November 2001 News

Fortune cookie crumbles

29 November 2001
The pioneer
Anil Narendra

New Delhi: September 11 and November 13 are two dates which Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf will always remember. After the September 11 attacks, General Musharraf became an overnight star in the Western world. However, November 13 brought him down to 'ground zero'. Faced with the American ultimatum: 'Either you are with us or against us' - the consequences of which for Pakistan would have been bankruptcy and its nuclear arms taken out - General Musharraf obediently fell in line and became the darling of the Western world. President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Schroeder rushed to embrace him. From the UN to 10, Downing Street, the General was showered with magnanimous praises. Billions of dollars started flowing into Islamabad's empty coffers. From complete isolation, Pakistan was back on the centrestage; it was once again given the status of a 'frontline state' in promoting Western strategic objectives. Till then isolated, General Musharraf started believing that he was Pakistan's new messiah, destined to lead his country to prosperity and a leadership role in South and South-West Asia. However, November 13 changed all that. Greeted by cheering residents, Northern Alliance fighters walked into Kabul in defiance of American and Pakistani pressure to stay out, after the Taliban under the cover of darkness abandoned the city. The US had ditched Pakistan at the first opportunity, permitting the Northern Alliance to take over Kabul despite a public commitment to Islamabad not to allow this. The Alliance leaders were openly boasting that they entered Kabul at the behest of President Bush, who later declared that he was delighted by the turn of events. The fall of Kabul has transformed the situation radically and General Musharraf must be greatly worried. In September, the US needed him as the central element in its anti-Taliban offensive. Today, it is he who needs the US as his main benefactor, to keep him in power. Now that American, British and French troops have started operating from inside Afghanistan, Pakistan is no longer an indispensable partner in the US-led anti-terror campaign. Pakistan today stands completely isolated. No Afghan faction wants to be associated with it, and Pakistan is a political liability in the current US-led task of forming a broad-based, multi-ethnic government in Kabul. The turn of events since November 13 is undoubtedly a strategic debacle for General Musharraf and Pakistan. Islamabad suddenly finds itself without any significant friends across its northern frontier. The Taliban, hitherto cultivated by Pakistan at the expense of friendly relations with other nations, are bitter about General Musharraf's volte face. It is not just the remnants of the Taliban forces that General Musharraf has to contend with, but also the disillusioned and shattered jihadis in his own country. Can General Musharraf, then, come out unscathed from the hole he is in? Till November 13, he had played his cards quite well. But today he has no control over the events. Secretary Colin Powell's visit made it clear that the operations are being directed from Washington and Pakistan's advice is not being taken. The Government faces no threat for now. So far, all those supporting the military strikes inside Afghanistan are in the government. Public anger is mounting and anti-US demonstrations could assume worrying proportions. If the ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan doesn't end swiftly, then the anxiety of the people will mount. It seems General Musharraf's future is tied with the US's war strategy. Enduring Freedom could well endure for weeks and, if so, the Pakistan President could get trapped in the rubble of Afghanistan. Things may or may not have remained the same in Afghanistan but the ranks of those opposing General Musharraf in Pakistan have discernably swelled. Even the silent majority feels it can't remain a mere spectator as mutilated bodies are pulled out of the rubble in Jalalabad and Kunduz. General Musharraf's close friend Secretary Powell seems to believe that the Pakistani leader is firmly in saddle. When asked whether he thought that General Musharraf's government will remain stable during this war, Secretary Powell said: 'I have spent a lot of time talking to President Musharraf and I am very impressed by him. I am impressed by the boldness and courage that he has displayed in this crisis. I think he is securely in place. He has the support of his key people. He seems to have a plan as to how to deal with some of the disturbances he has seen in his society. And I think as we see more success on the battlefield, it will be easier for him to control that. He has had some economic difficulties, which we are trying to help him with. But I think he is safe, I think he is secure, and I think he has been a very, very effective leader in this crisis.' But many in Pakistan aren't ready to share Secretary Powell's optimism. The Pakistani government is facing intense domestic criticism for the developments in Afghanistan, in particular for the sudden collapse of Taliban authority that has left the Northern Alliance masters of up to 80 per cent of the country. Some Pakistani politicians view the Northern Alliance's capture of Kabul as a major setback for Pakistani foreign policy. Some local newspapers have also described the Northern Alliance's domination of the capital as a 'betrayal' by the United States. The Northern Alliance is now calling the shots. Comprising Uzbek, Tajiks and Hazaras, it has the full support of Russia, Iran and India. And all three supporting countries would like to limit Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. At present, the Northern Alliance appears well positioned to dominate the discourse on the rebuilding of the Afghan state. As it currently stands, the Pashtuns will be under-represented at Bonn. 'We are very aware that convening these groups would not mean that every single Afghan would feel totally happy, totally represented,' UN special envoy Frances Vendrell told BBC. Mr Vendrell stressed that Bonn did not represent the 'final step' in the process to form a multi-ethnic provisional government. The Pakistani public must be shocked to see the macabre scenes of Afghans rejoicing over the bodies of slain Pakistanis in Kabul. What must be particularly galling for them is the contempt and hatred among Afghans for Pakistanis - fellow Muslims who believe they have made many sacrifices for the Afghans. Now there is a real danger of the war against terrorism spilling into Pakistan. Fears have grown about the influx of armed Taliban fighters and their Arab, Chechen and Pakistani associates into the tribal areas of Pakistan's NWFP. While India, Russia and Iran are rushing to establish their embassies in Kabul, Pakistan has been reduced to issuing vague statements about the future broad-based set-up in Afghanistan. Pakistan stands exposed because of its 'double talk' with both the Taliban as well as the Americans, to say nothing of the jihadis at home. Pakistan is now being forced to count the bodies of the soldiers in Kunduz; that is, if Mr Donald Rumsfeld allows it to do so. The Pakistani-American tango seems to be over with Washington stoutly opposing any safe passage for Pakistani pro-Taliban fighters trapped in Kunduz. The US is emphatic that the Northern Alliance should detain and disarm all foreign fighters, including Pakistanis, who had joined the militia. 'My hope is that they (pro-Talibani fighters) will either be killed or taken prisoners,' said Mr Rumsfeld last week. The question is whether General Musharraf will be able to get out safely from all this?

 

Return to the Archives 2001 Index Page

Return to Home Page