islamabad on March 4, 2006, President Bush supported Pakistan’s interest in building a “stable and sustainable” democracy, and hoped the elections next year would be free and fair. He endorsed Pakistan’s efforts to promote peace and prosperity in South Asia, expand economic ties with the United States, develop good relations with Afghanistan, resettle the earthquake victims, spread “enlightened moderation,” promote education, fight extremism and terrorism, encourage tolerance and inter-faith understanding, eradicate poverty, corruption, and injustice.

The United States, he said, would continue to assist Pakistan in meeting its “legitimate” defence needs and in enhancing its capability to fight terrorism. This is the kind of statement he might have issued in the capital of any other friendly developing country that he happened to be visiting. There was nothing strategic about it, especially when you consider that his government has declined to treat Pakistan the way it intends to treat India in several respects, notably that of sharing civilian nuclear technology.

Pakistan has had a strategic relationship with China since the early 1960s. During much of this time, India opposed both Pakistan and China. Pakistan wanted to bolster its military capability vis-a-vis India, and to this end China has been giving or selling high performance weapons to Pakistan at relatively low prices. It has also given Pakistan other types of assistance: it is said to have conveyed to Pakistan some elements of nuclear and missile technology, built nuclear power plants in the country, and it is co-producing with Pakistan JF-17 (Thunder) fighters that are said to compare with F-16.

China has been helping Pakistan build a deep-water port at Gwadar. Road links between Gwadar and the landlocked western provinces of China are to be upgraded, and when that is done, China may have access to the waters of the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.

General Pervez Musharraf was in Beijing for nearly a week (February 20-25, 2006) just a few days before President Bush’s arrival in Islamabad. He signed numerous agreements with his hosts, including one that provides for “deeper cooperation in the peaceful application of nuclear power.” Thus, it is possible that China will give Pakistan what America will not, that is, civilian nuclear technology.

Pakistan supports China’s entry into Saarc, and the Chinese prime minister has invited Musharraf to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in June 2006. Both China and Pakistan oppose the expansion of the United National Security Council, presumably to foreclose the Indian quest for a permanent seat in that body.

Will the current pattern of relations described above hold? Optimists see the winds of change blowing in South Asia. They hope Pakistan and India will eventually attain peace and expanding cooperative relationships. One cannot be certain that this will materialize, but it may. If it does, Pakistan may not feel called upon to take the role of restraining India and confining it to concerns within the sub-continent.

President Bush would like to assign India the role of countering China, but we don’t know that his successors in the White House will share his foreign policy orientations. Moreover, while India will most likely take whatever the United States offers, it may not wish to act as the latter’s agent for restraining China. If we are to take Manmohan Singh’s observation seriously, to wit, that China and India may together redefine the world order, we cannot exclude the possibility that these two Asian giants may some day get together to check America’s expansionist drives.

China and India will both become mighty economic powers and they will be competitors. But their competition need not escalate to political conflict. Both Japan and America have been great economic powers for quite some time and they compete, but they have not become political rivals. Relations between Pakistan and China, and those between Pakistan and the United States, may remain friendly and mutually advantageous, but the strategic element in them will probably diminish with time.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, US.


Renaissance or back to Middle Ages?

By Kunwar Idris

PRESIDENT Musharraf sees a renaissance in the world of Islam in the making in Pakistan. He expects Pakistan to do what the empires and states, bigger and more powerful, failed to do or never attempted to do in a thousand years.

As Christian Europe surged, the Moorish, Ottoman and Safavid empires decayed into colonies that have since sustained the material progress of Europe and America.

Islam missed the Renaissance when dogma and superstition were giving way to learning and enquiry. Then it missed Reformation when the Christian world shed its taboos and shook off the stranglehold of the cloistered clergy. The Industrial Revolution eluded Islam in the eighteenth century and staggering scientific innovations in all walks of life bypassed it in the 20th century, during our lifetime, leaving no room for us to blame past generations.

