19 September 2001
The Times of India
Musharraf drops Taliban to get Kashmir
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
NEW DELHI: Painted into a corner by relentless pressure from the US, General Musharraf has justified his unpopular policy of military support for Washington's planned war against Afghanistan by declaring that the very survival of Pakistan as a ''fortress of Islam'' is at stake.
Given that the main opposition to his decision to offer the US logistical support and access to Pakistan's airspace comes from Islamic leaders and organisations, this is hardly surprising.
The other theme Musharraf dwelt on was equally predictable. India, he said, has already thrown open its doors to the US military. The Vajpayee government, he noted correctly, wants to use this occasion to draw closer to the US and eventually get Pakistan declared as a terrorist state. Thus, joining hands with the US, even if for an unpopular and damaging task, is the only way to guarantee Pakistan's interest.
As an exercise in astute political management, Musharraf's speech was a valiant effort to reconcile the irreconcilable.
Support to the Taliban has been an act of faith for Pakistan's rulers ever since the Afghan militia was first armed by the Benazir government.
To justify his departure from this policy, Musharraf wisely chose to allude to one of Islam's most famous moments of departure --tThe flight of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina. If Muhammad could emerge strengthened from the hijrat - the General promised - so too would Pakistan, from its (temporary) forsaking of the Taliban.
Pakistan's ''critical concerns'' were safety, economy, nuclear bombs and missiles and Kashmir. Not the Taliban or Afghanistan. Though he refrained from making claims about US assurances, the implication clearly was that future gains on fronts like Kashmir will more than compensate any losses on the Afghan front.
For all his rhetoric against India, it was ironic that Musharraf had to take a leaf out of the Vajpayee government's book, by turning the ongoing crisis between the US and Afghanistan into yet another bone of contention between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Whether the India-phobia of Pakistan's Islamic extremists will lead them to back off now remains to be seen. To a large extent, it would depend on precisely what the US intends to do in Afghanistan. The Bush administration cannot have failed to notice the curious symmetry in the Indian and Pakistani response to Washington's call for countries to ''join US or be against US'' in the ''war against terrorism''.
In India, the Vajpayee government cites the fear of Pakistan stealing a march over it as the reason for leaping headlong into its offer of naval and air bases. Musharraf, on his part, says if Pakistan does not cooperate with the US, New Delhi and Washington will draw closer together to the detriment of Islamabad. Without much effort, the Bush administration has succeeded in getting both Pakistan and India to agree to involve themselves in what is going to be in essence very much a US war.