President Bill Clinton put a lot of pressure on Pakistani leadership not to opt for nuclear explosion in response to India in 1998. The Pakistani scientists and the military leadership were adamant to go for explosion of nuclear devices. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to go along with them. In 1999, the US also intervened to avert war between Pakistan and India on Kargil. This was an ill advised adventure by the military leadership and cast us a lot in reputation as a responsible nuclear state.
Incidentally, our tin pot dictators have always been helped gain international legitimacy by some extraneous circumstances. General Pervaiz Musharraf, like his predecessor, was as much fortunate to have legitimacy for his military rule from major powers. After his takeover, President Bill Clinton paid a five day long and highly successful visit to India where he mingled with the people. Pakistan burned its midnight oil to have President Clinton in Islamabad for a brief visit. Finally, the USA leader agreed to have a 24-hour stopover in their Embassy in Islamabad from where he would address the people of Pakistan. He refused to have any meeting or handshake with the General. President Clinton delivered an admonitory lecture to Pakistanis and flew back to Washington. That day, every proud Pakistani was shocked to see the self-esteem of the nation thrown in the wind.
Bill Clinton was replaced by George W. Bush in the White House in January 2001. He was destined to witness the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9 September 2001 by the unique terrorist attacks of the operatives of Al-Qaeda masterminded by Osama bin Laden from rugged Afghanistan. The terrorist attacks deeply hurt the USA pride and transformed it into a rogue elephant on rampage. The US needed Pakistan to destroy Al-Qaeda. A two-pronged pressure was brought on the General to side with the Western coalition to dislodge the Taliban rule as the closest non-NATO ally with massive economic aid or be prepared, as he himself put it in his autobiography, for his country to be bombed into the Stone Age.
There was an endless stream of high level visits from the USA and the Western world to over-pamper the General. The General, before parting ways with the Taliban, sent his spy Chief General Mahmud Ahmed to meet the Afghan Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Omar in a last attempt to convince him to hand-over Bin Laden to the USA. General Mahmud returned empty handed. Later, in a press statement, he revealed that he had conveyed the message of General Musharraf to Mullah Omar sincerely but had put no pressure on him to accede to our demand to handover the Al-Qaeda leader to the Americans. He had a soft corner for the Taliban’s medieval rule and the Americans were not unaware of his inclination.
In the meantime, the USA Secretary of State, General Collin Powel through their Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain in Islamabad delivered a list of seven demands to the General. These were: 1) stop Al-Qaeda operatives at the border and end all logistical support for Bin Laden; 2) give the USA blanket over flying and landing rights for all necessary military and intelligence operations; 3) provide territorial access to USA and allied military intelligence and other personnel to conduct operations against Al-Qaeda; 4) provide the USA with intelligence information; 5) continue to publicly condemn the terrorist acts; 6) cut off all shipment of fuel to the Taliban and stop recruits from going to Afghanistan; 7) if the evidence implicated Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban continue to harbor them, then to break relations with the Taliban Government.
General Pervaiz Musharraf claims in his book that whilst he pledged to extend cooperation to the USA on all the demands, he categorically refused to accept their second and third demand. However, the later events proved that not only the USA military cargo planes had landing rights on small air strips of Pakistan including the air force base in Jacobabad and the Gwadar airport, the joint intelligence and commando operations were carried out deep in the Punjab to capture Al-Qaeda operatives and the Taliban sympathizers. According to General Musharraf himself, hundreds of Al-Qaeda operatives were captured by the Pakistani intelligence or in joint operations that carried millions of US dollars as head money. The Ambassador of the Taliban Government accredited to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef, was picked up in the wee hours of the night. As put it by the Ambassador later in his book, he was manacled and bound with his seat in the aircraft while being flown to the USA.
Pakistan started receiving $1.5 billion in economic and security aid annually. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Paris Club agreed to reschedule the repayment of their loans to give financial respite to Pakistan. The USA also accepted Pakistan’s plea to waive off a good portion of its outstanding loans. This financial reprieve combined with the increased remittances by the Pakistanis working abroad boosted the depleted foreign exchange reserves of the country which had declined to the dangerously low level of $300 million. The economy started registering upward trend reaching 4.5% GDP growth in the initial years after the 9/11 and to 7.8% by 2005. The European Union also softened conditions for the promotion of trade with Pakistan. The Western allies of the USA, particularly Japan and UK, also generously provided funds for some major development projects undertaken by Pakistan including the Lowari Tunnel in Chitral, the Mirani Dam and the Kachhi canal in Balochistan.