The beginning of the intellectual movement of the magnitude that brought Europe out of the Middle Ages is nowhere in sight in Muslim countries, not even a flicker of it anywhere. The darkness is thickening, especially in Pakistan. If in some parts of the Muslim world there are beginnings of progress and freedom as, for example, in Turkey and Malaysia, it is because of westernisation (which Musharraf says is not a desirable goal) and not because of the revival of Islamic values and culture.

Wherever Islam with its contemporary norms holds sway, societies stand divided into personal fiefs or tribal monarchies or have fallen under dictatorships under which the people, at best, have limited rights and an even more limited role in public affairs. The majority lives in destitution, only a few in extravagance. Ignorance is a streak common to both.

Reborn in Pakistan is not Islam but fanaticism which is an antithesis of Islam. It is a cult rooted in murder. President Musharraf could have made it less murderous. That he has not done.

Musharraf’s notions of a renaissance instantly ended in his search for dollars when speaking earlier in the week at Islamabad’s English Speaking Union. He urged the Organisation of Islamic Conference to raise a fund for scientific and technological development. He knows OIC will not do so. And thereby hangs a tale. When Abdus Salam won the Nobel Prize in 1979 he called on Gen Ziaul Haq and offered to donate all his prize money to the establishment of a science centre in Pakistan if the government would agree to provide the rest.

Zia’s response was effusive but, as it later turned out, flippant. After an agonising delay the reply that Salam received from the government was that it would subscribe no more than what Salam did. Flabbergasted, he wrote to Gen Zia. It was incredible that a government of 150 million could spare no more than a scientist could. No reply ever came from Zia. Obviously, the government’s offer had his approval. Salam quietly donated his hundred thousand dollars to his school in Jhang where at the age of 12 he had streaked across India for setting an all-time record not in mathematics alone but in English as well.

The tale doesn’t end here. Years later, Salam thought of taking up his idea of the science centre with a better-educated Benazir Bhutto. He was here and asked to see her. He was told that the prime minister was busy but he should call the next day. His Government College buddy Dr Aftab Ahmad told me some years later that tears floated in the eyes of Salam when he told him that “the prime minister has no time to see me even today and nobody is prepared to say when she will see me if at all”. He was packing his bags to leave.

Of course, Salam never thought it prudent to raise the subject with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He knew that when Nawaz Sharif went to their common alma mater he recalled every distinguished alumnus including his Gwalmandi chef but not Salam. For Nawaz Sharif, Salam just did not exist.

The tale goes back in time. When Salam mooted the same idea to Ayub Khan in the 60s he welcomed it but was convinced by his financial advisers that all that Salam was looking for was to build a hotel in the hills for the recreation of his scientist friends. Ayub was heard regretting his decision while he lived.

The Centre for Theoretical Physics (now named after Salam) was built at Trieste with the money provided by the people of the town and the government of Italy. At this centre, the visiting Nobel Laureates teach and guide the scientists coming from all over the developing world for $25 a day — less than a scavenger’s wage.

I have recounted this saga spread over three decades at some length because it epitomises what stands between Pakistan and progress, and more broadly, between Islam and its resurgence as a moral and economic force. It is apathy to knowledge and prejudice clouding vision. Today, I feel convinced Pakistan has the last and the best chance to become a liberal democratic state with a steadily growing economy or slip for all times into the pit of orthodoxy engulfed in sectarian violence and moral corruption.

President Musharraf’s harangues on moderation, modernisation and modernity had long been jarring. Now they offend. By incessant blather he cannot make the poor and persecuted forget that in his seven years of total power he has not repealed nor modified an iota any law or policy on which Ziaul Haq founded his fanatical system that has led the country through a sea of hatred to militancy, to terror and is now predictably heading into full-fledged sectarian warfare.

