American Tragedy and Pakistan

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Big events bring about big changes. Tragic events of 11 September in United States are rated as a happening of unprecedented proportions, in United States history. It is unmistakably visualized that after this event the world will never be the same again. Thanks to the communication super highway, the details of this melodrama, by now, are so graphically engraved in the minds of the people that the haunting is causing sleepless nights to the sensitive and need not be repeated. The aim over here is also not to analyze the causes and effects or the evaluation of possible reactions of the world coalition to this fateful event. We are not faced with the question of should or should not. We are only faced with the question of framing our reactions to an inevitable situation creeping up, over which we have no control. As Pakistan’s role is beginning to emerge as pivotal in the coming days and weeks in the grand show of world solidarity against the menace of terrorism, our concern, quite understandably, is focused on the role of the Pakistani leadership.

Americans have handed in a list of their demands on Pakistan, in case they decide to hunt down Usama bin Laden, stationed in the sanctuary provided by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Whether the evidence being collated by the intelligence agencies of US confirms Bin Laden’s hand in the present tragedy or not, the wounded tiger of US seems to be unmistakably poised to hunt down Bin Laden’s outfit for his previous record of hostility to the US. Besides, this time the international coalition being gathered together seems to be bracing to take up complete eradication of international terrorism about which the individual countries had been vacillating in the past. Usama bin Laden figures out to be a potential target of the coalition, in any case. As the intelligence network of the US miserably failed to preempt the disaster and on the morning of the 11 September 2001 the administrators of the sole super power were found with their pants down, they are left with no option but to wage a total war against international terrorism. In fact the President of US has already made such a commitment to his nation. That means their thrust will be multi-pronged, with Usama bin Laden topping the list.

There are grim chances of fanatic Talibans handing over Usama to the US. Although the Taliban outfit made a statement that Bin Laden will not be handed over till it is proved that he master minded the attack on the US targets. But despite United States’ declaration that their intelligence points that Bin Laden is responsible for the events in New York and Washington, they are still repeating the rhetoric that Bin Laden is not capable of doing so. It is, therefore, an obvious conclusion that one of the major theatres of war is undoubtedly going to be Afghanistan. Pakistan’s role, in that scenario, will inevitably be crucial and  pivotal.

The famous list of American demands on Pakistan has not been made public. But it hardly requires any intuition to guess that the Americans would expect Pakistan to act as a substantive member of the coalition. That implies, use of Pakistan’s soil, for staging the war effort, by the coalition forces from beginning till the  end of the war.

General Pervez Musharraf was appropriately quick in giving his reaction to the disaster. He did not mince his words in condemning terrorism. He expressed his nation’s unflinching solidarity with the American people and also promised his unqualified support to the US in the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice. He later held a conference of the army top brass to chart out the plan of reaction to the American demands. The considered reply of the government, to American demands, is likely to be framed soon, after deliberations at higher echelons of the government. I, therefore, hasten to give out my evaluation and conclusions, without the advantage of hindsight.

Whether Pakistan government responds favourably or otherwise to the American demands, Pakistan’s pivotal role notwithstanding, it will not materially alter the course and the ultimate outcome of coalition’s war against the designated targets. That means it is not going to make much difference to the war effort but the frame of our reaction will make heavens of difference to Pakistan. Our statesmanship is thus faced with a crucial dilemma. Our decision may not materially affect others but will matter between the states of ‘to be or not to be’ for the state of Pakistan.

The mood of the emerging international coalition is crystallizing and it is so easy to perceive the obvious. In the case of most serious scenario, the coalition will require the staging ground for their war effort, involving assembly of Armed Forces and then launching the war effort from there. If Pakistan provides that, she can benefit enormously. We can have the notorious sanctions removed. We can have our debts, though partially but substantially, waived or paid off by the west. How important a resuscitation of that kind to our dying economy is, should not be debated. Last but not the least, we can artfully avail the occasion to bridle the fanatic elements and cut to size the unruly, extremist and sectarian organizations in the country.

We must now examine the consequences of our refusal to cooperate. As the positive signals to American appeal for cooperation are converging from various directions, the war effort of the coalition may become little costlier in material terms but it will not be jeopardized. In that case the Americans will have the following three options: 1. To air lift and assemble their land forces in the Central Asian Republics of Turkmanistan or Tajikistan, through India and have their launching pad there, with the additional Air Force element based in India (Srinagar and or northern Punjab). 2. To airlift, through India, and carry out the assembly of land forces in Afghanistan itself, in the areas under the northern alliance, with the additional air support from Indian soil. 3. Finally, if the wounded tiger so chooses, and physically neutralizes Pakistan through a surgical operation like the ones undertaken during Gulf War and in Yugoslavia and have a direct land corridor to Afghanistan, again with their Air Forces supporting from Indian soil or the Indian Ocean fleet. It is now a matter of comprehension, foresight, imagination and discretion to deduce from these options. It would be perceived that, in the event of Pakistan’s refusal to cooperate, all the above three options are workable for the international coalition who are expected to have preponderant resources at their disposal, to wage this war.

General Pervez Musharraf is known for his liberal propensities in matters of statecraft. During the early days of his rule he had been sounding quite upbeat against religious bigotry and extremism but over time his zeal in this direction dampened a bit and he had to swallow back some of his claims. In the present happy situation when a grand international coalition is shaping up against terrorism and religious intolerance, he must grasp this opportunity and take the crucial decision of

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