Monday 30 June 2003

When the U.S. says jump, it wants Pakistan to jump

by Eric Margolis

Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, was granted the honour last week of an audience at Camp David with the Great White Father. U.S. President George Bush, who three years ago couldn't even name Pakistan's leader, hailed Musharraf as a "statesman" and "friend of freedom."

Gen. Musharraf was offered a conditional $3 billion US aid package, provided: a) Congress, which hates Pakistan, approves; b) Musharraf continues to arrest Islamic militants and support the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan; c) makes no trouble with India over Kashmir; d) doesn't supply nuclear technology to North Korea.

On the last item, the same Washington "experts" who assured us Iraq was bristling with deadly weapons that could annihilate the U.S. and U.K. "in 45 minutes" now claim Pakistan aided North Korea. Pakistan denies this questionable allegation.

In a startling public insult to a "friend and ally," Bush refused Musharraf's request to release F-16 fighters bought by Pakistan in 1989. Pro-Israel members of Congress blocked delivery of the aircraft to punish Pakistan for its nuclear program. Ironically, Pakistan's inability to acquire modern warplanes to counter India's state-of-the-art French Mirage 2000s and Russian MiG-29s and SU-30s compelled Islamabad to rely ever more heavily on its nuclear forces to deter hostile India, whose powerful military seriously outnumbers and outguns Pakistan.

I've felt a certain sympathy for Gen. Musharraf, who overthrew Pakistan's inept prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in a 1999 coup. When I interviewed Musharraf in 2000, he was truly struggling to reform Pakistan's squalid, corrupt politics. Then came 9/11. The Bush administration put a gun to Musharraf's head, ordering him to ditch Pakistan's Afghan ally, the Taliban, open Pak bases to U.S. forces, arrest anti-American militants and fire the capable nationalist officers - and close friends - who put him into power, Generals Aziz and Mahmoud.

Obey, Washington warned Islamabad, or we will foreclose your loans, impose trade sanctions, cut off spare parts, and give India a green light to go after you. Tough Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan's last military ruler, would have stood up to American bullying. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto would have cleverly managed to somehow finesse Washington's threats. But Musharraf, with a near-bankrupt nation, and faced with what he viewed as a Hobson's choice between obedience and ruin, caved in to Washington's demands and became, overnight, its compliant servitor.

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