Within 24 hours of President Musharraf’s blithe discourse on Islamic renaissance, the loudest and the deadliest explosion in the history of Karachi, perhaps of Pakistan, should have reminded him that he has been leading the country in exactly the opposite direction. More than 50 men have been blown to death, among them men of learning and piety, only because the killers didn’t like their beliefs or rituals or for the more mundane reason of keeping their party out of the business of sacrificial skins and zakat.

President Musharraf says naively the killers could not be Muslims. Indeed, they were but of the variety bred by Ziaul Haq. They still hold sway. The same people had gunned down Ahmadis at a pre-dawn prayer on the first day of Ramzan at Mong and at Takht Hazara and scores of Christians earlier. The poignancy of bigoted Islam as opposed to pristine Islam has been driven home now that even the great majority has become its victim.

Pakistan can still be made into a progressive, tolerant state, and despite President Musharraf’s dismal record of seven years, provided (a) he doesn’t link his personal career with his public policy (otherwise he would end up once again being aligned with the doctrinaire parties) and (b) he doesn’t wait to act until he has equipped the country’s 20,000 odd madressahs with computers and put Voltaire and Einstein on their shelves. He has spent seven years talking moderation but, in actuality, has been strengthening extremism. He can reverse all that. Ziaul Haq, indeed, was indispensable to militancy, Musharraf isn’t to moderation.

Standby in Heaven

(This column was written by Art Buchwald from his hospice in Washington, D.C., where he is undergoing care. Buchwald stopped writing his regular column at the end of December, but continues to write occasional columns reflecting on his circumstances.)

WHEN you are in a hospice, you get a chance to sleep a lot. I have this recurring dream. I am at Dulles airport and I have a reservation to go to heaven. I go into the terminal and look at the list of flights. Heaven is at the last gate.

I don’t know if they have reading material on the plane, so I stop at the magazine stand and pick up Vanity Fair, New Yorker and Playboy. I also buy a package of gum and some M&M’s. Then I head toward security.

I have bought my ticket, which says, “When you go to Heaven, you need only one bag, but do not include a cigarette lighter or sharp scissors.” I stand in line for hours. I didn’t realize how many people were on the same flight.

I run into several friends, and I’m surprised to see them. They hadn’t mentioned they were going too. In my dream, several of them are younger than I am, and I knew two who were smokers.

I finally get to the security gate, holding onto my bag for dear life.

The agent says, “You don’t have to bring your computer with you. They have them up there.”

I say to the agent, “I want to hold onto my bag because I don’t want you people to lose it.”

Then they make me take off my jacket, my belt and my shoes.

When I ask why, the agent says, “You don’t want to wear shoes in heaven. They scratch up the floor.”

They send me through another gate because I have a pacemaker. Then they make me stick out my arms and they scan my legs with a wand.

I finally get to the departure gate. Dulles is crowded. In my dream, there are no seats in the waiting area, so I go to Starbucks to kill time. I’m not sure if you get lunch on the plane to heaven. For all I know, they give you a bagel and cream cheese and a soft drink. I am warned by an attendant that I can’t get out of my seat on the flight.

This is kind of silly, because who would hijack a plane to heaven?

It’s open seating on the plane. I know heaven is a wonderful place, but on the way there you have to sit three across. As with all flights, there are emergency exits in case the pilot changes his mind. There are also life jackets under each seat. In my dream, the flight attendants are all beautiful. They hand out blankets and pillows.

Finally I go in. The loudspeaker says, “Heaven is at the last gate, with intermediate stops in Dallas, Chicago and Albuquerque. The plane has just arrived.”

I go up to the desk and ask, “Am I entitled to frequent flyer miles?”

The agent says, “You won’t need any because you’re not coming back.”

Now this is the part of the dream I love. (Remember, this is my dream.) The loudspeaker says, “Because of inclement weather, the flight to heaven has been cancelled today. You can come back tomorrow and we’ll put you on standby.” —Dawn/Tribune Media Services