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The handshake at Camp David

June 26, 2003

Before President Pervez Musharraf embarked on his current high-profile four-nation visit to the UK, the US, France and Germany, there were three significant developments in Pakistan.

The first related to the tussle between him and the six-party Islamic fundamentalist coalition called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, MMA regarding his continuing to hold charge as chief of army staff long after his tenure had ended and after getting himself elected as president in a controversial referendum.

As the MMA and other Opposition parties showed no signs of relenting in their demand that he quit as army chief and re-contest election as the president according to the procedure laid down in the Constitution, a private individual filed a public interest petition before a court. The PIL challenged the legality of an order issued by the election commission, at the instance of Musharraf, before last October's election that the certificate of Islamic studies issued by the madrasas would have the equivalence of a university degree for purposes of elections. Under an amendment to the electoral laws and the constitution introduced by Musharraf, only graduates can contest an election.

It was this order of the election commission combined with another order issued at Musharraf's instance withdrawing the cases against them under the anti-terrorism act, which enabled many fundamentalist politicians, who had never been to an university, to contest the election and return in large numbers to the provincial assemblies of the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan and the National Assembly in Islamabad.

There was speculation in Pakistan that it was the Inter-Services Intelligence which had made this individual file this petition in order to convey a warning to the MMA leaders that if they continued to oppose his continuing as army chief and demand a fresh presidential election, he could get their election declared null and void by the judiciary, without the need for dissolving the National Assembly.

This speculation has since been strengthened by the Pakistan attorney general's appearance before the court, during which he gave it as his expert opinion that the election commission's order was illegal. The court is expected to give its order on June 30. It remains to be seen whether it would declare the election commission's order as null and void and set aside the election of all fundamentalist politicians without a university degree.

According to well-informed sources, Musharraf decided to ask the attorney general to give this opinion to the court in order to warn the MMA of the consequences if it continued to oppose him and to reassure the US before his Camp David meeting with President George Bush on June 24 that the situation was well under his control and that he would be able to get rid of the fundamentalist politicians from the elected assemblies without causing a set-back to the democratic process.

The second development relates to General Mohammad Aziz, a Kashmiri officer belonging to the Sudan tribe of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, who is very close to Qazi Hussain Ahmed's Jamaat-e-Islami. Coinciding with the beginning of the US air strikes in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, Musharraf removed Aziz, then a lieutenant general from the post of commanding officer of one of the two corps in Lahore. He kicked him upstairs by appointing him as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, a post without real power, and promoting him as a general. It was alleged in Pakistan that Musharraf took this action at the instance of the US, which was nervous over Aziz's links with the Jamaat-e-Islami and other fundamentalist parties.

Aziz, who remained low all these months, has, of late, become active again. Accompanied by retired Major General Mohammad Anwar Khan, the president of PoK, who is related to him, he has been travelling in PoK and the NWFP, addressing military officers and people in remote villages in the tribal belt. His speeches have been virulently critical of India and Hinduism and also give hints of his disapproval of Musharraf's refusal to shed the post of army chief and of the army continuing to play a political role.

This has given rise to speculation that it was he who has been egging on the MMA not to relent in its opposition to Musharraf. If Musharraf had not given himself an extended tenure, Aziz would, most probably, have been army chief by now.

The third development relates to the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and its collusion with North Korea in helping it acquire a uranium enrichment capability in return for its supply of medium and long-term missiles to Pakistan. The US concerns in this regard have been aggravated by allegations that rogue Pakistani scientists of its nuclear establishment had played a role in assisting Iran set up an uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, with or without the approval of the Pakistan government in the past.

Even though the Musharraf government has been collaborating with the US for a year now in the clandestine collection of intelligence about Iran and Musharraf seems open to the idea of further expanding this cooperation in the face of opposition from some officers such as Aziz, there are apparently elements in his government and the scientific establishment, which have been clandestinely helping Iran by keeping Teheran informed of the presence and activities of the US Armed Forces and intelligence community in Pakistan and by sharing nuclear expertise with it.

Allegations of a Pakistani role in assisting in the construction of the Natanz enrichment facility have also caused concern in Saudi Arabia, which, along with Libya, had in the past funded Pakistan's military nuclear programme.

Before Musharraf's visit to the US, Shaukat Aziz, his confidante and finance minister, visited the A Q Khan Research Laboratories at Kahuta against which sanctions had been imposed by the US earlier this year because of its collusion with North Korea in the field of missiles. In the past, the military maintained total control over Pakistan's nuclear and missile establishments and never allowed any of its civilian leaders to visit them even during years when an elected government was in power. Neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif had ever been taken into confidence by the military and the scientific community rigidly controlled by it and allowed to visit any of the sensitive nuclear and missile establishments.

Against this background, Shaukat Aziz's visit caused a great sensation in Islamabad. Many asked the reasons for the visit. Why did Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali himself not go? Was Shaukat Aziz sent to the establishment to allay US fears of ineffective control over the nuclear and missile facilities etc?

Jamali tried to pooh-pooh the speculation by projecting it as a routine visit on his orders to ensure that the accounts of Pakistan's nuclear and missile establishments were in order, but this did not satisfy those posing inconvenient questions.

According to Pakistani media, Shaukat Aziz, who used to work for Citibank in the Gulf and the US before being invited by Musharraf to become his finance minister after he seized power in October 1999, is a US citizen and enjoys the confidence of both the US and Saudi Arabia. After last October's election, Musharraf insisted that Shaukat Aziz remain as finance minister and the elected government had to accommodate his demand by getting Aziz elected a member of the senate, the upper house of the federal parliament.

Many Pakistanis -- particularly religious, fundamentalist elements -- suspect the US has been using Shaukat Aziz to keep a watch on the goings-on in the nuclear and missile establishments.

Surprisingly, the intriguing composition of the small entourage which has accompanied Musharraf to the US has not received the attention of many analysts. Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the foreign minister, has been kept out of it, bringing to mind the fact that when Musharraf went to the US on his first bilateral visit in February last year, he did not take with him Abdul Sattar, his then foreign minister. It was reported at that time that this was because of Sattar's misgivings over the ISI agreeing to cooperate with the Central Intelligence Agency for monitoring developments in Iran. Sattar resigned a few months later, ostensibly on health grounds.

The exclusion of Kasuri this time has given rise to speculation that differences have cropped up between the two due to Kasuri's unhappiness over the belligerent interview given by Musharraf to NDTV which, Kasuri reportedly feels, has threatened to derail the process for the resumption of the bilateral dialogue with India.

However, sources close to the president have claimed that the non-inclusion of Kasuri was due to the keenness of the general that he attend the meeting of the Asian Co-operation Dialogue group at Chiangmai in Thailand, which coincided with Musharraf's visit to the US. Both India and Pakistan are members of this group.

Part II: The politics of aid


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B Raman

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