By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
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By Jill Stewart
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KARACHI, Pakistan -- On September 13, one day before Pakistan decided to support the United States in the war on terror, Islamabad airport was sealed off. No one knew exactly why. Some of my colleagues in the press thought Pakistan had prematurely allowed U.S. forces to land in Islamabad en route to Afghanistan.
On the following day, the Core Commanders‘ Conference -- Pakistan’s highest decision-making body -- extended “unstinting” support to the U.S. Later, one government official said the airport had been closed because of threats made against the country‘s “strategic assets” but would not elaborate. A few inquiring reporters later found out that the country’s command center was alarmed by an intelligence report that India and Israel, upset by Pakistan‘s indecisiveness in siding with the U.S., planned to attack Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. Islamabad airport is half an hour‘s ride from Kahuta Nuclear Power Plant. Given the high degree of secrecy in Pakistan, nothing has been officially confirmed or denied.
India, by the way, gave the U.S. unqualified support within hours of the September 11 attacks; Pakistan took three days. Pakistan’s ruling junta realized it could not afford the luxury of neutrality, given the stresses of emerging global rearrangements. But this wise choice altered the entire configuration of Pakistan‘s ruling elite overnight. The country that had been calling the Muslim extremists’ militant struggle a jihad -- a holy war -- decided to denounce it as terrorism. Pakistan allied herself with a global community that is bent on crushing it, therefore inviting the wrath of opponents in the ruling clique and the military.
“The choice is up to you,” Colin Powell‘s right-hand man, Richard Armitage, is said to have told Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, who has since been replaced as chief of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, during a September 11 visit to Pakistan‘s embassy in Washington. “Help us and breathe in the 21st century along with the international community or be prepared to live in the Stone Age.” President Pervez Musharraf repeated this message to his fellow countrymen who came to listen to his entreaty after his decision to support the U.S. in its war on Taliban obscurantism and the megalomaniac Osama.
The choice has created great discord in my country and could bring us to the brink of civil war. Pakistan is a country that came into being in the name of religion; a its military has been the self-appointed custodian of faith. Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan and India have been virtually on a war footing. After three full-scale wars, Pakistan is now half the country it used to be.
I lost a bet with a fellow journalist over whether Pakistan would side with the U.S. in the war on terrorism. I insisted, “Pakistan will never ever support the U.S. to crush fundamentalism. It will call into question the very foundation of the state of Pakistan that rests upon one-Muslim-nation ideology and that openly supports Muslim militancy in Indian-held Kashmir in the name of Muslim fraternity.” And my fellow had a point to make: “Pakistan’s rulers will make money out of the emerging situation as they made a fortune from the last Afghan war.”
Pakistan was facing an acute financial crisis before Black Tuesday. As quid pro quo for supporting the U.S., Pakistan begged for help in alleviating its long list of monetary predicaments. Now the sanctions on Pakistan have been waived by the U.S. Congress. Our financial minister is trying to get Pakistan‘s $36 billion debt to the U.S. either forgiven or rescheduled on very comfortable terms.
The big question in Pakistan is, as tensions rise in the country, can the government safeguard its nuclear facility?
Presiding over a special session of the National Command Authority, the highest controlling authority of Pakistan’s nuclear assets, minutes of which were leaked to newspapers, President Musharraf said, “The country‘s strategic capabilities are fully safeguarded, and there exists no possibility whatsoever of their falling into the wrong hands.”
Rafiq Afghan, editor of a right-wing popular daily in Karachi called Unmat, wrote in an open letter to the government: “Stripped of ideology, an arsenal of 20,000 nuclear bombs could not save the Soviet Union from disintegration. Then how come Musharraf boasts of protectingsaving strategic assets when the state has retreated from its raison d’etre, i.e., the ideology of one Muslim nation.”
In the Daily Frontier Post, a Peshawar newspaper, a political commentator suggested that the U.S. is deliberately creating unrest in Pakistan so that Musharraf will be run out and the U.S. can step in to control its nuclear arsenal, “the breeding place of the only Islamic atomic bomb.”
All of the major newspapers in Pakistan ran quotes from a recent New Yorker piece about a plan by the U.S. and Israel to take over the country‘s nuclear facilities if the Musharraf government falls to fundamentalists. What concerns Pakistanis is not so much the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, but the leaking of nuclear-bomb-making information.