President pleased India with his pledge of nuclear
aid but delivered a calculated snub to Pakistani
leader Pervez Musharraf. Venu Menon reports
President George W. Bush’s visit to Pakistan last
week may have weakened and demoralised President
Pervez Musharraf in pursuing the US-led war on
The American President’s low-key stopover in
Islamabad was little more than a spot check
how General Musharraf was getting on with the job
of hunting down Taleban and al Qaeda militants
operating from Pakistani territory.
Given the doubts cast lately about the general’s
sincerity in cracking down on militants, notably
by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Bush’s pat
on the back for Musharraf lacked real conviction
and his visit did little for the Pakistani leader.
General Musharraf had two key requests. First, he
wanted President Bush to adopt an
even-handed approach to signing nuclear
agreements. Second, he sought US intervention to
settle Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir.
President Bush rejected both requests.
The US President invoked Pakistan’s shoddy track
record on non-proliferation to deny it equal
treatment with India. Pakistan’s top nuclear
scientist, A. Q. Khan, had been selling nuclear
weapons technology to other countries.
President Bush’s stand on Kashmir was that the
dispute should be settled through dialogue between
the parties concerned.
But President Bush’s alibi for favouring India
with a nuclear deal he could not offer Pakistan
has not won support for General Musharraf. It is
clearly not an argument the Pakistani President
can use to silence the opposition parties who
denounced President Bush’s visit as a disaster for
The nuclear pact clinched in Delhi could cloud
US-Pakistan relations. President Bush broke the
golden rule of staying equidistant from the two
nuclear rivals on the subcontinent.
But signs of a shift in US policy in the region
were already there. US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said in Delhi: “ There was a time
when Americans had a problem mentioning India
without Pakistan and mentioning Pakistan without
India. That’s not the way it should be.”
However, the Bush administration’s desire to break
out of the notion of a hyphenated relationship
between India and Pakistan could damage General
Musharraf, a key ally in the war on terror.
President Bush was going along with the current
wisdom in Washington that India, as an emerging
economic power, would be a counter-weight to
But by granting India access to nuclear technology
and denying that access to Pakistan, President
Bush may end up weakening General Musharraf and
strengthening the radical Islamists out to
The Pakistani President, who has deftly juggled US
strategic interests in the midst of an
increasingly volatile domestic context, has
suddenly lost his drawcard. His credibility as
America’s frontline ally in the war on terror is
now in question.
The West is uneasy in accepting Pakistan as a “
major non-Nato ally ”, a status bestowed by
President Bush for General Musharraf’s
US-Pakistan relations may be moving away from an
era of coddling a military dictatorship in
Pakistan that is unable to consistently deliver in
the war on terror.
General Musharraf may come under increasing
pressure to restore democracy to Pakistan, a key
demand of the West.
A token measure towards democratisation came in
the form of a controversial referendum in April
2002, where voters agreed to extend the general’s
rule for five years. This was followed by general
elections in October.
But the National Assembly was deadlocked for
months because the opposition refused to recognise
the constitutional changes General Musharraf had
In December 2003, as part of a deal with hardline
Islamic groups to break the deadlock in
Parliament, General Musharraf agreed to step down
as Army chief by January 2005.
The pledge remains unfulfilled.
General Musharraf’s low rating on democracy may
come back to haunt him if he fails to deliver in
the war on terror.
During his meeting with President Bush in
Islamabad last week, General Musharraf was at
pains to discredit allegations raised against him
by President Karzai of Afghanistan. President
Karzai accused General Musharraf of soft peddling
on the crackdown on militant activity in Pakistani
territory that was spilling into Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistani
authorities of turning a blind eye to Taleban
training camps operating inside Pakistan and
cross-border infiltration by militants was an
issue President Bush raised with General
Pakistan deploys around 80,000 troops in North
Waziristan, where a protracted stand-off with al
Qaeda and Taleban fighters is being keenly watched
by the US as a test of General Musharraf’s
commitment to fight terrorism.
President Bush’s refusal to heed General
Musharraf’s request for US intervention on Kashmir
comes at a time when Pakistan’s relations with
India are on the mend. Both countries have been
making friendly noises lately, however Kashmir
remains a stumbling block. Pakistan and India have
fought two wars in the past over Kashmir. Pakistan
lays claim to the territory on the grounds that
its population is predominantly Muslim. India sees
Kashmir as non-negotiable.
Pakistan wants the US to intervene. India wants no
third party intervention.
By publicly rebuffing General Musharraf’s request
for US intervention on Kashmir, President Bush
will be seen to be tilting in favour of India.
The New Zealand Herald * Thursday, March