Pressure tactics in Pakistan

CIVIL to a fault, the top American and British diplomats in Pakistan have paid not one but two courtesy calls each on Mr Asif Zardari and Mr Nawaz Sharif respectively in the wake of the Feb 18 polls. But of course there is more to these meet-and-greet sessions than simply congratulating the PPP and PML-N leaders on the re-emergence of their parties as the country’s political powerhouses. The US ambassador went the extra mile and also met the ANP chief whose party has staged a comeback as a major player in the NWFP, a province that is of singular interest to American policymakers. Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif have already agreed to serve as partners in a coalition government and like-minded parties like the ANP are expected to be part of the new power equation at the centre and in the provinces. As for the US and the UK, it is all too clear that the recent manoeuvrings of their top diplomats are aimed at ‘convincing’ Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif that they must accommodate and work with President Musharraf despite the harsh treatment that they and their parties received over the years at the hands of the former general. By going about this so publicly, the western powers are guilty of a grave folly.

Before the judiciary crisis and before civil society lent its voice to calls for Mr Musharraf’s ouster, those most vociferously opposed to the president were the followers of religio-political leaders and pro-Taliban militants. For them, the president’s pro-US stance was enough to deem him unworthy of his high office in the Islamic republic. The Bush administration, unmindful as always of cultural and contextual subtleties, only made life worse for the president by publicly supporting him when they could have done so just as easily through discreet one-to-one communiqués. President Musharraf thus came to be seen as something of a US proxy on a taut leash. The US may have helped prop up the Musharraf regime but it also contributed to his fall from grace, which was largely of his own doing but overt American meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs did the president’s cause no good whatsoever.

The same mistakes must not be repeated now that a genuinely representative government is on the verge of coming to power. The popular mandate vested in the PPP and PML-N should not be taken for granted. Even a week is a long time in politics, and public sentiment could shift if these parties are seen to be toeing the US line. Moreover, many of the concerns voiced by Washington on which it felt it enjoyed President Musharraf’s support are also the concerns of the majority in Pakistan. The PPP and the PML-N, for instance, are equally committed to fight terrorism, build a stable democracy and work for economic development. The US would hurt its own interest were it to be seen as pushing Pakistan too hard.

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