Musharraf’s South West Asia initiative

CONFRONTED with the bloody fallout in South West Asia of a potpourri of blunders, global and regional forces are now engaging in the region with renewed diplomatic vigor.

By Nasim Zehra

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Published: Fri 23 Feb 2007, 9:43 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:09 AM

Washington is in high diplomatic gear as is the Middle East quartet. A 3-way US, Palestine-Israel dialogue underway, the Unity government is in place, US Secretary Condoleezza Rice has been touring the region and the reverberations from the blunders and injustices committed by differing political forces in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan over the last half a century have also terrorised and traumatised parts of Europe, US, Asia and Africa.

With all security now undermined the world appears to fall apart from the core in the Middle East. The circular arguments, the same scripts and the same people, the same oppressors, the same oppressed have all run their course. The increasing state atrocities, the multiplication of suicide bombers, the deployment of additional US troops, the shocking tales of Guanatanomo Bay, and of Abu Gharaib have all multiplied the crisis.

Yet the bugle of "a hundred year long war" blows from ramparts of the White House. And elsewhere with fierce determination thousands of men of lesser means with misguided passion, respond with suicide mission. We live in the world is a dangerous place made so By the follies of men of ignorance, of arrogance, of hate and of reaction, today the world is a dangerous place. The culprits, the perpetrators of blunders, lie cross multiple divides. The original sins don’t justify the new ones. There are no winners. Our children are dying, our emotions maimed, our reason paralysed our passions enraged. This cannot continue-the deadly status quo of a creeping hell on earth. Some must rise to take the middle path. There must be reason to arrest the fast expanding Age of Extremes that Eric Hobsawm had predicted.

While the economic challenges remain, this larger political issue is fundamental. Its sets the context for survival and for our future. This then is the challenge —to arrest the age of madness that has engulfed most among those who wield power. Logically it is those who occupy the crumbling global core, the leadership within South West Asia that has a responsibility to confront this madness. Hence against this backdrop Pakistan’s Middle East initiative is a potentially significant move.

The objective of this move is to set up a forum of Muslim nations, within the OIC framework, which would become active in the resolution of political disputes in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan. Musharraf maintains that a group of countries that is "like-minded, strong, is credible and is acceptable to all it will have a voice which will be heard by all." While seven countries have been included in the core group which will first meet in Islamabad on February 25, actually the initiative involves 9 countries. However since Syria and Iran are currently engaged in disputes, the two are not part of the core group. However they have been involved in the initial consultations and Musharraf has visited them as well during his recent whirlwind tour. After the February 25 agenda setting meeting of Foreign Ministers there will be a Mecca summit of the 7 in March. He What the Musharraf Middle East initiative will actually achieve will depend on the extent of internal cooperation and the ideas that are put on the table. There is talk of establishing an OIC peace-keeping force.

The positions taken by Islamabad on some of these issues is worth a recall; that the US occupation of Iraq has strengthened terrorism, that Israel’s attack on Lebanon was criminal, that without a fair and acceptable solution of the Palestinian problem no peace in the Middle East is possible, that a US attack on Iran is unacceptable, that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA, engagement with the Taleban is essential to resolving the continuing Afghan crisis, that both the violence of terrorism and the root cause of terrorism must simultaneously be addressed.

Musharraf’s South West Asia initiative is also a logical progression from his position that there are two sides to the crisis within the Muslim world; one requiring internal reform and the other involving western powers and unresolved political disputes. On the problem identification he is clear about where the dots meet and on resolution he knows which buttons to press. He calls a spade a spade, constructs bridges and creates space for engagement in all spheres. Musharraf’s weaknesses on the domestic political front notwithstanding, on the external front he has shown his ability to carve out the greys in this dangerously naive black and white thinking.

Musharraf has practically adopted these approaches in dealing with the intractable problems like Kashmir and now Afghanistan. Despite the initial Indian reluctance to publicly engage with Musharraf’s Kashmir proposal Musharraf has been able to collect the Kashmiris on one platform. The global community has the world siding with him while he demonstrates an ability to read the writing on the wall and not remain attached to problems, mindsets and the follies of the past.

On the complex problem of sectarianism the domestic policy which requires credible democracy maybe lacking, on the international front Musharraf has persistently pushed on the need to understand the inter-related causes; the big complex challenge of seeking to look at two sides of all the trouble spots; Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. He has candidly spoken on what and who committed the ‘original sin’ —whether Israel not allowing a viable and sustainable homeland to the Palestinians; whether the US and the UN failure to integrate the Taliban in a political dispensation; whether the need to include the militants in Waziristan in a peace deal in an attempt to ‘bring them on board’ leading to US invasion on Iraq making the world more vulnerable to terrorism, whether the US rejection of Iran as an interlocutor leading to a no-win situation on negotiations on Iran’s nuclear problem.

On the international stage Musharraf has straddled the two worlds stating boldly what ails all sides. For example he has not minced his words identifying the blunders committed by United States and its allies. Yet Washington is comfortable with Musharraf the mediator, since Washington knows its own force-loaded pro-Israeli policy in the region has continuously back-fired. All Middle East leaders have remained communication channels open with Musharraf. In addition the decades the old diplomatic, security and economic ties that Pakistan a non Arab state has had with these countries, also contributes to the Arab leadership’s current comfort level.

Although at home Musharraf has increasingly complex problems like Baluchistan that need urgent resolution, for Pakistan the mayhem in the Muslim world is not a removed reality. Pakistan like no other country is at the receiving end of the fast spreading problem of violent political extremism deeply. It is therefore also a logical extension of his concerns and problems at home.

Nasim Zehra is a fellow of Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass. and Adjunct professor at SAIS Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC

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