Musharraf Lost Considerable Clout in US Visit

Musharraf greets Bush’s NSA Stephen Hadley. Below: Protests in Pakistan

By Azizuddin Ahmad

ISLAMABAD, September 30(2005): General Pervez Musharraf has complained that Washington abandoned Pakistan after the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and has established strategic alliance with India.

It is significant that the realization has come after a hectic week-long visit to the US, where besides a one on one meeting with President Bush he had the occasion to meet Administration officials and important sections of the media.

The visit had been prepared well ahead of time. Three weeks before the visit Foreign Minister Kasuri had made history by meeting his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom in Istanbul while the General had announced he would address the American Jewish Congress in New York. It was believed this would have a good impact on the President Bush’s pro-Likud neo-con advisers.

The visit has seemingly been a damper. Consequently there was no address to the nation after the President’s return. No effusive statements or attempt at giving spin to the talks by the otherwise irrepressible Sheikh Rashid who has uncharacteristically remained quiet.

The first official meeting President Musharraf had in New York was with the abrasive Condoleezza Rice. That the talks continued for 75 minutes indicates there was lack of agreement on vital issues. The American press was unhelpful. Asked what he considered his failure during the visit, the President conceded it was the American press. The journalists asked uneasy questions about uniform, state of democracy, AQ Khan, Osama bin Laden, and rape victims.

His views about women getting themselves raped to get rich or have a Canadian visa turned out to be faux pas that haunted him throughput his stay in the US. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin reacted sharply to the observations saying it was unacceptable. There was a pandemonium at the conference of the American Pakistani women during General Musharraf’s address. When instead of saying, “I’m sorry” the President denied what he had said, the paper put the tape on the internet.

Presumably the concerns shown by the press were more or less shared by the Administration. What is more Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the newly declared strategic ally, had complained that Pakistan still controlled terror flow, while old ally Karzai supported by successive US ambassadors and military commanders also maintained that terrorists continued to operate inside Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan.

President Bush gave both General Musharraf and Dr Singh 30 minutes each, but the even-handedness ended there. That the US considered India a strategic ally had been made clear when Dr Singh visited Washington in July. If General Musharraf had hoped he would be able to enlist the support of President Bush to persuade Mr Singh to withdraw troops from areas in Indian occupied Kashmir he was mistaken.

Had this been achieved the symbolic gesture would have been projected at home as a big breakthrough. Dr Manmohan Singh with whom he said he has “complete understanding” refused to budge an inch. First he took exception to General Musharraf mentioning the K word in the General Assembly. “This goes back to the kind of those days we have put behind”, he protested.

There was going to be no recall of troops, despite General Karamat taking pains to clarify that what Pakistan actually desired was withdrawal from pre-designated areas and not demilitarization and that “Indians can send troops again if the situation warrants”. The nearly four hour meeting between the two sides, described as tense and strained, failed to produce any result. Singh maintained Pakistan controlled the flow of militants into the Indian controlled Kashmir and the continued acts of violence and terrorism cast a shadow over the peace process.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told reporters after the talks the President had assured the Prime Minister that he would do everything possible to allay India’s apprehensions. As none on the Pakistani side contradicted Mr Saran one is led to conclude that assurances demanded by India were given.

All this indicates that General Musharraf’s clout with Washington has considerably reduced. Despite all he has done to uproot Al-Qaeda, there is a perception that he is not fully cooperating. What is more, with the Afghan parliamentary elections over and the threat of Al-Qaeda receding in the region, he is gradually losing whatever influence he still has.

In order to prove he can still be helpful, General Musharraf has launched the idea of restructuring the OIC and has offered his services for the resolution of the Middle East crisis. The offer to reform the OIC in order to reduce the anti-West feeling has cut no ice with the US, which considers the organization as no more than an inconsequential talk shop.

As far as the second offer is concerned, it is considered to be preposterous. Everyone knows General Musharraf enjoys little influence with the Palestinians or with Israel.

General Musharraf was warmly received when he visited Washington in November 2001 after joining the coalition against terror. The way praises were showered on him in Washington and many Western leaders came to Islamabad to pat him on the back led him to develop the illusion that he was being given the status of a strategic ally.

He forgot that it was in fact a relationship between an imperial overlord and his vassal who had been asked to perform a certain job and was to be paid for it. The payment came in the form of lifting of sanctions, backing of debt relief and a few billion dollars of support. With the job nearing completion, relations are likely to be revised.

The writer is a seasoned columnist who writes in The Nation. E-mail:

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