Threat Nuances against Pakistan
By Shireen M. Mazari

It seems the US is not prepared to give the Pakistani leadership any decent respite from its "do-more" mantra in relation to Afghanistan. And as NATO/ISAF continue to show an inability to deal with the resurgent Taliban threat, which is increasingly becoming more of a Pashtun resistance, the proclivity to blame Pakistan for their failures increases.
So we have had Dick Cheney now visit us and demand that we do more, while from Washington President Bush has also, if US media reports are to be believed, threatened Pakistan with his inability to stop discriminatory legislation if we are not seen to be "doing more" on the Afghan front. As usual, loyal Britain has added to this mantra, through its Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Beckett, who happened to be visiting Pakistan at the time of the Cheney stopover. And as if that was not enough poisonous hot air for us, the present US-compliant Canadian government also added to this rather tedious refrain.
Of course, if Bush is to be believed that he cannot control what happens in a Democrat-dominated Congress, then whether or not Pakistan "does more" will not impact the discriminatory legislation against Pakistan, so the issue is moot. However, we should pay serious attention to what is happening presently in our region, especially with the massing of US troops rather close to Pakistani waters. After all, the American aircraft carrier, USS John C Stennis, is anchored about 120 nautical miles off the coast of Pakistan. Now the US may claim that this has nothing to do with Pakistan and that it is not even threatening Iran, but the reality is different. That there is a most serious and direct threat being staged against Iran by the US is a given, but let us look at the implications of this particular carrier for Pakistan. Clearly, it is a veiled threat of use of force, which can be to either pressure Pakistan further on Afghanistan, or to compel it to refrain from any adverse (for the US) action in case of an attack against Iran.
That the USS Stennis's position is contrary to the UN Charter is also equally clear. Article 2(4) of the Charter states: "All member states shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state…." Although the USS Stennis is in international waters, it's positioning is threatening for Pakistan. In UN debates on the issue, the positioning of such carriers close to merchant sea-lanes, as notified by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is seen as a clear threat of use of force. So Pakistan needs to take up this issue with its ally before things get further complicated, especially in terms of a growing US belligerency against Iran -- and the possibility of a similar belligerency against Pakistan.
It is in this context that Pakistan needs to ensure that it does not get drawn into any configuration with Muslim states that could be perceived as a US-crafted or inspired emerging bloc against Muslim states hostile to the US. That is why the statement decrying the use of force against Iran that came from the meeting of the seven Muslim foreign ministers in Islamabad last week was extremely timely and necessary. However, from Pakistan's perspective future meetings of this group will serve a better purpose if Iran, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon are, included since Middle East peace requires their support and therefore their inputs. After all, Muslim states cannot behave like the US and impose "solutions" on states without even talking with them. Also, including Bangladesh would also seem to be an added plus, given its commitment to UN peacekeeping and the centrality of the Muslim World to it. In any event, given that out of the group of Muslim states that met in Islamabad, four had established relations with Israel -- that is, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt and Jordan -- many are construing this meeting, no matter how incorrectly, as an attempt to widen the recognition of Israel to include those holding out like Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. These are unnecessary misperceptions that can be removed if the group is expanded to include the critical Middle East-Gulf players.
In the context of Iran, the diplomatic openings made between Saudi Arabia and Iran, no matter how tentative, need to be encouraged. In contrast, the report in a Pakistani newspaper, citing Kuwaiti sources, that the UAE and other Gulf states had agreed in principle to allow Israel to use their airspace in the context of an attack on Iran needs to be countered -- through the media, if it is only a report, and through diplomacy if there is any truth in it. In the latter case, it would be a lethal adventurism for such states who would surely suffer a major fallout of any attack against Iran.
On Iran itself, there are so many contradictory statements coming out from the US that at the end of it the only thing that seems to be clear is that the US is seeking regime-change in that country and the nuclear issue is simply one pretext. While some amongst the US leadership want Iran to roll back all its nuclear advances, Condoleezza Rice has recently declared that Iran only has to suspend, not reverse, its nuclear program. Meanwhile, the Europeans are also saying different things, with Britain and Germany most vociferously opposing Iran. While all this posturing is going on, reports are now being confirmed that the US is funding dissident Iranian groups, especially in Iranian Balochistan where it is lending support to the Balochistan United Front of Iran. It is within this context that one has to see the attack against the bus filled with Revolutionary Guards recently in Sistan. For Pakistan again, this raises serious issues because it could also lead to US support for Pakistan's dissident Baloch groups and terrorists.
It is interesting to note that the US and EU have yet to declare the BLA a terrorist group -- although the UK has now done so. In a more quid pro quo approach, shouldn't Pakistan demand that the US and EU move to declare the BLA a terrorist group before they continue with their nauseating "do more" refrain for Pakistan? Why is the US so hesitant in taking such a step, unless it is to use this as a source of pressure for Pakistan?
Whichever way we look at developments in our own neighborhood, it is apparent that even if Iran is the primary target for the US and its potential coalition of the willing, Pakistan will also be targeted -- even if only as necessary "collateral damage". That is why we need to proactively ensure that this design is thwarted and we are not willy-nilly compelled to become an unwilling "ally" in what will be a self-destruct scenario for us. Already we are paying a heavy price for the blinkered military-centric policies of the US and NATO in Afghanistan. We cannot afford to do the same in the Iran-Gulf context. Let us use our not-insufficient means to proactively chart a more viable course externally.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

 


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