You are here

George Bush Puts Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf Out in the Cold

Dr. Ashutosh Mishra was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • March 11, 2006

    US President George Bush's 26-hour visit to Pakistan was foredoomed to failure as the two leaders had two different sets of issues on their agenda for talks, which shows their divergent perceptions of mutual roles and concerns in the region. While terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and democracy held salience for George Bush, General Musharraf seemed inclined to forging strategic cooperation and securing civil nuclear technology and US mediation in Kashmir. On the one hand, George Bush managed to put across his concerns on the issues he thought were vital to the US' security interests, and on the other, in an articulated and nuanced manner, he refused to oblige General Musharraf on the civil nuclear cooperation and Kashmir issues.

    Take the issue of democracy. George Bush said "In the long run he (General Musharraf) understands that extremism can be defeated by freedom and democracy and prosperity and better education…I believe democracy is Pakistan's future…President Musharraf has made clear that he intends to hold elections." He also stressed on holding 'free and fair' elections in 2007. In response, General Musharraf strongly defended his system by mentioning his contribution to democracy in Pakistan, namely, empowerment of people, minorities, women and free press, which sounded rather unconvincing in the light of the ground realities in Pakistan. Interestingly, George Bush's remarks established that the rise of extremism in Pakistan was related to Musharraf's policy of appeasement of the mullahs at the expense of mainstream parties in the present political dispensation and now he must prepare to relinquish power to democratic parties by holding free and fair elections in 2007. This was a rather distressing note for General Musharraf.

    On the non-proliferation issue, all that Pakistan could get was passing praise for agreeing to join the Container Security Initiative (CSI). "Pakistan is an important partner in fighting proliferation…we'll continue to work together to ensure that the world's most dangerous weapons do not end up in the hands of the terrorists," is how George Bush described the US' concerns, and attaching caution as a caveat. The remarks pointed towards the A Q Khan episode in which the role of the Pakistani establishment, particularly the military and ISI had come under the scanner raising questions about the safety of WMDs in Pakistan. Plus, hand in glove relations between the military and Islamists have bred more apprehensions in American minds in the wake of rising anti-US sentiments in Pakistan in the post-9/11 period.

    Pakistan's fragile democracy, which has been tampered with by different military regimes and misused by the civilian regimes, has failed to evolve effective constitutional provisions to curtail and control the military's powers and adventurism. The A Q Khan episode is a testimony to this. Though both civilian and military regimes supported the nuclear programme, it was the military that controlled it without allowing any outside interference. On account of Pakistan's dismal non-proliferation record, George Bush declined to commit on civil nuclear supplies to Pakistan. He said, "We discussed a civilian nuclear programme, and I explained that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories. So as we proceed forward, our strategies will take in effect those well-known differences."

    This statement could be considered the cornerstone of Bush's visit to Pakistan, which to a large extent de-hyphenated the 'India-Pakistan' nuclear relationship. Pakistan had always sought parity with India by linking its nuclear programme and the larger debate on non-proliferation to it. Bush's statement, in a single stroke, acknowledged India's impeccable non-proliferation record and elevated India into the league of responsible nuclear powers.

    On the energy issue, George Bush clarified that the US beef with the Iranian regime was its nuclear weapons programme and not the gas pipeline. Though he assured General Musharraf that the US would address Pakistan's energy deficiency, this failed to evoke much enthusiasm for it was limited to the gas pipeline. The US ignored Pakistan's cry for parity with India, implying that Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme in the light of the A Q Khan affair could not be equated with India's responsible and clean nuclear record.

    On the terrorism front, in the wake of September 11 attacks, General Musharraf had no option but to join the global war on terrorism (GWOT). It brought rich dividends for Pakistan - the subsequent $3 billion in US aid and waiving of several loans resurrected its tottering economy. It was also granted the status of Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA). But now, Pakistan's role in GWOT, supposedly the lone bargaining chip in General Musharraf's hands, has come to be seen as insufficient by the US. Bush's statement, "Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the president is as committed as he has been in the past (emphasis added) to bring these terrorists to justice, and he is," emanated out of this scepticism towards Pakistan's commitment to the cause. There have been lapses and gaps in intelligence-sharing on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and other key leaders which were also possibly interpreted by the US as deliberate on Pakistan's part. Hence, General Musharraf was asked to do more in defeating the Al Qaeda.

