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PAKISTAN ON EDGE AS BUSH VISIT BEGINS

Analysis by M B Naqvi

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As UN envoy John Bolton pronounces Pakistan and India have 'legitimate' nuclear weapons

(IPS) KARACHI -- Apprehension and expectation are uppermost in the minds of Pakistani leaders as President Bush begins the business end of a four-day tour of India and Pakistan.

Apprehension because Bush, who landed in India on Wednesday evening, will be spending only one day, Saturday, in Pakistan which is supposed to be Washington's 'most allied ally in Asia' and partner in the 'war on terror' in neighbouring Afghanistan.

"Pakistanis somehow regard the growth of an Indo-American strategic partnership as some kind of a negative development. A zero-sum game is what is in their mind, though the Americans are at pains to explain to both sides that America remains their friend while they are running their own cold war," Prof. Jafar Ahmad of Karachi University told IPS in an interview.


Bush is expected to advance, if not seal, a civilian nuclear technology and fuel agreement with India as part of a strategic partnership initiative, launched in July when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington.

"As far as I can see there is no prospect of America providing nuclear reactors to Pakistan or giving this country the status of a nuclear power --the chances of any such thing is zero," Ahmad said. Such a demand has been made by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

However, the academic was inclined to blame the A.Q. Khan episode for the changed attitude. "The Americans were genuinely angry with the proliferation activities of A. Q. Khan and the subject is far from being closed -- it is possible that Bush makes some sort of demarche on it while here."

While both countries are self-declared nuclear weapon states, the Bush administration views India as having a clean record on nuclear proliferation, and unlike Pakistan which has acknowledged that its top scientist, A. Q. Khan, sold sensitive nuclear technology to several countries, including Iran.

Bush can also be expected to make some "democracy promoting" statements in the context of elections, slated for 2007, and some "soothing words" on Afghanistan-related matters, though these are likely to be accompanied by "more pressures", Ahmad said.

Signs of bending to those pressures were available, on Wednesday, when a Pakistan army statement said, "more than 45 militants, mostly foreigners along with their local facilitators are assessed to have been killed," in a military operation at dawn, involving the use of helicopter gunships in North Waziristan, along the Afghan border.

The well-known commentator on strategic issues, Brig. A.R. Siddiqui, was more optimistic about the Bush visit. "In Pakistan's bilateral relationship with America, there are certain constants. There is Pakistan's persistent need for support and military aid. The times when Pakistan was not receiving American military aid are regarded as extraordinary and characterised by hardship."

"It is a perennial expectation that the Americans would go on providing more military aid, though the current visit may be limited to the sale of F-16 aircraft," Siddiqui said. He added that an announcement of the long-pending sale is important, though it may have more political value than military, considering the nuclear-capable aircraft are now nearly obsolete.

Even after the A. Q. Khan proliferation scandal was exposed in early 2004, Pakistan continued to receive aid from Washington. In that year, Bush announced a three billion dollar aid package and accorded Pakistan the status of ‘major non-NATO ally' placing it on par with countries like Israel for generous military and financial aid.

"Pakistan," said Siddiqui, "has been taken by surprise by the sweep of the Indo-American strategic partnership." "Many here have noted with some apprehension that the Americans are determined to help India grow into a major global power and that they are ready to recognize India as a regular nuclear power with all the privileges of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and specially amended American laws as well."

"Bush said in his Asia Society speech (Feb. 22) that he would ask Pakistan to close down the training camps for Taliban and other terrorists and arrest the top leadership of al-Qaeda which the Afghans say is hiding in Pakistan. This is now the main concrete American interest in Pakistan and they are very serious that Pakistan should be more actively helping by preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan territory," Siddiqui said.

One possible positive outcome of Bush's sub-continental visit is that it could help improve Indo-Pakistan relations. "Although no concrete changes have taken place yet, both India and Pakistan are simultaneously professing friendship for America and are indirectly cooperating with each other," said Ahmad.

"So long as they don't threaten a nuclear exchange, some differences between India and Pakistan do not worry the Americans. Pakistanis also tends to expect too much from the Americans on such perennial issues as Kashmir," noted Ahmad.

Siddiqui observed that the options for Pakistan were narrowing. "Pakistan has made a new demand on the U.S.: ‘give us the same treatment on the nuclear subject that you are proposing to give to India,' but the chances are slim that America will concede anything like that."

"Indeed, I believe that there are apprehensions that Bush will emphasise what President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan recently said, accusing Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to regroup and attack Afghan or NATO targets," said Siddiqui.

Bush, who made a surprise stopover in Afghanistan on Wednesday, en route to India, said during a joint press conference with Karzai that he "absolutely will bring up cross-border infiltration with President Musharraf," and that it was an "ongoing topic of conversation".

Before leaving Washington, Bush told ABC television: "I'm going to talk to my friend President Musharraf and remind him that we have a common enemy in al-Qaeda, and so long as al-Qaeda is plotting and planning in the neighbourhood, we're going to need to work together to stop those plots."

"It is not only al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. The very politics of Pakistan is unsettling for the Americans. The upsurge of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (fundamentalist political group) on the thin basis of Danish newspaper cartoons is symptomatic. The Americans were banking on Pakistan growing more moderate and modernist than is the case," Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui said while Bush is vocal about democracy, his definition differs from what independent and opposition politicians in Pakistan think democracy is. "Musharraf in full military regalia has presided over the destinies of Pakistan for so long and the Americans have felt no discomfort. It would be odd if Bush would indicate, even indirectly, that he is not comfortable with Musharraf's uniform."



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Albion Monitor   March 1, 2006   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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