Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why Mr. Zardari Is Ignoring China?

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A small incident on the lawn of Prime Minister’s House in the Pakistani capital on Sept. 24 reverberated as far away as Beijing. In the last days of Ramadan, Mr. Gilani invited foreign media for a dinner. Probably by coincidence and not design, British and American journalists were given the high seats on the Prime Minister’s table. Chinese journalists were left out. A few blocks away, at the Chinese Embassy building, China’s ambassador was hosting a dinner and handing out DVD players as gifts for the Pakistani Para-Olympic team and the lone Pakistani player who won a medal in Beijing. At least someone feted our heroes.

A week later, a senior Chinese journalist in the capital was heard complaining. His concern was not that he and his Chinese colleagues were ignored by Pakistani officials during a formal dinner. That’s a small matter. He linked it to the overall perception that, after Feb. 18, something has changed in the relationship with Beijing and that the new elected leadership is not big on China, Pakistan’s traditionally close ally.

“Is everything over after Musharraf?” says the senior Chinese journalist, with some bitterness. I will not quote a name because I don’t have the permission to do that. It does sound dramatic. And it may not be true considering the strong military-to-military Sino-Pakistani relations, reinforced by our Gen. Kayani’s just-concluded visit to Beijing. But this is an impression from someone whose voice is heard by many Pakistan-watchers in the Chinese capital.

Obviously this is not about seating arrangements at official banquets. This is about a whole new foreign policy that is apparently being thrust on Pakistanis without discussion. While it is the prerogative of a new elected government to introduce its own vision for international relations, it is our right to debate it and even reject it, if a majority wants so. This debate is being stifled.

Whether America’s war on terror is ours or not – and no amount of paid advertisements will make it ours – there is no question that Pakistanis don’t want their country to become Washington’s third war after Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Bush administration is feverishly pushing in that direction before the end of its term in order to force the hand of a future government in Washington.

What part of American successes in Iraq and Afghanistan is the current Pakistani government so impressed with that it has no problem in turning Pakistan into CENTCOM’s third area of operations? The U.S. military, which is so keen on training Pakistanis, has been a failure in counterinsurgency warfare in two war zones. It has turned Iraq into a permanently weak and divided nation. In Afghanistan, U.S. military is supporting criminals, warlords and drug smugglers in government. The Afghan opposition, including Afghan Taliban, is being pushed to the wall and slaughtered instead of being reconciled and given a stake and ownership in their own country.

This is why it is stunning that President Zardari’s government is doing very little to stop Pakistan from becoming America’s next war zone. There should not be a problem in deciding this one: this for sure is not our war. Why is it difficult for our President to tell the Americans they need to pacify the Afghan opposition and resistance groups and end the reign of Karzai’s ‘war-lord regime’ in Kabul in order to bring peace to that country?

It is also time for Islamabad to come out of the closet. The Afghan Taliban, with whom we ended diplomatic relations seven years ago, is a legitimate Afghan player along with the other Afghan resistance and opposition groups. We have no quarrel with them and there is no way that peace can be achieved in Afghanistan without bringing them on board. This is necessary to stabilize our own areas and end America’s excuses to invade Pakistan. If Washington cannot understand this, it is our job to ensure they do.

With America’s steep financial crisis, it is strange how our government is slavishly pinning hopes on a rescue package for Pakistan and in the process is keeping mum on major acts of hostility from our so-called allies. Mr. Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary, has publicly declared that his country is working on ending its reliance on Pakistan as a transit route for fuel and cargo. And hardly a day goes by without Gen. David Petraeus threatening Pakistan that we risk our very ‘existence’ of we don’t allow U.S. boots on our soil. And as soon as Mr. Karzai’s ambassador in Geneva was elected to IAEA board last week, his first order of business was to raise the ‘issue’ of Pakistan’s proliferation record and urge a reopening of investigations into the matter. Meanwhile, India, which according to our President is no longer a threat, is boldly blocking water coming to us from the rivers of occupied Kashmir. Of course, there is hardly any mention of the mounting and
brave Kashmiri resistance in the face of Indian state terrorism.

Pakistanis used to be chided by the Americans after 9/11 for fostering ‘anti-Americanism’. Now our so-called friends are spreading ‘anti-Pakistanism’ around the world, misrepresenting the Pakistanis and reintroducing us as ‘Iraq II’. But not a single voice of defense from Pakistan. History is inviting President Zardari to take a stand and carve a name for himself. He should start by doing and saying the right things in his upcoming unnecessarily delayed ‘first official trip’ to China.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008.

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