Guest journalist and writer Ahmed Rashid reflects on tensions between Pakistan and the US.
Relations between the US and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government have reached their lowest point since September 2001 when
President George W Bush first embraced Pakistan as a critical ally in the war against terrorism.
Musharraf 'needs to strike a new deal with the US to retain its support'
Gen Musharraf's future political survival depends primarily on finding agreement with Pakistan's disenfranchised secular political opposition before scheduled elections in 2007.
However over the past five years as his popularity has dwindled, Gen Musharraf has also come to depend on support from the US.
Now he needs to strike a new deal with the US if he wants to retain Washington's support to remain as president until 2012.
It was clear after the brief 4 March stopover in Islamabad by President Bush that the Americans were not happy and had made several tough approaches to Gen Musharraf.
Those became public on 5 April, when on his
first visit to Islamabad, Richard Boucher, the new US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia delivered some stinging demands.
Mr Boucher firmly stressed the need for free and fair elections in 2007.
But he went much further than any other US official when he stressed that the US
strongly favoured civilian rule and civilian control over the armed
He said that for Gen Musharraf to continue to be both president and army chief negated democracy.
He also refused to offer any sop to appease Pakistan's concerns about the recent civilian nuclear cooperation deal between the US and India.
And he said the US wanted more cooperation from
Pakistan's rogue nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is under
house arrest in Islamabad.
Soldiers have been fighting tribesmen and militants in Waziristan
Finally, Mr Boucher insisted that the US would not declare the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA),
which has led the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan province, a terrorist
An earlier US messenger, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman had told the
government on 13 March that the situation in Balochistan was "an
impediment" to investment in Pakistan.
And just in case the generals may have thought Mr Bucher too junior to make such criticisms, the next day National Security Adviser Stephen
Hadley repeated the same message during a speech in Washington.
The military and the government were stunned because the Bush
administration had now - in public - committed itself to contradicting
almost every facet of US support for military rule that the army has
depended upon since 11 September 2001.
An angry Islamabad responded by banning the BLA as a terrorist group on 9 April. It complained that Washington had not informed it properly about the US - India
nuclear deal. And it blamed Afghanistan - another key US ally - for stirring the
pot in Balochistan and Waziristan, where the Pakistani army is
combating Pakistani and Afghan Taleban.
At the same time Islamabad has decided to test Washington's true
intentions towards Pakistan, by placing an order for 77 American built
F-16 fighter aircraft at a cost of $3.5bn. Such a huge order
has to be passed by the administration and Congress.
An 'angry Islamabad has banned the BLA as a terrorist group'
American frustration has mounted over the past 18 months over Pakistan's
failure to rein in the Taleban who have ready access to the main population centres along the Afghan-Pakistan border, including Quetta, the
capital of Balochistan province.
The Taleban have now launched a major effort to derail
Nato's deployment of over 10,000 troops to southern Afghanistan this
The Americans are also frustrated over the deadlock in
Waziristan, where the army appears to have lost control of the
countryside to Pakistani Taleban.
Defence and foreign ministers from Nato countries now deploying troops
in southern Afghanistan have been to Islamabad to tell Gen Musharraf to
deal more forcibly with the Taleban in Balochistan.
They point out that,
whereas the US army's major concern was al-Qaeda and getting Osama bin Laden,
their priority is dealing with the threats to their troops from the Taleban.
For Gen Musharraf, the key need is unqualified US support for his
re-election as president after the 2007 general elections.
Now it seems
that US support is contingent on a free and fair election.
There are mounting fears amongst Western ambassadors and Pakistani
politicians that the army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are
planning another 2002 election, in which the secular opposition leaders
were barred from standing and the elections were heavily pre-rigged in
favour of pro-army politicians and the fundamentalists.
That has resulted in a lack lustre, discredited parliament, a
technocrat prime minister who has no control over the ruling Pakistan
Muslim League, Islamic fundamentalists being anointed as the formal
opposition and a countrywide increase in Islamic extremism, sectarianism
Now the combined opposition is demanding that, before the elections, the
present government and the army step down in favour of an interim
government headed by an impartial figure.
