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No support for America's war: Sharif aide

May 27, 2008 08:38 IST
Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States and currently a senior foreign policy adviser to erstwhile prime minister and chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) Nawaz Sharif, said President Pervez Musharraf's failure to rout terrorism in Pakistan was largely because he did not have popular support, as the war on terror was seen by the people as 'America's war.'

Speaking recently at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on 'Pakistan's New Civilian Government: Managing a Difficult Democratic Transition', Fatemi predicted the new civilian administration installed in the wake of the February 18 election would be more effective in fighting terrorism, because it is not seen as being beholden to Washington.

The government's modus operandi, he said, would rely more on dialogue with those moderate groups that were earlier at odds with Musharraf, and less on military operations -- hence, he said, it was important that the US remained patient, and didn't rock the boat.

Fatemi argued for a change in the conduct of the war on terror, as 'no elected government can sustain the policy' Musharraf had adopted . 'No elected government can permit a foreign power to come and do the kinds of things that the Musharraf regime permitted the United States to do. It's not possible. It just cannot happen.' He said the US had to abandon its unilateral approach, which Islamabad would not be able to support, and partner with the new government in the common objective of winning the war on terror.

Fatemi, whose diplomatic assignments over a 35-year career have included Moscow and Beijing, said, 'One of the major problems with the war on terror as had been conducted by General Musharraf was that it had come to be perceived as America's war on terror, because the war on terror had become an instrument of General Musharraf to perpetuate his authoritarian rule.

'The US, the Bush administration, made grievous errors by making General Musharraf the symbol of its support for the war on terror.' Washington, he said, made it appear that Musharraf was conducting the war single handed, and the rest of Pakistan was not involved.

'And, if that was the case, then obviously the people of Pakistan felt that this was neither their war nor to their advantage.'

The diplomat pointed out that moderate Pakistanis have always believed that combating terror was the right objective. 'But the manner in which was it was conducted was wrong, because the policies of General Musharraf did not enjoy legitimacy, they did not enjoy credibility, and they had absolutely no consensus amongst the political parties in Pakistan.'

He pointed out that at no point had the so-called war on terror ever been discussed in the national assembly or the senate of Pakistan, 'and at no point was the cabinet of Pakistan -- for whatever it was worth -- ever taken into confidence. Ministers of that time now publicly claim that they didn't even know what was happening. They did not even know what amounts of money were coming in from the United States for this particular operation.'

Ridiculing Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who recently said that when he called Musharraf an indispensable ally, it was 'shorthand for the nation of Pakistan', the former envoy said, 'I didn't know that in political science you can consider 160 million people as dispensable or indispensable.'

Defending the new government's decision to shelve the military option in favour of dialogue, Fatemi dismissed concerns expressed in the US that Pakistan would move away from the US. Both Pakistan People's Party chief Asif Zardari and Sharif were 'committed to maintaining our existing good relations with the United States', he said.

Responding to questions about the deal the US had attempted to cobble with the late Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf, Fatemi said while Bhutto had some clear advantages, including a US education and friends in the country, the American view of Sharif as a radical Muslim was clearly mistaken.

'Those who may have feared that he (Sharif) is very religious would be right, but his religion is something personal to him. He has never tried to espouse religious policies within the country. He's a moderate politician from all I know. The Bush administration may have felt more comfortable with Benazir because they knew her better and she had more friends here. But once they get to know Nawaz Sharif better, I think their attitude will change.'

While lauding the new government for its initial moves, Fatemi said it was disturbing that it had not been able to 'resolve the issue of the ousted judges. In reality, the ousted judges and their restoration have become a litmus test for the success or failure of the coalition partners.'

Fatemi said Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party accords high importance to this issue 'because Sharif believes that unless the action (against the Supreme Court judges) by Musharraf last November is reversed, you could have this kind of action taking place in the future as well, where the army chief could carry out this kind of illegal action without fear of any action taken against him by the judiciary or the executive branch.'

This, he said, is why Sharif had made the restoration of sacked judges a major part of his electoral platform in the run up to the February polls, and why he currently refuses to compromise on the issue.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC