Post-9/11 Foreign Policy of Pakistan in Pervez Musharraf Period

Foreign Policy and the Events of September 11

During his first two years in power Musharraf sought to bolster his image and support within Pakistan by taking the traditional position regarding India and expressing support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The former position upheld his popularity with his main base of support, the military, while the latter placed him in good standing with the Islamists. He also had to reposition himself with the West, which was dismayed at yet another military coup in Pakistan.

His policy toward India was marked by tacit support of the Kashmir uprising—as army chief of staff under Prime Minister Sharif he had been responsible for the 1999 Kargil invasion. That the insurgency had ties to the Taliban seemingly caused Pakistan to play a proxy role in the province for its neighbor. In fact, “before 11 September he [Musharraf] had consistently supported Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Kandahar regime. This was not because he sympathized with the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam . . . but because he believed the Taliban served Pakistan’s regional interests” (Bennett Jones 2002, 2). Under Musharraf, Pakistan not only supported the Kashmir uprising but infiltrated man-power into the region. The overall effect of this for Musharraf was to placate his Islamist critics.

Yet, in July 2001 Musharraf met with Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (r. 1996, 1998–2004) at Agra, India, to pursue a settlement on the Kashmir issue. At the Agra Summit, the leaders also discussed reducing the risk of nuclear confrontation, closer commercial ties, and freeing of prisoners of war. But a solution to the Kashmir dispute continued to elude the leaders, and the meetings collapsed. Nonetheless, the two expressed the need to forge a peaceful relationship, rejecting the venom of the past, and tensions between the two nations were eased by the meetings. However, on December 13, 2001, the relationship took a turn for the worse.

Pakistani terrorists disguised as tourists planned to attack the Indian parliament and hold the legislator’s hostage until they agreed to settle the Kashmir dispute. But security stopped their explosives-laden car from entering the compound; the terrorists were killed in an ensuing gunfight. The Pakistani government denied involvement, but in reaction, Vajpayee ordered the Indian army to deploy on Pakistan’s border, and the Indian navy sailed within striking distance of Karachi. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations threatened a nuclear response to an attack.

The United States, eager to diffuse the crisis, broke into the Indian navy’s communication system, and sent a false message instructing the four warships to withdraw from the harbor (Sud, n.p.). Meanwhile, U.S. officials pressured the Indian government to pull back its forces from the border.

During 2000 and the first half of 2001 Musharraf’s policy toward the United States focused on getting the sanctions lifted or, at the very least, the money returned that Pakistan had already paid for the undelivered fighter jets while employing his regional strategy. He managed to score a coup when President Bill Clinton came to Pakistan for a brief visit in March 2000 (and spoke for 15 minutes on Pakistani television), which caused anxiety in New Delhi—exactly what Musharraf had wanted.

Musharraf’s Taliban Problem

Clinton not only urged Musharraf to reinstate the democratic institutions of Pakistan’s government, he also pushed for a settlement of the Kashmir conflict and assistance with getting the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden, whom the United States held responsible for two attacks against U.S. embassies in 1998. Of these three points, the only one Musharraf agreed to was the one in which he had no power to effect the outcome. He promised to intervene with the Taliban on behalf of U.S. interests, but as he later admitted in his memoirs, “After the Taliban came to power, we lost much of the leverage we had with them” (Musharraf 2006, 203). Musharraf simply rebuffed Clinton, who, as a lame-duck president, had little leverage during his fi nal months in office.

In June 2001 the Bush administration reiterated the same three points to Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Sattar during his visit to Washington, D.C. Islamabad noted that Washington was prepared to take a tougher stance if these points were not acted upon, but the events of September 11 altered the dynamic of the region and once again brought Pakistan into a close alliance with the United States. Within hours of the attacks, the U.S. government concluded that they probably had been planned by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, where he had been given sanctuary by the Taliban. Any military reprisal would require Pakistan’s cooperation.

Until the events of September 11, Musharraf had continued the Central Asia policy of his predecessors. He supported the Taliban government in Afghanistan, seeking stability in the region, improved access to Central Asia, and an ally in Kashmir against India. And since most Taliban were Pashtuns, they had a kinship with Pakistan’s population along the border, which fostered friendly relations between the two nations. However, on September 12 Pakistani diplomats were given a choice by the U.S. government, delivered by U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage (served 2001–06): Pakistan could either support the Taliban or it could support the United States.

General Musharraf chose to join the United States in its War on Terror. He knew his decision would face opposition from fundamentalist elements who supported the Taliban and opposed the United States for its stanch sup-port for Israel and perceived anti-Islamic agenda. But Musharraf was a pragmatist and realist. Pakistan could not withstand the economic and military pressure and power of the United States if he refused to accede to its demands. Conversely, if he agreed, Pakistan stood to gain substantial benefi ts in terms of economic and military assistance, as well as power and prestige on the world stage.

Pakistan–United States relations

On September 14 Musharraf informed the army command of his decision. Musharraf reassigned some pro-Taliban senior army officers and retired others. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Pakistan assisted in unsuccessful negotiations aimed at persuading the Taliban to turn over or deport bin, Laden. On September 19 Musharraf spoke to the nation in a televised address and explained his decision to the citizens. He said that only a small, vocal minority opposed his decision. But Pakistan was already awash in anti-American feelings. Though Musharraf gained the stature of an international statesman for joining the War on Terror, at-home demonstrations against Musharraf and the United States were staged in Quetta, Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, and other cities.

In a matter of days after the attacks, the United States was permitted to use four air bases in Pakistan for support, rather than offensive, operations. Pakistan also allowed the use of its airspace for overflights of military aircraft engaged in combat operations. In return Pakistan received some $600 million per year in aid and $3 billion in loans was forgiven. The United States and coalition partners launched Operation Enduring Freedom to invade Afghanistan, remove the Taliban from power, and capture Osama bin Laden. Within two months the operation had driven the Taliban from power, though bin Laden eluded capture. In the aftermath of the U.S. campaign bin Laden was believed to have fl ed to Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The U.S. war in Afghanistan caused another refugee crisis for Pakistan, as tens of thousands seeking safety fl ed over the Pakistan border.

Now fully vested in the situation in Pakistan, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell (served 2001–06) traveled there in January 2002, following the crisis caused by the attempted terrorist attack on India’s parliament. Powell made all future military and economic assistance contingent upon Pakistan divulging the location of its nuclear weapons, which Pakistan reluctantly agreed to do. U.S. and British firms built a command and control system to ensure that the nuclear weapons were secured. Pakistan also agreed to de-mate its nuclear core from the trigger mechanism and store the two separately, as was the practice in India and other nuclear powers. As a reward, the United States provided Pakistan with an additional $1.2 billion in economic aid and additional military equipment to aid the search for Osama bin Laden.

The United States also used the crisis provoked by the attack on India’s parliament to demand that Pakistan crackdown on the rogue nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer (A. Q.) Khan (b. 1936), regarded as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Pakistan placed him under house arrest. A subsequent U.S. investigation discovered that a network created by Khan and the Pakistani military had funneled nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The investigation also revealed that Pakistan’s nuclear weapon was an exact copy of a U.S. nuclear weapon from the 1980s. The United States suspected China as the source of the design, and, concerned that its own nuclear program had been compromised, the government overhauled security at nuclear weapons installations.