Message From Camp David: Special Not Strategic

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Cambridge – The hype around the ‘prestige’ of a Camp David Summit is merely about symbolism. For the substantive outcome of the Musharraf-Bush Camp David moot, the content of their Camp David discussions and of what they said during the brief media availability, are relevant. Within this context five factors flowing from the Bush √©Musharraf media talk and the discussions noteworthy.

On the central issue of counter terrorism, the complaints at the operational level there remains a clear understanding and trust between the two at the political level. Endorsing and acknowledging Pakistan’s operational support for counter-terrorism Bush categorically stated that ” we have had no better partner to fight off terrorism than the President (Musharraf).” Musharraf spelt out steps taken by Pakistan in its tribal areas, bordering Afghanistan, to round up “non-Afghan and non-Afghan al-Qaeda” operators.

The areas of variance in Pakistan and US policy over counter-terrorism were evident . On Afghanistan for the first time the military President of Pakistan qualified Pakistan’s support against al-Qaeda operators who “are not Pakistanis and Afghans.” He has also reportedly conveyed his disagreement to the Blair government and now to Bush administration of a anti-Taliban that demonizes all Talibans. Similarly Musharraf has not agreed to the continuing US request for sending troops to fight under US command a counter-insurgency war in Iraq. US and UK casualties promise to mount as Iraqis stiffen resistance against occupation forces and as does the criticism of Bush and Blair by their domestic constituency.

The bilateral package conveyed mutual accommodation of their respective concerns. The yet-to- be cleared by the Congress, this projected 3 billion dollar package will comprise of social sector and defence related support. This reflects first the US administration’s acceptance of Pakistan’s demand that the Bush administration drop its opposition to military support for Pakistan. Second it conveys the acceptance by Pakistan of the ceiling set by the Bush administration on defence cooperation. At this point F-16s remain out of bounds for Pakistan indicating the limits to this maybe special but not strategic Pakistan-US relations.

The mutual agreement on the need to expand trade relations has been conveyed through the signing of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. This has been driven by the commitment on the two sides to work for a Free Trade Agreement. The significance of TIFA is only that it opens an intensive negotiations track for US and Pakistan on ways to expedite agreement on FTA Sri Lanka is the other South Asian country with which TIFA has been signed. When signed a FTA would provide Pakistani products preferred access to the US market.

The mutual agreement between Pakistan and the US over how to move forward on the process required to resolve the Kashmir issue. The common elements of the way forward include dialogue between Pakistan and India, end to violence by all sides in the name of Kashmir and the willingness of the Pakistani and the Indian leadership to acknowledge the existence of the Kashmir dispute. While categorically stating that no cause could justify terrorism Musharraf reiterated the need to address the “core issue of Kashmir” for peace in South Asia.

The US support to the Musharraf-authored plan of “sustainable” democracy for Pakistan. Bush acknowledged the need for democracy and curiously highlighted Musharraf’s commitment to improved education as an important indicator of the military president’s commitment to democracy ! Musharraf meanwhile acknowledging the contradiction between his commitment to democracy and his military identity repeated his plan to replace “dysfunctional democracy” with “sustainable” democracy. Musharraf must have shared his plans to create more space for the mainstream political parties like PPP and PML(N) with a Bush anxious the increasing political space MMA currently occupies in Pakistan’s pro-democracy struggle.

The stamp of approval for Musharraf’s “courageous leadership” from Camp David augurs well for the national security policy that is being crafted jointly by Pakistan’s civil-military institutions which factor in national interest, national aspirations and the international realities. However this approval will not help him on the domestic political front. He needs to be more flexible with Pakistan’s political players and work for political national reconciliation, a factor indispensable for national progress, democracy and stability.

Nasim Zehra is a Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center. She contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Massachusetts, USA.

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