The Bush Visit: Premature Euphoria
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari


Even as the cartoons' issue continues to linger with the Europeans becoming ever more arrogant in their defense of the indefensible, the Bush visit has taken center-stage in Pakistan. The pre-visit interviews given by President Bush to the Pakistani and Indian media were intended to create a positive environment for his arrival, while his talk at the Asia Society probably was a clearer picture of actual US policy towards this region.
There was little new in the Asia Society speech on February 22, because the prime focus was on the strategic partnership the US perceives with India and the multiple commonalities that Bush sees between the US and India. Interestingly, his lack of historical recall was also revealed when he stated that the US had not "always enjoyed close relations with Pakistan and India" because in the past "the Cold War and regional tensions kept us apart …" Clearly, he forgot that Pakistan at least perceived itself as being a close ally of the US during the Cold War! But perhaps that was merely a reflection of the dominance of India in his mind and on his South Asian tour itself.
Bush sees India as a partner in pushing forward US global policy goals -- from free trade to democracy to energy and so on. Bush also reiterated the US position on India's nuclear program when he declared that the US will address the "need to bring India's nuclear power program under international norms and safeguards." Obviously, the US has already de-linked this program from India's military program and accepted the latter without any curtailment or safeguards being required.
In contrast, in the context of Pakistan, Bush saw us primarily as "a key ally in the war on terror". Beyond that, there was no extensive strategic partnership that was outlined. Instead, the Pakistan part of his Asia Society speech was focused more on Pakistan's internal dynamics, including the democracy issue and education. US intent once again focuses on restructuring our polity -– while the Indian polity, with all its abuses and shortcomings, is of no concern to the US.
It was on Kashmir that President Bush gave cause for a premature euphoria in Pakistan and a massive display of self-censorship in the Indian media. At the Asia Society, President Bush only declared that he would encourage the leadership of Pakistan and India to address this "important issue. America supports a resolution in Kashmir that is acceptable to both sides." However, in the interview with the Pakistani media he recalled that he had referred to "both sides" but he said the language should be "all sides" because he recognized that a solution "must be acceptable to India, Pakistan and those living in Kashmir." Quite rightly, taken by itself, this remark was welcomed in Pakistan because it seemed to imply that the US was not pushing simply for a status quo as the solution.
In his opening remarks to the Indian media, he went even further and stated: "I do want to make something clear in the speech I gave today (to Asia Society). I said that -- as to the Kashmir interest -- issue, America supports a solution that is acceptable to all sides. As you might recall in my remarks, I said 'to both sides'. I would like the record to be so that the world hears me say, 'all sides'. I fully understand that the deal has to be acceptable to the Indians, Paks, as well as the citizens of Kashmir…"
The Indian media simply left this quote out but the White House put out an official text! Yet, Pakistan should not be too delighted with this statement because it also reflects the derogatory way in which Bush perceives Pakistanis in his reference to "Paks". While the US media has been abusive of President Musharraf, including referring to him as "meretricious", one does not expect the leader of one sovereign state referring to a whole nation by a generally-recognized term of abuse. Also, when Bush uses the word "citizen" in the context of Kashmir, it implies an independent sovereign status for Kashmir. What could he possibly have been implying?
So, what is the real US position on Kashmir? Is it contained in the Asia Society Bush remarks; or the reference to Kashmir in his interview to the Pakistani media; or the censored opening remark made to the Indian media? While Pakistanis immediately began welcoming the Bush remarks, it may be more prudent to wait and see what actually transpires during the course of the Bush visits to Pakistan and India -- and, it seems, Afghanistan. After all, in his interview with India's Doordarshan, in response to a question on the so-called "terrorist training camps and training infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied (sic) Kashmir", Bush declared that "on my trip to Pakistan, I will, of course, talk about the terrorist activities, the need to dismantle terrorist training camps…"
Therefore, let us be more contained in our enthusiasm of the Bush visit -– especially when we recall what happened to our self-respect and dignity when Clinton visited as President. There are also some critical issues for Pakistan in the context of the US. Two of the most important, strategically, are respect for Pakistan's sovereignty in the ongoing war on terror and the threat to Pakistan's strategic stability posed by the Indo-US defense and nuclear cooperation deals. The first requires a clear and unconditional commitment by the US -- without which there can be no concept of any substantive cooperation let alone partnership. We are a strong state; let us behave like one.
The second issue requires making the Bush Administration understand, in as simple and clear-cut a language as possible, that their military and nuclear deals with India -– and their so-called de-hyphenation in their Pakistan and India relationships -– threaten the nuclear stability of South Asia as well as challenging Pakistan's self-imposed nuclear restraint and minimum nuclear deterrence. Unless the US intent is to deliberately destabilize this region, their Missile Defense cooperation with India and their acceptance of India's military nuclear program have a direct negative fallout on Pakistan's security parameters. That is why, unless there is some similar balancing agreements with Pakistan, US interests in the region will conflict with Pakistan's strategic compulsions. The wheat and soya bean approach towards Pakistan while military hardware and technology flow to India cannot be thrust on us anymore. And if India's civil nuclear program is de-linked from its military -– in clear violation of the NPT -– then our program has to be dealt within a similar fashion. That does not mean we need civil nuclear energy from the US, given that China is a far more reliable option, but we do need to have a non-discriminatory US nuclear policy for this region.
Unless we can get a positive response in terms of these two vital interests, we must accept the issue-specific limitations of the Pakistan-US cooperation and institute more equitable quid pro quos in this framework. As for Kashmir, the strength of the Kashmiris and the righteousness of their cause will see them through and it is our support that must be unflinching because US statements may simply remain just that.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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