It was, by all measures, a remarkable speech. The Pakistan-American Business Council in Karachi was playing host, and the special invitee to the lunch on January 23, 2003 was Ms. Nancy Powell, the American Ambassador to Pakistan. There are not many female employees in the U.S. diplomatic corps still operating in Pakistan, but then Ambassador Powell, old CIA hand, is not your ordinary operator.
In fact, she could not have made a more "brazen" speech then the one she delivered in Karachi that Thursday. Pakistan’s foreign minister was in the U.S. on that very day and her speech was a forerunner to the real message, sans diplomatic overtones, that would be given to Mr. Khurshid Kasuri by her superiors in Washington, DC.
The message that the U.S. is finally conveying to Pakistan is that it is not doing enough. Not just in Kashmir but, even more importantly for America, on the Afghan front. The U.S. has historically treated Pakistan as a friend and an ally. Because of this relationship, the U.S. has, in the past, ignored Pakistan’s indiscretions -- and there have been many. Whether it is misuse of American military hardware, deplorable human rights record, repressive military dictatorships, violence in Kashmir, or even surreptitious acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. has chosen to look the other way.
The U.S. has also agreed to write-off nearly $1 billion out of the $3 billion debt that Pakistan owes to America, and Pakistan is already among the top 5 recipient countries getting financial assistance from the U.S. (nearly a billion dollars annually).
Ambassador Powell started her speech in Karachi reiterating the financial commitment that the U.S. has made for the economic survival of Pakistan. Just as the lunch guests finished a warm round of applause, the Ambassador turned to Indo-Pak relationship, and spoke about the urgent need for Pakistan to keep its pledges and prevent infiltration across the Line of Control (LOC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
This came as a rude surprise to her audience, who are generally used to hearing such talk by the American Ambassador in New Delhi, Robert Blackwill. But then many south Asians perceive Mr. Blackwill as a maverick, who supposedly writes his own speeches without any input from his interlocutors in the U.S. Department of State. So Mr. Blackwill’s pronouncements are never taken seriously in Pakistan.
However, hearing such talk from Ambassador Powell, whose views are seen much more in alignment with her boss (no relation) in the Foggy Bottom, shocked the audience. In the confusion that ensued, the audience, and most Pakistanis, entirely missed the most important part of her speech.
What Ms. Powell also said was that "the government of Pakistan must end the use of Pakistan as a platform for terrorism". Did she mean it in context to Kashmir? Almost certainly, and public outcry from Pakistan suggests that is how it is being interpreted by public and officials alike. But "Platform for Terrorism" means more. It means that the country as a whole has become a declaration ground for Jehadis to make their periodic public appeals for terrorism.
Nowhere could such a speech have been more symbolic. If Pakistan is the platform for terrorism, then its center-stage, without question, is in Karachi. What Ms. Powell really was trying to convey is that the entire nation of Pakistan is in the sway of Jihadis. And what was left unsaid was that American troops maintaining vigil in eastern Afghanistan are facing the same hostility and violence from Pakistan’s western border as the Indian security troops have faced from Pakistan’s eastern border in Kashmir since 1990.
Just as the Indian security forces learned their lesson a while back, the American troops are only now beginning to understand the deceitful nature of Pakistan’s military establishment. In the Afghanistan campaign, Americans had expected to complete the security operations and eradicate Taliban militants and al-Qaeda terrorists by now. This would have led to the much needed campaign for reconstruction and economic revitalization of the country.
All borders of Afghanistan, except for the border with Pakistan, are sealed and adjoining areas are fast returning to normalcy. Pakistan had promised to seal its border with Afghanistan in exchange for the financial, moral and diplomatic help that it has received from the U.S. since September 11, 2001. It is a promise that Pakistan has not kept, willingly or unwillingly.
The U.S. has now solid evidence that the government of Pakistan has willingly provided its country as an open platform for Islamic terrorists to advocate killing and harassing of American soldiers and interests in Afghanistan, almost paralleling a similar doctrine being pursued by Pakistan against India in Kashmir.
In fact, rocket attacks from Pakistani side on American troops have become so intense that Americans had to abandon a forward base near the Afghanistan city of Khost, adjacent to the Pakistan border, in mid-December. In another operation near Shkin, an American solider was killed by a Pakistani soldier, and Americans were forced to call an F-16 fighter to protect remaining American troops.
As rockets and large caliber weapons fire rain every night from Pakistani side of the border on the U.S. Special Forces troops in forward positions in Afghanistan, and Americans intelligence services pursue reports of organized distribution of violent propaganda against Americans in Pakistan, it is becoming alarmingly clear that violent campaigns in Kashmir and Afghanistan share a similar control and command structure.
The manner in which various Jehadi recruitment centers are organized and operate in Wiziristan province (against Americans) are practically identical to "recruitment shops" that were set up earlier by the ISI in the Pakistani occupied Kashmir (POK). The Pakistani government, concerned that the U.S. too may conclude the obvious, quietly moved to close Jehadi recruitment shops in POK recently, claiming to have done so in order to discourage cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.
For Pakistan, the "high noon" is approaching with the U.S. Americans have been good friends of Pakistan and patrons of its military establishment, but the goodwill is fast eroding. Compounding the problem is a feeling of betrayal in the American security establishment, which had steadfastly maintained overt and covert links with Pakistan’s military establishment through the Pressler and the Glen embargoes, following confirmed reports that Pakistani military leadership has provided technology on nuclear weapons to nations known for their hostility towards America.
This revelation, when assessed with growing violence against American interests in Afghanistan coming from Pakistan based Islamic warriors, puts Pakistan squarely at odds with America. Even General Musharraf has sensed that a radical change in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is only a matter of time. Addressing a meeting in Lahore on January 18, he made an extraordinary observation that Pakistan could became the next target of "western forces" after Iraq, and that it would not be other Islamic nations, but its 'muscle -- the country’s nuclear weapons -- that would come to its rescue.
After the Karachi speech, Ambassador Powell was called by the Pakistan’s Foreign office in Islamabad and it was left to a relatively junior bureaucrat, Aneesuddin Ahmad, to mildly "reprimand" her for the comments made on the previous day. But she is carrying her diplomatic duties in the best traditions of the U.S. Foreign Service. As a friend of Pakistan, she was warning the nation that today’s platform for terrorism could be tomorrow’s platform for reprisal. It is a warning that will be repeated more forcefully in Washington when Mr. Kasuri meets with the U.S. officials.
The ball, as they say, is in Pakistan's court.
(The writer, Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D., is National President, Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF) Washington, DC, USA)