Later, the USA also began reimbursing the expenses incurred by Pakistan on the deployment of over 80,000 troops in the tribal regions as the ‘Coalition Support Fund’. The charges of the Karachi Seaport for NATO shipments and the transportation of the NATO containers by our highways from Karachi to Peshawar were an additional windfall. As detailed by Shuja Nawaz in his ‘Crossed Swords’, “The economic and financial assistance flowing from Pakistan’s alliance with the US in the war on terror yielded immediate gains between 2001 and 2006 – some $10 billion transferred to Pakistan through proper channels”. He quotes the US Congressional Research Service claiming that Pakistan was among the world’s leading recipients of the USA aid, obtaining more than $2.6 billion annually in direct US assistance for the financial years 2001-2006 including $1.1 billion in security related aid. And that Pakistan also received billions of dollars in reimbursement for its support to the US-led counterterrorism operations.
The Americans dislodged the Taliban but failed to capture Bin Laden or any high value Al-Qaeda leader. They just slipped into North Waziristan increasing the frustration of the NATO Commanders. The NATO concentrated on the air attacks with less number of boots on the ground. They heavily relied on the strategic counsels of the Northern Alliance leaders and warlords like Rashid Dostum and Ahmed Shah Masood who were Uzbek and Tajik and not well versed with the geographical conditions and the cultural traditions of the Pashtun provinces of Afghanistan. The NATO Commanders subcontracted the ground offensive to Pashtun strong men which resulted in what every leader with a little knowledge of Pashtun cultural traditions knew beforehand. They pocketed the compensation money from the Americans and let their Pashtun brothers along with their valuable Arab guests escape to safe havens in South Waziristan.
General Musharraf alliance with the USA against the Taliban, the fellow Muslims from a sister Muslim country, earned him the enmity of the militants both from the Taliban and their foreign allies. With his participation in the US war against a Muslim country and his active assistance to the US intelligence to operate in Pakistan to capture Al-Qaeda operatives, he came to be looked down upon as the most hated enemy of Muslims. This placed him at a greater security risk. He survived a couple of successive attempts at his life. His handpicked Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz too remained on the hit list of the militants. Similarly, the Commander of the Southern Corps at Karachi also survived a militant attack in Karachi.
The patrols of the Frontier Constabulary and the security outposts manned by the army personnel were also subjected to guerilla attacks. The most dangerous turn in the militant operations took the form of suicide attacks on the civilian targets which caused mayhem in the country killing tens of thousands of innocent citizens including some prominent political and religious leaders and security personnel. According to confirmed reports, we lost over 50,000 civilians and 14,000 security personnel in militant attacks and suicide bombing during the Musharraf period. We continued to face these militant attacks and suicide explosions during the successive civilian governments also and do so even today.
The discovery of the nuclear proliferation activities of Dr. A.Q Khan in 2003-2004 caused tremors in relations between Pakistan and the USA. General Musharraf was confronted with incontrovertible evidences of the wanton involvement of his top metallurgist and the father of the Pakistan’s nuclear bomb in the nuclear proliferation supplying blueprints and designs of centrifuges for uranium enrichment to Libya, Iran and North Korea. The Western papers termed him as the ‘Merchant of Menace’. Finally, Dr. Khan was confronted with all the evidences provided to him by the USA intelligence. After some humming and hawing, Dr. Khan publicly admitted his involvement in nuclear proliferation, sought the pardon of the President and apologized to the nation in a televised statement. Dr. Khan caused more damage to Pakistan than his brilliant services to the country in its quest for the acquisition of nuclear technology. He took years to build his reputation as the father of the country’s nuclear power and minutes to destroy the heroism that had come to be attached to his person elevating him as the savior of Pakistan. Dr. A. Q has not yet come up with a convincing version of this sad episode to absolve himself of the ignominy which continues to smear his person.
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