    It is also very frustrating for Pakistan to find the US pointing out shortcomings and inadequacies in its role in Afghanistan, while simultaneously praising India's efforts in providing training to the Afghan assembly staff, elected leaders and security forces, as well as its provision of aid to Kabul for reconstruction. In the same vein, George Bush's description of India as 'global power' and 'natural partner of US' at Purana Qila (old fort) in New Delhi on March 3, 2006 was seen as incongruent to Pakistan's role and ground realities in the region. President Bush's comments that 'India helped the Afghan people to get back on their feet who will always remember that in their hours of need India stood by them' was rejected in Pakistan, considering that the new US-India partnership for the cause of 'democracy and liberty' accorded a dominant role to India in regional affairs. Analysts believe that Pakistan as a US frontline ally in the region, in spite of losing hundreds of soldiers in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, finds its strategic depth in Afghanistan eroded significantly due to the Indian role.

    On the Kashmir issue too, the story was no different as George Bush ruled out any mediation and called for bilateral effort to settle the differences. Unlike Pakistan, he also shared the need for confidence building measures for changing the atmospherics and enhancing trade as a solution to India-Pakistan conflict. This negated General Musharraf's assertion that the CBMs have facilitated only the atmospherics and trust aspect but not the resolution portion per se. The US response on Kashmir perhaps dampened the spirits not only in Pakistan but also among the separatists in Jammu & Kashmir and the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Possibly, the resulting despair may heighten terrorist activities in J&K and elsewhere in India, inspired by Pakistan purely for domestic consumption. The bomb blasts in the Sankatmochan temple and railway station in Varanasi on March 7, 2006, which killed 20 people and injured over 50 others, could just be the beginning of another round of killings and bloodshed to be undertaken at Pakistan's behest.

    George Bush's visit to Pakistan, considered by many as a 'balancing act' and 'dull affair', provided a trigger for the mullahs, mainstream parties and the media to step up pressure on General Musharraf. More and more have now begun to join the debate arguing that Pakistan should accept that the US is not a trusted ally given that Washington had abandoned it on previous occasions as well. Many also contend that Pakistan must understand that the US has no role whatsoever to play in the Kashmir issue. The US nuclear deal with India and moves to establish a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan's bloody rival has come to re-emphasize the fact that Pakistan at the most can only be a tactical and not strategic ally. After years of support to the US in Afghanistan and doing this at peril to his own life and political standing in Pakistan, General Musharraf has only got a sermon on the need to strengthen democracy by holding free and fair elections in 2007, to do more on the counter-terrorism front, and settle the Kashmir issue bilaterally. It is heartbreaking and demoralizing indeed! The opposition in Pakistan has stepped up pressure on General Musharraf asking for his resignation because of the failure of his foreign and defence policies, signified by the US presidential visit and the sermons pronounced by George Bush. General Musharraf himself off late has tried to soothe tempers saying that Pakistan does not want to indulge in an arms race with India and seek parity with it and that, therefore, Pakistan's relations with the US should be seen in isolation from US-India relations. But his domestic critics are likely to trash this argument by contending that even in the US-Pakistan context alone the Bush visit has put both General Musharraf and Pakistan out in the cold on all vital matters.

    In the aftermath of the Bush visit, two trends can be expected. First, one may witness a spurt in terrorist activities in J&K and elsewhere in India, not only to convince domestic constituencies that the Kashmir issue is very much the priority but also to keep the 'K' factor alive for political purposes. In 2007, supposedly the election year in Pakistan, General Musharraf may resort to old tactics of diverting attention to external threats and challenges and hence justify his indispensability for Pakistan. Second, it would lead to more robust Sino-Pakistan ties in the coming years. Just before George Bush's visit, General Musharraf had visited China and signed several deals pertaining to defence and energy cooperation including nuclear, and secured Chinese investments to the tune of $21 billion. Both have enjoyed strong relations historically and have reasons to feel concerned with the rise of India and its growing proximity to the US. But for now, General Musharraf has not only to figure out how to make Pakistan recover from the current debacle but also craft a policy that balances its relationship with both the US and China.