|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | T V R SHENOY|
July 2, 1999
T V R Shenoy
Looking for a scapegoat
Two news items caught my eye recently which haven't been given the analysis they deserve. The first came from General Parvez Musharraf, chief of staff of the Pakistan army. Any decision to withdraw from Kargil, he said, must be a decision made by Nawaz Sharief. The second was the announcement, suitably trumpeted by Pakistan, that China would sell advanced technology fighter aircraft.
First, I have no idea whom General Musharraf thought he was fooling when he said a prime minister of Pakistan has the right to give orders to the military. In 52 years there has never been any reason to think so; the only prime ministers blinded by such an illusion, Liaqat Ali Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, found their careers -- and their lives -- abruptly abbreviated.
If there was any doubt on the subject, it should have been removed by reading the transcripts of the conversations by the Pakistani commanders. They make it abundantly clear that poor Nawaz Sharief wasn't informed about the details of the Kargil invasion. (It is a different issue that he didn't have the guts to object when the true dimensions of the operation became clear.) So why is General Musharraf so eager to pass the buck this time round?
Primarily to save face. Pakistan's generals learned at least one lesson from the debacles of 1965 and 1971: it is better to let a civilian take the heat when things go wrong. And let us face it, things are beginning to go very wrong indeed for Pakistan.
The invaders, who promised so much in the first weeks, are being ground down. International pressure, which was supposed to force India to offer a general settlement on Kashmir, has made Pakistan's behaviour its focus.
I know many people think that the Indian government is making too much of international reactions. After all, they say, it isn't as if American approval or disapproval makes much of a difference to India's military policy.
Quite right, but it does make a difference to Pakistan. The United States is the traditional source both of Pakistani arms and Pakistani finances; when the Americans begin to frown, the Islamabad establishment shivers.
And now the United States is starting to do more than frown. Pakistan was making subtle suggestions about selling nuclear weapons to the highest bidder if deprived of funds. The American reaction was anything but subtle; it was leaked to a Washington paper that the US administration was considering blocking a US $ 100 million loan.
There were also rumours that further strikes on Osama bin Laden's camps were in the offing; need I add that those camps are (a.) in Pakistan or just across its border with Afghanistan, and (b.) that they also serve as the training grounds of the militants involved in Kargil right now?
The mujahideen contingent may whine or threaten, but the prime responsibility of a chief of staff is to preserve his own forces to fight another day. Pakistan, given the fragility of its economic, technological, and even educational bases, cannot stand up to the United States. Not unless there is another power willing to take up the protector's mantle. And this leads to China.
That nation, for reasons discussed in my last column has no intention of helping Islamic fundamentalists. Was that analysis wrong given the recent news about Beijing agreeing to sell planes? Not if you read the small print.
The deal to sell Super-Seven fighters isn't new. The memorandum of understanding was signed in 1997. The first plane won't be delivered until 2003 at the earliest, and mass production won't begin until 2007. As far as the Kargil crisis is concerned, the planes are irrelevant.
The much-touted agreement is little more than a face-saving device dug up from the archives for Nawaz Sharief by his Chinese hosts. They have been silent about supporting an old ally though in the last six weeks, Pakistan's chief of staff, foreign minister, and prime minister have all made the pilgrimage.
They have to be given something to show for all that effort. And what better than dusting a nearly forgotten memorandum of understanding and converting it into a treaty? No, if China were really serious, it could offer some arms right now.
An unfriendly United States and a neutral China -- if you were chief of staff of the Pakistani Army you too would be looking for scapegoats. And who better, as I suggested a couple of weeks ago, than the unpopular Nawaz Sharief?
|Tell us what you think of this column|
BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL RESERVATIONS | WORLD CUP 99
EDUCATION | PERSONAL HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | FEEDBACK