Under Nawaz Sharif dark clouds would disperse
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
The heavy mandate Nawaz Sharif’s rule came to an abrupt end after two years eight months as a result of military coup by Gen Musharraf on October 12, 1999. He was later on exiled for ten years. After 9/11, Musharraf was coerced and induced by the US and led to believe that partnership with USA would uplift Pakistan’s depressed fortunes and pave the way for prosperity. He was assured that unlike the past, this time Pak-US alliance will be long lasting, mutually beneficial and based on mutual respect. American officials admitted that the US had wrongly left Pakistan in a lurch on several occasions and promised that it will not be abandoned again. Lure of advancement of his selfish interests and material benefits as well as patronage of sole super power numbed his rational thinking.
Feeling thrilled at the prospects of earning legitimacy and staying in power for a long time and making Pakistan modern and prosperous, Musharraf forgot the dark history of USA how it had ditched Pakistan repeatedly at critical stages and that too at a time when India was in Soviet camp and an opponent of US policies. He forgot that India had become a strategic partner of USA and both had consistently maintained a hostile posture against Pakistan. He also lost sight of the fact that all the governments in Kabul had remained friendly with India and had pursued unfriendly policies against Pakistan and that it was only under the Taliban that Pakistan’s western border had become safe for the first time.
It didn’t occur to him that by taking a u-turn on Afghanistan and joining hands with USA to destroy Afghanistan, the people of FATA in particular and of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general as well as the religious right will get antagonized. He believed whatever Colin Powel told him on phone and readily agreed to all his seven demands. He did so since he at his own concluded that there was no other way out. The explanation he later gave in defence of his hasty and unilateral decision to grant so many concessions was that in case of his refusal, the US would have solicited Indian support and destroyed both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also presumed that the US was genuinely hurt on account of 9/11 attacks and was sincere in its resolve to eliminate terrorism from the face of earth.
No sooner he threw Pakistan in the tight embrace of USA in September 2001; he got the first rude shock three months later when India stage managed the drama of terrorist attack on Indian Parliament. In that timeframe although the US and its allies had succeeded in toppling Taliban regime and capturing Afghanistan, the situation was still hazy since none of the wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders could be captured. Pakistan had deployed 70,000 troops along its western border on the request of USA to nab the fleeing militants from Afghanistan.
Pakistani origin US national David Headley who is a CIA agent and had got himself enrolled in Lashkar-e-Taiba was used by RAW with the connivance of CIA to execute a fake terrorist attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 to give an excuse to India to exert maximum politico-military-media pressure on Pakistan and force it to yield to Indian demands the way it had succumbed to US pressure. India’s major concern was to make Pakistan change its policy on Kashmir. For ten months India’s full military might remained deployed along our border in a threatening posture.
Our equally aggressive response took the heat out of India’s bellicosity and it decided to back off. However, the prolonged confrontation had a telling effect on Gen Musharraf. Under US pressure he agreed to soften up Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir and to get detached from Kashmiri freedom movement. He banned Kashmir focused six Jihadi groups. While signing peace treaty with India on the insistence of USA in January 2004, he agreed that cross border terrorism was taking place in occupied Kashmir and gave his assurance that he would not allow any Jihadi group to misuse Pakistan soil.
The people were misled into believing that peace treaty with India and CBMs would help in solving all the disputes including Kashmir issue. He further damaged the cause of Kashmir when he downplayed UN resolutions and suggested out of box solution. Whatever gains made by Kashmiri Mujahideen through armed resistance from 1989 onwards at an extremely heavy price were wasted away by Musharraf. He obsequiously bowed to each and every command given by Washington. Battle with tribal militants resulted in loss of considerable space in FATA. Flames of low intensity war spread out from FATA to settled areas including Peshawar and creation of TTP and tied down over 100,000 troops. Marrying up of resentful Jihadi groups with Al-Qaeda and TTP brought the war into urban centres.
