LAHORE - Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s assertion that the US assurances cannot be trusted may have surprised many - but it has a background.
The minister’s statement came after a drone attack on Hangu on the very day when newspapers quoted Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz as saying that the US has assured the government that no drone attacks would be carried out when talks with the Taliban were going on.
The attack caused a serious embarrassment to the government also because the drone issue had been raised by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his recent meeting with President Obama at the White House, and before that in his address to the UN General Assembly.
Since Mr Aziz is also a former foreign minister, he thinks if some country gives an assurance to another, there is no reason why it should not be trusted. Relations between states are based on what they tell each other – plus mutual interests.
So shocked was the interior minister by the latest drone attack that he had to ask his senior colleague Sartaj Aziz why he believed the US assurance. In the same breath he said after this development how anyone could call the US a friend of Pakistan. “Actions have made it clear that the US neither wants peace in Pakistan nor talks with the Taliban”.
To understand why the interior minister said the above-mentioned things about the US, people should recall the situation in Pakistan just a few months before the October 12, 1999, military takeover.
The PML-N government and then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf did not trust each other. The government was waiting for an opportunity to fire Gen Musharraf and the general was also preparing plans to come up with a befitting reply.
But the government was pursuing what can be called a deception plan.
Chaudhry Nisar and Shahbaz Sharif were trying their best to assure Gen Musharraf that the government trusted him and had no clandestine designs against him. And Musharraf was also equally hypocritical. To strengthen the impression that the government had nothing against him, the office of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee was also bestowed upon Musharraf. This was a superb move to mislead anyone in normal circumstances.
The father of the prime minister and the chief minister – Mian Muhammad Sharif (commonly known as Abbaji) – was also playing a behind-the-scenes role to overcome the trust deficit between the two sides.
It was during such a state of uncertainty and mutual suspicions that Mian Shahbaz Sharif visited Washington and sought US cooperation in averting an imminent military coup in Pakistan.
The Punjab chief minister returned home with the State Department issuing a very strong statement that the US would “not” tolerate a military takeover. It was flashed by the media, rightly because of its importance.
The PML-N leaders were satisfied that the danger was over. However, it was Mushahid Hussain Sayed who told the prime minister the real message encapsulated in the State Department statement.
“Mian Sahib, it’s time to pack up”, he told the prime minister.
The dismissal of Gen Musharraf as COAS was the desperate step taken by the government on October 12, 1999. What happened subsequently and how the US supported the military takeover is history.
And since Chaudhry Nisar was fully aware of what role the US statement had played in “averting” (read accelerating) the military takeover, he was justified in asking Mr Sartaj Aziz why he had trusted the US for its assurance.
The world knows that the US gave fullest support to Gen Musharraf while he was in office. President George W Bush used to call him as his ‘tight ally’. Although the 9/11 tragedy also forced the US to support Musharraf, the US has hardly any love lost for the democratic system in Pakistan.
This should make it clear to all why the interior minister was not willing to trust the latest US assurances.
The Muslim countries should also bear in mind that the Americans don’t really mean what they say.
An important example of the US “double face” was the Iraq invasion of Kuwait.
Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was preparing to attack Kuwait to make it the 19th province of his country. But before going ahead with his plan, he wanted to know the likely US reaction to the move.
He called US ambassador in Baghdad April Glaspie and asked her what the US would do if he annexed Kuwait.
The US envoy, as reported by then newspapers, told the Iraqi leader that the US had “no position” on the subject.
Saddam Hussein thought if the US had no position then no other power could stop him from annexing Kuwait. He invaded the City State and then learnt what the actual US position on the issue was.
Iraq, already weakened by its eight-year long war with Iran, could not withstand the world pressure. The occupation was reversed and many years later he was executed, apparently, in accordance with the verdict of a local court.