ISLAMABAD (IPS)–Worries are growing here about the long-term implications of the war on Iraq for Pakistan, its ties with the United States as well as with rival neighbor India.
At worst, many fear that what they call the policy of U.S. expansionism may soon be knocking at Pakistan’s doors.
“What does war in Iraq mean for Pakistan? These are monumental developments. Its outcome will shape the future of all nations,” wrote analyst Ghazi Salahuddin in a recent column in the English-language daily The News.
Looking ahead, he sees justification some day for the United States and Britain to turn their guns to Pakistan, even though it has been trying hard to stress its contributions to the U.S.-led “war on terrorism” after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Pakistan may find itself at the center of the stage. We are a nuclear nation and also a nursery of religious fundamentalism. We are suspected by the United States of being a ‘platform for terrorism’. Will it be our turn after Iraq?” he asked.
Just over a month ago, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Nancy Powell alleged that Pakistan has failed to honor its promise of curtailing cross-border infiltration into Indian-occupied Kashmir and continues to be a “platform for terrorism”.
Her remarks sparked an uproar, fuelling demands for her to be declared persona non grata. The State Department had to clarify her remarks as a crisis management measure, saying she was “misquoted” by the press.
In recent months, Pakistan has also been accused of having nuclear links with Iran and North Korea, which in October admitted it had a secret uranium enrichment program. Much has been written about western fears that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons may fall into the wrong hands.
Pakistani officials, however, publicly discard such reports as being planted by the anti-Pakistan lobby active in Washington that they say want to hurt the “congenial” Pakistani-U.S. relations after Sept. 11 that has put Islamabad among Washington’s newfound allies.
They say Islamabad has a “foolproof” nuclear command and control system. But privately, these officials whisper the fears that Pakistan might come into the U.S. line of fire some day in the future.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told a gathering of army officers earlier this year in Lahore that people would have to act wisely in these testing times, or Pakistan could face an Iraq-like fate.
Responding to the speculations that Pakistan may be the next target of U.S. wrath after Iraq, Pres. Musharraf said: “We have to walk on our own to stave off the impending danger.”
The country’s naval chief, Admiral Shahid Karimullah, has also said nobody would come to rescue Pakistan in times of need. This was evident in last year’s standoff with India, he pointed out.
“Though Pakistan is part of the international coalition, in the given circumstances Pakistan will have to fight its own war and depend on its own resources for defending itself,” he said. “During the standoff, no one talked about us. Only support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was shown in terms of oil.”
Some Pakistanis are also saying the country should not think that its friendship with the United States makes it secure, and should re-orient its foreign policy and diversify its pool of friends.
“We will have to redefine our foreign policy and create viable and working relationships with Russia and the European Union,” commented a researcher in the government-run Institute of Strategic Studies, requesting not to be named.
“At the same time, Islamabad must concentrate on strengthening its relationship with China, which has always stood by us in thick and thin, but lately feels distant amid Pakistan’s out-of-the-way warming-up with Washington,” he said, a day before Pakistan Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali left for Beijing to meet the new Chinese leadership.
Meantime, anger at the war on Iraq, which is one country away from Pakistan after Iran, with some calling it “American barbarism”.
Already, anger over the war has caused the government to cancel the usual festivities and military parades to mark Pakistan Day on March. 23 as well as to postpone the South Asian Federation Games once again.
Also pushed back was Prime Minister Jamali’s visit to the United States. He was to meet Mr. Bush on March. 28.