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Pervez's new challenges
August 06, 2003
Pakistan strongman Pervez Musharraf can add two more to the ever growing list of challenges on his plate.
One is internal, the other external.
The external one involves Afghanistan.
The internal one involves Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee, General Mohammed Aziz Khan, a coup buddy who Musharraf thought he had neutralised by promoting to this largely ceremonial post.
The challenge from Afghanistan came from President Hamid Karzai, angry over the growing incidents of Pakistani soldiers crossing into Afghan soil, and then attempting to set up camps well within Afghanistan's borders.
'Pakistan must stretch its legs according to its bed,' warned Karzai,. While he sought 'a civilised relationship with Pakistan,' Islamabad 'must avoid acts of aggression against Afghanistan and attacks across the border by extremists must stop. We will not remain silent spectators.'
There have been repeated incursions by Pakistani soldiers of late ostensibly pursuing members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda across the border. On July 12, Afghan and Pakistan troops exchanged fire along the border. 'There was an exchange of heavy fire for 45 minutes, both sides used artillery,' Reuters quoted the commander of the Afghan border forces, Haji Abdul Zahir Qadir, as saying.
The tripartite technical committee, comprising military officials of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States, is meeting again on August 12 after disagreement over maps dividing the two neighbouring countries. 'The Afghans based their claim of alleged Pakistani intrusion using Russian maps that vary from the maps used by Pakistan and the United States,' the newspaper Dawn quoted an official as saying. 'The Afghans using Russian maps claim Pakistani forces to have intruded 12 kilometres inside Afghanistan. This cannot be true. Russian maps are known to be flawed and inaccurate. Even if there is an intrusion it could not possibly be more than a few metres. Afghanistan being a successor to the state of Amir Abdur Rehman and we being successors to the British Empire are signatory to the November 1893 Durand Line Treaty. The Durand Line was drawn by the British and we are using the same British maps.'
Earlier, anger over reported incursions by Pakistani troops led to a mob raiding the Pakistani embassy in Kabul on July 8, and smashing computers and furniture while the diplomats cowered in the basement.
Islamabad, of course, blames India.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat told journalists in Lahore that India was establishing diplomatic offices in Afghanistan's cities where their presence could not be justified. 'We fear that the Indian commissions and consulate in Afghanistan will serve purposes other than diplomacy, and we have expressed our apprehension to India,' he said.
Indian agents based in Afghanistan were also behind the attack on a mosque in Quetta earlier last month in which at least 50 people were killed, Hayat claimed.
Visiting Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali refuted this at a press conference in Islamabad. 'It is not true that the Indian embassy and consulates in Afghanistan had any involvement in the Quetta attack. The incident was the result of sectarian violence in Pakistan. Such incidents take place in Pakistan even when the Indian embassy and consulates were closed,' he said.
As for the Indian missions in Afghanistan, here is what a Pakistani portal quoted Karzai as saying:
'I want to remember the good things about Pakistan and how it has helped us in the jihad, how Pakistan took in millions of our people as refugees and looked after them. If Pakistan is worried about the role of India, let me assure you I have been very specific in telling the Indians that they cannot use Afghan soil for acts of aggression against another country. The Indians are only building roads and hospitals and schools, what do you want me to do -- to tell them to stop doing that? I would like to see Pakistan stop living in the dreams of attaining strategic depth. Let us all be friends and attain strategic depth that way.'
At the moment, such a friendship seems as remote or as close as that between India and Pakistan. And this acrimony from a neighbour that was once (and possibly still is among certain sections in Pakistan) seen as a Pakistani province ought to cause some serious unease in Islamabad.
India, meanwhile, has announced that Pakistan's allegations about Indian activities in Afghanistan could impede the peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi.
But for the moment, Musharraf is perhaps more concerned about the challenge thrown by Mohammed Aziz Khan.
Khan, who never tried to hide his links with the fundamentalists, is the only Kashmiri four star general in the Pakistan army. As lieutenant general, he was commander of the Lahore-based 4 Corps, which played a key role in the coup against Nawaz Sharif. A former ISI hand, he was also one of the masterminds of the Kargil conflict.
Aziz's overt relations ties with the ISI and the Taliban made India and the Americans uneasy. Under intense American pressure -- and perhaps also due to personal fears about Aziz's growing clout in the military and his rabid opposition to any truck with the US -- Musharraf promoted Aziz to full general and appointed him to the largely ceremonial post of Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee a day after the Americans starting bombing Afghanistan.
As chairman, Aziz does not participate in key corps commander meetings, which is where the real power lies.
Aziz is believed to have guided the negotiations between the hijackers of the Indian Airlines jet in Kandahar and the Indian authorities in December 1999. He is also said to be the 'chief of staff' of Pakistan's Army of Islam, formed with a nod and wink from the US to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Today, this umbrella outfit is better know as the International Islamic Front, which counts the US, Israel and India among its main enemies.
After laying low for some time, there were reports that Aziz had put the word out that he was amenable to taking over if the mullahs actually managed to depose Musharraf. These reports were later credited by Western analysts to Indian intelligence agencies, said to be hoping to cause a rift between the two generals.
Musharraf and Aziz go back a long way. It is quite possible that Musharraf deliberately, and with Aziz's knowledge and approval, uses the fundamentalist as a reminder to Washington of what could happen in case he is overthrown. The fact remains that in terms of rank, Aziz is Musharraf's successor.
But subsequent events indicate that the rift may be real, and wider than believed.
Aziz, who perhaps felt emboldened by the rising anti-Americanism in the Muslim world after the attack on Iraq, stepped up his tirade against America in public. And it was during Musharraf's last visit to the US (June 23 to 29) that he finally threw down the gauntlet.
Addressing a public gathering in Lahore, he said: 'America is the No 1 enemy of the Muslim world and is conspiring against Muslim nations all over the world.'
But that was not all. In a direct reference to his boss, he said politics should not be done in 'uniform.' This blatant attack --indicative of Aziz's perception that he has the requisite support from the mullahs who now hold electoral office as well as the more radical elements in the army -- is something Musharraf can ignore only at his peril.
As for India, Aziz said even if the Kashmir dispute was resolved, the two nations could never be friends.
Now that is a line likely to be picked up and used by those in India who believe the same thing.