In order to ensure continuation of war that both the militants and Pak security forces got bled, the US started to level unsubstantiated accusations against Pakistan. Most spiteful allegation was that either Pakistan was complicit with the militants or was incompetent. Such an aspersion was cast on an ally that had staked its security and economy in fighting the US war and suffered the most and is paying the highest price. While the US officials and media made malicious allegations against Pakistan, no evidence to support their contention were ever produced, which clearly indicated its mala fide intentions?
The PPP led coalition regime of liberal parties installed by USA in March 2008 pursued Musharraf’s US centric policies and made no effort to ameliorate the living conditions of the have-nots who had attached high hopes in the democratically elected government. But for the poor governance, massive corruption, insensitivity of ruling regime and its subservience to Washington, neither the US could have spread its perverse influence in Pakistan, nor could the anti-state extremist groups play havoc. War on terror coupled with breakdown of law and order in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Karachi, which made the state fragile, facilitated easy entry to foreign agents to fish in troubled waters and deepen the chaos.
At the sunset of the year 2012, our fashion loving former Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was upbeat on account of self-perceived assessment that Indo-Pak relations had come out of the bad patch and were steadily improving. Composite dialogue that had been suspended in the wake of 26/11 had recommenced after a break of almost two years. She strongly felt that CBMs would help in resolving core disputes of Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and Wullar Barrage. Liberalization of visa regime, grant of MFN status and grant of land route via Wagah to Afghanistan and beyond in the backdrop of Indo-Pak trade talks in her view would give a quantum jump to bilateral trade between the two countries and would help in removing distrust and antagonism.
She was equally optimistic about Afghanistan asserting that there was significant improvement in bilateral relations as a consequence to Pakistan readily agreeing to all the four demands put forward by Salahuddin Rabbani, Chairman Afghan High Peace Council. These included release of 16 Taliban prisoners from detention. This conciliatory gesture in her view greatly helped in lessening bitterness and distrust and has paved the way for closer cooperation between the two neighbors.
She was particularly over excited over fast improving Pak-US relations that had hit rock bottom after series of offensive acts by USA in 2011 and its continued haughtiness and application of coercive tactics till reopening of NATO supply routes in July 2012. Her optimism concerning steady improvement in Pak-US relations is proving correct because of diametrically changed security situation in Afghanistan. Change of security team in Washington bringing friendly faces like John Kerry and Chuck Hegel raised Pakistan’s hopes of betterment of relations.
Hina’s buoyant assessment about improvement in Indo-Pak relations however proved short-lived. 2013 saw steady deterioration in Indo-Pak relations because India purposely heated up the LoC over an engineered incident of beheading of an Indian soldier. Tit for tat crude response by India over death of convicted Indian spy and terrorist Sarabjit Singh in the form of clubbing to death Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah Ranjay have once again tensed relations. Likewise, despite Pakistan going out of the way to keep Kabul friendly, its relations with Afghanistan dipped because of eccentric behavior of Hamid Karzai.
The power that was illegally snatched from Nawaz Sharif has once again fallen in his lap after 14 years. The one who ousted him is under house arrest and charged with murder and treason charges. Although Nawaz went through lots of trials and tribulations which reformed and matured him, after bouncing back at the centre stage on May 11, 2013, he seems to be in a forgiving mood. Political analysts are of the view that he and his team would not adopt the lifestyle of his predecessors and would make genuine efforts to take the country out of the woods.
Indo-Pak relations currently at a low key would improve. PM Manmohan Singh has already extended an invitation to Nawaz. Imran Khan’s PTI has emerged as the second strongest party in May 11 elections. Notwithstanding Nawaz-Imran tiff, both are likely to work towards ending the war on terror. The US is not likely to interfere since it is in its interest to have stable Pakistan during the crucial transition phase of US-NATO forces from Afghanistan. I see the dark clouds over Pakistan dispersing and a new dawn promising better days emerging.