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The Rediff Special/Hamid Mir

Understanding the unnatural alliance

January 10, 2003

Both the United States and Pakistan have claimed that last week's clash between their troops at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border near Angoor Adda was a misunderstanding. Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi said the incident between local paramilitary troops and US troops is under investigation. A week after his statement I asked Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri about the investigation. His answer was interesting. Kasuri said some conspirators had tried their best to exploit the incident to sabotage friendly relations between the United States and Pakistan, but they had failed. I insisted my old friend Kasuri identify the conspirators. He smiled and whispered, "the Indian lobby."

Kasuri may be unaware that a resolution against the US was passed after the Angoor Adda incident by the North West Frontier Province provincial assembly which the Islamic parties control. The minister said he would visit the US from January 29 and meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell to promote a better relationship between the two countries. "Why are thousands of Pakistanis in the US ill-treated by the FBI these days?" I asked him. Kasuri confessed that Pakistanis in the US are facing problems and said, "I will ask Powell to accord special status to Pakistanis in the US because we are their major partners in the war against terror."

Kasuri is not wrong. Pakistan has handed over more than 443 people (most of them foreigners) to the US after September 11, 2001. But I am sure Powell will not oblige Kasuri. The Americans don't feel shy about buying 'partners' without love and friendship. There is no free lunch in America.

Very few people can deny that the FBI ill-treats Pakistanis not only in the US but also in their own country. Many Pakistanis know the FBI arrested a doctor in Lahore without a warrant. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League(Q), condemned the FBI raids inside Pakistan, but Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali and Foreign Minister Kasuri are not ready to accept that the FBI conducted raids in Pakistan. Just two months after coming into power, Jamali and Kasuri are speaking in voices very different from their party president.

Chaudhry Hussain's anti-FBI statements reflect popular sentiment in Pakistan while the prime minister and foreign minister's statements reveal the constraints of a government which partners a superpower in the war against terrorism. Dr Khwaja Ahmed Javed is now in custody. Well informed sources claim the FBI wanted Javed extradited but Pakistani officials refused to hand him over without solid proof. That was the turning point in US-Pakistan relations.

A few days later, the US sent Pakistan a message by bombing a deserted religious school in South Wazirastan. This is where eight Pakistan army personnel were killed some months ago when trying to capture Uzbek Al Qaeda fighters. After the bombing US troops tried to enter Pakistani territory but Pakistani scouts opened fire, injuring one US soldier. A spokesman for the US forces at Bagram air base in Afghanistan said American soldiers were pursuing their attackers who escaped to Pakistan. Pakistan denied this the next day. The State Department did not expect such a firm stand from Islamabad.

How could the US lose Pakistan in a situation when Taliban and Al Qaeda are regrouping in Afghanistan and attacking US troops? Many believe senior State Department official Richard Haass, then visiting India, was asked to pacify Pakistan. Haass advised India to start a dialogue with Pakistan's new civilian government. His statement was an effort to dispel the impression that relations between Pakistan and US were tense. Chaudhry Hussain issued another anti-FBI statement.

The next day The New York Times published a report against Munir Akram, Pakistan's permanent representative at the United Nations. The allegations against him were not very serious because the complainant reconciled with him later. But the State Department demanded strict action against Akram. It is difficult for the Pakistan foreign office to punish Akram because he is a Swiss national. The foreign office spokesman said the allegations against Akram are the result of a misunderstanding. Many in Islamabad think differently. They believe the 'attack' on Akram with the help of a very old complaint is actually the answer for Angoor Adda and Chaudhry Hussain's statements.

The ground realities of Pakistani politics suggest that an alliance between Pakistan and US is not natural. The US thinks militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is terrorism while Pakistan claims it is a freedom struggle. When Haass says India and Pakistan should restart a dialogue most Pakistanis see a conspiracy in his statement. The Pakistani masses are not ready to accept the US as their friend.

When Haass came to Islamabad last year I met him at lunch. I asked why the US imposed sanctions against Pakistan after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan? "There were no Taliban and no Al Qaeda in 1990 when you used the Pressler Amendment against Pakistan. What was your problem at that time?" I asked Haass. He was silent. Pakistanis know the US was then against their nuclear programme. Pakistan still receives more assistance from the US than China, but Pakistanis don't consider the US their friend. They say 'Pak-China dosti zindabad.'

The US can win over governments in Pakistan, but not its people. The US-Pakistan partnership is without roots, and plants without roots never grow.

Hamid Mir is editor, northern region, GEO Television, Pakistan's first 24 hour Urdu news channel and a columnist for the daily Jang. He is also Osma bin Laden's biographer.


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