'There has been a countrywide increase in Islamic extremism and sectarianism'
They also want a powerful and clean Election
Commission, a new voters list and full freedom for all politicians to
take part in the elections.
What the Americans and many Pakistanis are pushing for, but which Gen Musharraf
is resisting, is that he strike a deal with Benazir Bhutto, allowing her
secular, anti-mullah Pakistan Peoples Party, full freedom to run in the
elections in return for her support for his continuation as president.
Nobody is under any illusions that the Americans are about to dump
Washington still prefers him to anyone else, but they
would like to see him become a conventional politician depending on secular
parties for support, rather than the extremists he presently relies on.
Gen Musharraf will need to strike a new deal with the US if he wants their
support in the critical coming months.
He will need to strike a genuine
rapprochement with Ms Bhutto, curb the Taleban in Quetta, open a dialogue
with the Baloch nationalists and get tougher with the Islamic parties
who are fuelling the militants in Waziristan.
This debate is now closed. You can read a selection of your comments below.
Musharraf is much better than those politicians. I am not sure why Ahmad Rashid is given so much importance by BBC. The only reason comes to my mind is that he always give a negative picture of Pakistan and Western leaders like this.Mr Rashid you can use ur writing skills for your country also but u are keen on writing best sellers for west.
Junaid Siddiqi, Canada
What Mr Ahmed Rashid has said might be the facts that none of us like to hear. I am supporter of Mr Musharraf and wish to have him in the power for years to come. The people who talk about democracy in Pakistan are of two types. Pakistanis who lives in western world and consider that is the best form of government (I totally agree). Second group of people are those who knows our Political system and they get benefitted by it. You have to understand why people support Musharraf not because people like dictatorship but because we all believe he is going to be good for the country.
Faraz Ahmed, Islamabad/Pakistan
If Nepal can force the king to take premature retirement, then why cant Pakistanis do the same to their military ruler. Can anyone in Pakistan tell me in what state they want Pakistan to be say 25 years from now ? Have they ever thought of what there children will be doing 10 years from now ?....fighting as a al qaida operative, jihadist in kashmir or an ethnic terrorist in karachi ? Do they see respect for there country from other nations with the kind of policies they adopt ?
The vast majority of Pakistanis know that Musharraf is the best option for the country. The Islamists have no moral or popular grounds to govern on. The so called "political parties" are no more than a feudalistic clan structure with western names that look good to the west but have nothing but self enrichment as their agenda. If the BBC actually took a fair poll of educated and unaffiliated Pakistanis, not those in madrassas or those belonging to political parties, it would find that most agree with me. Unfortunately, you allow the views of a journalist who obviously has his own agenda in favor of the corrupt political class. He is well known as a supporter of these types in Pakistan and also has a history of being a supporter of Pakistan's detractors wherever they exist. It is a shame that the BBC continues to support the views of such a biased and negative individual. I would be surprised if columnists with such obscenely negative views of India would get similar support from the BBC.
Mr Ahmed Rashid, your comments seem biased. Either you are not aware, or were not there once the "non-military" rules of Benazir and Nawaz Sharif were playing hell with Pakistan, its people and economy. Benazir especially; one can comfortably say that she was never a Pakistani. She is still running on the name of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a great politician who went overboard. Unfortunately, after Mr Bhutto, Pakistan has never found a true statesman or a leader worthy of running the country. President Musharraf himself doesn't consider military rule a good option for Pakistan. I hope we (the unbiased and true) Paksitanis find a genuine leader in near future. Still I would dare say that under the "demorcratic, enlightened and moderated-military" rule of President Musharraf, if we are not moving forward (that too in your opinion), we are also not moving backward. I have a suggestion for you Mr Ahmed Rashid, good minds like yours can help us find genuine leaders and statesmen! May Allah shower HIS blessings on Pakistan.
Musharrafs position is very much the consequence of hubris..as Bush winds down his term in office the Americans are once again throwing their baby with the bathwater. The reality is Mush can't reach out to the opposition because he would in turn have to destroy the very groups he has created in the process and I doubt he would do so...he can't promise anything to the Baloch because he has a history of U turns and breaking his word.. as far as Waziristan is concerned, the badly planned, under-US pressure operation has created a mini-quagmire which despite all the losses Pakistan has faced has not satisfied the Americans.
