Sunday, August 03, 2008

Faulty U.S. Policy towards Pakistan

What is America’s real agenda?
The News, August 04, 2008
Iqbal Haider

After the Feb 18 election, virtually every official of the US administration, American intelligence agencies and the US media have been extremely critical of the performance of the Pakistani government, and particularly of its intelligence agencies, with regard to militancy and the war on terror. Reports have also appeared recently, even in the Pakistani press, which have not been very complimentary of the prime minister’s performance.

One cannot deny the right of any state to express its concerns over the rise of religious militancy in Pakistan, but it should be in a manner that relations with Islamabad are not harmed. What is surprising is that there is no consistency in the US administration’s expressions of this concern. Had it done so right from the start – when religious militancy was in its formative stages – Pakistan might not have been in such an anarchic state as it is now, at the mercy of innumerable jihadi outfits.

Much to our embarrassment, Pakistan has come to be regarded as a satellite state of America. No policy that goes against the wishes of America can be pursued by our military regimes. It is for this reason that one wishes the US State Department had expressed its serious concerns to its most trusted ally, General Pervez Musharraf, immediately after his unconstitutional takeover in October 1999. He banned all political activities, all the while allowing religious parties, jihadi organisations and militant forces to hold congregations in every nook and corner of Pakistan, collect as much donations, zakat and fitra and recruit young boys, in the name of their brand of Islam.

The Americans should have taken him to task when he openly supported the Taliban in Afghanistan on the false pretext that the country provides Pakistan’s “strategic depth.” What did the US tell him when Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar was given a warm reception at Lahore airport in January 2000 by his Kalashnikov-armed colleagues? The man was allowed to hold as many public rallies as he liked in any part of the country. The Americans should have asked Musharraf why the ban on the use of zakat funds for madressahs was lifted in October 2000 and why his government did nothing to stem the massive foreign funding to madressahs. It should have asked him why nothing was done to carry out a survey of madressahs and to register them. In January 2000 a cosmetic ban was imposed on only three well-known jihadi outfits. Their offices were sealed and some of their leaders and activists were arrested. However, a few weeks later, all of them were released, in return for an affidavit that they would not involve themselves in any militant or terrorist activity.

The US should have also asked General Musharraf why he allowed sectarian parties and organisations as well as the late Azam Tariq, head of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba, to contest the 2002 election in violation of the government’s own laws. Why was nothing done about the 80 or so illegal FM radio stations run by the jihadis and extremists, which spewed their bigoted views and sectarian hatred without any government check? Why didn’t Washington question Musharraf when in the 2002 election the intelligence agencies under his control wholeheartedly supported religious parties and because of which they managed to acquire an unprecedented number of seats in parliament? This happened at the expense of the liberal and moderate political parties.

Where was Washington when under its so-called “carrots-and-stick” approach Islamabad entered into peace agreements with the Taliban in Waziristan, which only fuelled the militancy and led to loss of more lives, especially of our own soldiers and of innocent local civilians? Where was America when the general and his agencies allowed Lal Masjid and some other mosques in the federal capital to become centres for propagation of hate, bigotry and the most obscurantist values, and their members were allowed to use brute force against the hapless citizens of Islamabad and who openly defied the laws of the land, going about kidnapping not only ordinary citizens but even police officers?

The Lal Masjid operation was carried out only when Chinese citizens were kidnapped – but it was done in such an imprudent, counterproductive and violent manner that it gave rise to sympathy and public support for the extremists. Where was the US when General Musharraf’s government entered into a peace deal with Mullah Fazlullah of Swat, whose supporters had terrorised the local administration and population, killed and kidnapped soldiers and policemen and bombed virtually every school and video shop they could lay their hands on (they didn’t even spare statutes of the Buddha in Swat). Why wasn’t any notice taken of the fact that after imposing his second martial law on Nov 3, 2007, the former government promptly released over two dozen militants associated with Fazalullah, while at the same time more than 5,000 peaceful law-abiding lawyers, professors, labourers, journalists, students, political and human rights activists were arrested.

In general, Musharraf’s rule was characterised by what can only be called a policy of patronage and appeasement of militant and jihadi forces, where the norm was that the government would succumb to their outrageous demands, threats and pressures.

The list of such deceptive acts and omissions on the part of General Musharaf and his PML-Q is unending. It is strange that neither the US nor any Western country raises the question as to what was the object and purpose of these omissions or of the so-called peace agreements with militants since 2004. The questions that immediately come to mind are: Were the militants disarmed after entering into such deals? Was the commitment given by the militants not to indulge in terrorist activity in future monitored by the government, and if so what was the result? How many foreign terrorist were detained and deported, and what are their names? Also, how many militants and terrorists of Pakistani origin have so far been arrested, and if so, were any prosecuted and convicted? Did the deals result in the release of any militants? If the answer is yes, how many were released and under what rationale?

Despite all this, the irony in the Bush administration continuing to express confidence in General Musharraf as a trusted ally in the war against terrorism is too blatant to ignore. In its zeal to support General Musharaf, the US government seems to have no qualm over undermining civil society in the country, particularly as exemplified of late by the lawyers’ movement.

The fact is that the policies and priorities of Washington and its ally, General Musharaf, have only resulted contributed to a rise in terrorism and have served to strengthen the extremists and militants. The real objective of the latter has nothing to do with Islam or religion but only to take over and control territory, the state apparatus and the institutions of Pakistan through the naked use of terrorism. That this has now become a potent threat to Pakistan’s very integrity should be clear to everyone.

It is in this overall context that one is constrained to ask what is the real agenda of the US administration. If it is sincerely against terrorism than there is no justification to keep on supporting General Musharraf because that, as history tells us, only serves to strengthen the extremists. Or is this the actual policy of the US – i.e., to use Muslims to divide Muslims – since it serves to potentially destroy one of the largest Muslim nations in the world.

The writer is co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a former attorney-general and federal minister for law, justice, parliamentary affairs and human rights. Email: hnhadv@

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