‘Ally’ Pakistan gets

M B Naqvi

A major outcome of US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to Pakistan this week was the announcement of the country’s associate membership in the rapidly expanding North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Pakistan does not become a full member of the military alliance with equal liabilities and privileges of ordinary members, of course. What Pakistan can expect occupies good length of wordage, none of which obliges the US government to do more than sell military equipment, provide training and ask the Export-Import Bank to accept Islamabad’s guarantees for US exports to Pakistan.

It is a more tenuous relationship: to be associated with carrying out NATO tasks in its own area of effectiveness. What the privileges would be is not clear. The US government had offered this relationship to India also. Since a national election is due in April and May there, Washington’s decision appears to have been deferred until after the vote. But Pakistan’s full-throated yes is now a part of history.

Powell’s visit on Mar. 18-19 was awaited in Pakistan with trepidation. He was supposed to discuss three main matters. First was the world’s largest scandal about the proliferation of nuclear know-how and technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya by Pakistan’s Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Pakistani opposition entertained many other fears of what the US government was likely to demand because Khan’s mea culpa and Pakistan President Musharraf’s pardon seemed an improbable finale to the story. But the Bush Administration has accepted Pakistan’s official action as final and continues to do business with Islamabad.

The second issue was the level and adequacy of Pakistan’s role in the US ‘war on terror’. On this also, Pakistanis saw new pressures and demands coming from the US government. But the US government has gone on expressing satisfaction with what Pakistan was doing. However, key officials like Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, took pains to explain that while Pakistan was adequately helping the capture of al-Qaeda fighters, it goes on protecting fugitive Taliban leaders.

The third major subject of interest to the US government is that India and Pakistan should continue to go on normalising their relations and go on talking about their disputes, especially Kashmir. Hitherto they have acted their part, though last week Musharraf’s two-hour long harangue to ‘India Today’s’ seminar in New Delhi came close to testing the Vajpayee government’s patience to the limit by his emphatic “centrality of Kashmir problem”. However, the matter did not go beyond formal criticism by India and Pakistan’s rejection of it.

It so happens that the controlling agency in Pakistan, the army, cannot conceive life without friendship with the US government -- and economic and military aid from it. India, under the government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has clearly opted for close friendship with the US government. Both major South Asian states are vying for close friendship with Washington a la a new partnership deal with NATO for both.

It is hard going for the US government to keep Pakistan and India in harness together in the larger ‘war on terror’. But the US government can do it and the specific needs of either will help Washington no end. Even so, the Kashmir issue will not go away.

The confidence-building measures the US suggested are working. Newly-resumed cricket games between the two rivals is extraordinarily popular and is now confidence-building measure number one. Still, hard work awaits Washington over the Kashmir issue. Some workable solution has to be brokered. — IPS