|New Regional Alignments
September 12, 2003
Decision making in Pakistan once took place in an institutional framework allowing debate between different governmental departments. This resulted in credible, legitimate, serious and acceptable policies based on consensus.
Since commando style politics reshaped Islamabad’s foreign policy, impetuousness is the name of the game.
Such impetuousness was displayed following the bombing of the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001. As the call from Secretary of State Colin Powell came, Islamabad’s military dictator leapt to attention. Much to the surprise of the American administration, disclosed in a book called Bush at War, General Musharaf joined the international coalition against terrorism without naming a price.
Or consulting the institutions of government.
The foreign office, the security services, the national security council, the cabinet itself that would have supported the decision to join the war against terror were ignored.
Impetuousness cost Pakistan consensus and perhaps debt relief that could relieve unborn generations of financial burdens. Other countries, including Egypt and Jordan, managed such relief when strategic regional situations developed.
This summer the military dictator flew to Camp David for talks with President Bush, the most powerful leader of the unipolar world. His visit followed that of the President of the Philippines. She was treated to a resplendent state visit with a grand White House dinner while the Marine Band played in the background. He was treated to the lesser official visit, businesslike, simple and quickly over at Camp David.
Fresh from Camp David, the General decided on another display of impetuousness during a television talk show. He now wanted a “debate” on whether Pakistan should recognize the state of Israel. Although informal contacts between Islamabad and Tel Aviv existed since the days of General Zia in the seventies, Islamabad links recognition to the resolution of the Jerusalem and Golan Heights issues.
Perhaps the General thought that all doors to Washington lead through Israel. Or perhaps he wanted to dangle a carrot for his continuation in office. In any event, this momentous announcement was made without consulting the cabinet, the national security council or even his brother officers that make up the corp commanders of the Pakistan army.
Surprisingly, the General thought that a hard nosed state like Israel would bite a dangling carrot cutting its strategic relationship with India for a “debate” in Islamabad.
Of course Prime Minister Vajpayee was listening. He swiftly invited Prime Minister Sharon to New Delhi to let those that were in the dark know that the Israeli-Indian nexus was safe and sound.
The result of the General’s commando gambit, throwing aside consensus for unilateral action, is a troubling backlash for Islamabad.
Islamabad’s foreign office expressed the depth of concern over the growing Indo-Israel defence cooperation. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said “It is an act directed against Pakistan and we would be most concerned as they are very negative developments.”
The Israeli defence pact with New Delhi follows the Indo-Iranian defence agreement reached a few months back. Meanwhile Islamabad’s relations with Kabul are hardly good as pro Taliban militants regroup and attempt to destabilize the Karzai government.
Against this background, the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, a grouping of Kashmiri leaders across the divide, sympathetic to Islamabad, split.
Washington, which facilitated Indo-Pakistan talks in the past, has yet to suggest a summit meeting between Musharaf and Vajpayee during their September visits to the UN General Assembly in New York.
And Indian troops in Ladakh are carrying out military exercises which are “within the disputed territory” according to a foreign office briefing in Islamabad.
These exercises are taking place with US Special Forces as part of new Indo American military ties against the backdrop of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s visit to New Delhi.
Islamabad is helpless in the face of provocation even as it is Washington’s most valued ally.
The time calls for leadership to overcome the sorry pass of individual decision making although it seems that time and leadership are at odds with each other.