Pushing too hard

DELIBERATELY removing General Musharraf and therefore Pakistan from the war-on-terror equation is clearly not a healthy option for the Bush administration. Therefore, its failure to foresee a clearly negative outcome of its do-more pressure tactics against Islamabad only adds to its already unimpressive list of foreign policy decisions, especially the critical ones related to the terror-war.

As we have repeatedly feared in this space, pushing Pakistan’s beleaguered president —both on the domestic and international fronts —too hard into a corner will only frustrate him into opting out of a very demanding situation.

And in saying, "If Pakistan, myself, the ISI and the coalition forces across the border are bluffing each other then it is better to end the coalition," Musharraf has done just that. In effect, the threat is clear; if the political, social and financial cost Islamabad continues to bear will only be met with an unimpressed Washington and Kabul, who instead accuse it of "not doing enough" and "abetting terrorism", then so be it. It subsequently becomes difficult to fault Musharraf to say that his government will withdraw support to the war on terror.

It bears reminding that in addition to the massive Afghan refugee-influx (which Pakistan is in no way new to), standing on the right side of President Bush’s with-us-or-without-us threat brought considerable internal political instability to Pakistan, which continues to strain the state’s resources and attention to this day. Also, Pakistan has been the only state involved in the ideological war that tried all options on the table, as opposed to plain brute force. And the much-criticised negotiations with the tribals have not only begun to bear long-awaited fruit (though at considerable cost), but are also being copied on the other, always critical, side of the border.

It is also important to note that the Pakistan component of the war can only be understood when seen in the proper historical context. In the last few months, the Bush administration has proven Islamabad’s worst fears true, that the US is in no mood of helping resolve problems coming Pakistan’s way once its job here is done —on the lines of the Soviet jihad. Already, it was the US about-turn that left the field wide open for the hardline phenomenon to mutate into a vicious, disciplined killing machine. Repeating the mistake will only worsen matters, and to no small extent. The West is advised to correct the fault and change course before it’s too late.

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