10 years from the corrupt Benazir government..instead of being in the top 10 most corrupt nations we are in the top 10 failed nations..so all in all things are getting worse..being in power for longer won't solve anything..but neither will his departure..thats the tragedy of Pakistan..as for Mush his tragedy is what a disappointment he has been..
There is no doubt that President Musharraf has played an important role in Stabilising Pakistan at a defficult time especially his leadership of his country in the aftermath of 9/11.Moreover Pakistan has done very well on the economic front under his leadership and is on a path of economic development.At the same time Army can not govern the country perpetually and has to make way for the rule of the people and allow the genuine democracy to take firm roots. There are strong political undercurrents in Pakistan reflected in the recent countrywide protests which point in the direction that it will be increasingly defficult for the President to continue to occupy twin posts of Army chief & President beyond 2007. He must honour the wishes of his people by giving up one office and allow free & fair polls for the better & secure future of his country and saving it from political turmoil.
Mohammad Shoaib, India
US should not support Musharraf at any cost or for any reason. US support for Musharraf is giving US bad name in Pakistan and it is also having devastating effect on internal political situation in the country.
Khawaja Ashraf, USA
Its high time that Pakistan needs a free and fair democratic govenment in place and also the Army should be made apolitical and the current Army chief vis a vis President, General Musarraf be removed from his post or be deposed for good. Its good for the country in the long run or else it will be failed state in a matter of months.
Americans? Supporting a dictator...here we go again, be ready to remove "dangerous" Pakistani regime in 5 years....
J Mosley, Uk
Courting the 'secular' parties to do battle with the ignorant and illiterate of the religious parties is pure insanity. The PPP under Bhutto and PML under Sharif ran a promising country into the ground and allowed for the so called 'religous' parties to massively gain in popularity. Had they not between them brought Pakistan to its knees Musharraf would never have taken power in the first place.
The problems Pakistan faces are not all of Musharraf's making and though he isn't the best solution for Pakistan by a long shot, at least the country is slowly moving forward as opposed to rapidly moving backwards, as it was under Bhutto and Sharif.
Usman Ansari., Uk
I think the analysis in this story is too simplistic. It is clear that Ahmed Rashid has a secular agenda and doesn't waste an opportunity to bash the Islamic parties when he can. His tactic to wrap his attacks in "reasoned, cultured prose" might fool the BBC, but not us Pakistanis!
Muhammad Khan, Sharon, MA, USA
i fully agree with ahmad rashid's comments. musharraf is eying the US support to keep office till 2012. But i object something that the expression which is highly perceived in pakistan that if a leader rules in pakistan it is not his or her capability but it is the american will. The percepton that pakistani leaders have to make the US happy in order to take control of the government, as something like that is described in this article, i simply disagree. elections of 2007 if it held has nothing to do with American influence but public opinion. if musharraf is eying american support to win he is wrong he should look at tht public.
atif ashraf, pakistan
Great article by Ahmed Rashid.
Yes, only american support can keep the General in charge.Generals could never afford free, fair and transparent elections.Always an ISI fabricated parliament.
And irony of the fate is, even these dummy parliaments were dissolved, directly or covertly by millatry establishment.
Mr Rashid is right but Gen. Musharraf will never srike a deal with Ms Bhutto because if does so he and his urdu speaking ally Altaf would loose control of Sindh. Also, he wont initiate a dialogue with Baloch leaders because army wants a military victory in that province. Musharraf will contineu to play a double game with USA as will use taliban/ alqaeda card for his benifit.
Mustafa Mahesar, London, Uk
Yet, once again I see a very negative slant on things by Mr Rashid. Again, using the reputable news site such as BBC, as his portal. Is there nothing positive in Pakistan presently for Mr Rashid to write about? Obsession with the Taliban will only reinforce my feelings of him ie. a Taliban jurnalist.
Abid Hussain, Uk
it is time for Musharraf to resign and let new life give birth to pakistan...Long live Shaukat Aziz!!!
aslam asif, USA