Attacks against Afghanistan’s Taliban by the armed forces of the United States and its allies began in October 2001. When I first heard the news I was in Peshawar, the centre of Pakistan’s controversial, dangerous and beautiful North-West Frontier Province. The war that began following the 9/11 attacks put Pakistan and Afghanistan on the front page for the first time for a significant part of the Western world. Nonetheless, the war has been nothing more than another link in the heavy chain that bound and imprisoned the societies of both countries during the second half of the twentieth century and of which we may begin to see the end in the early part of this century.
While the attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad was dismissed by a large part of the international press with a simple mention of Al- Qaeda and Pakistan’s internal instability it would appear necessary to go a little further. Pakistan is a country that is divided between those who wish to maintain its strategic alliance with the US, orchestrated by the now-fallen Musharraf, and those that wish to resume cordial relations with a China that gave them the technology to develop a nuclear weapon defence programme. There are also those that miss the pro-Taliban connection and finally, the immense silent majority that long for a period of democratic stability with which to overcome the lethal effects of political and economic corruption. Meanwhile, there are a series of conflicts and tensions of a clan and tribal nature that take the form of a national crusade in Kashmir every time a call for national unity is needed, thanks to the eternal enemy, India.
Of the attack on the Marriott hotel on the 20th September we are left with the official statistics of 53 dead and 260 injured as well as its classification by the new Pakistani government, headed by Asif Ali Zardari, as ‘the worst attack in our history’. More conclusions can be drawn, however. The management of the crisis has served to highlight the chaotic situation in which the country has been living for some months now: contradictory information, confused demands, isolated clashes between US soldiers and Pakistani armed forces on the Afghan frontier and the kidnapping of the Afghan consul in Peshawar. These are all images of a Pakistan that looks set to close the Musharraf chapter and that is working to achieve a degree of stability with little political or social coordination.
In reality the profound social division caused by former President Musharraf ’s support for Washington’s armed intervention against Afghanistan that started in 2001, has been overtaken by a new feeling by the majority of a rejection of everything connected to the US government. Aside from agreement on this issue it is difficult to identify an alternative foreign policy that currently enjoys majority support.
There is an immense silent majority that longs for a period of democratic stability with which to overcome the lethal effects of political and economic
This social rejection by the majority has been especially evident since George Bush made public his uneasiness with Pakistan. In effect, in an interview broadcast by the ABC channel last April the American president revealed that the US secret services were investigating an attack of similar dimensions to 9/11 that was being planned on Pakistani soil. In the same interview Bush directed himself directly at Pakistani political leaders when he said, ‘they need to decide if they are with us or they are with our enemies’. A surprising statement if one considers that Pakistan is still taken to be a strategic ally of the United States in Asia.
The response from Pakistan’s media since last spring has been an escalation in articles denouncing American foreign policy and its open threats against
Pakistan. An example comes from the Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt newspaper that used its editorial to accuse the president of the US of ‘aiming directly’ at
Pakistan and making it a priority military objective. Other newspapers, such as the pro-Islamic Roznama Jasarat took advantage of the situation of social
indignation to claim that the threat of an attack on
Pakistan was already on Washington’s agenda and that the grave political, social and economic crisis that the country is experiencing internally and in its regional relations originate from its strategic ties with the United States.
Even the pro-Western Dawn newspaper declared in an editorial this July that, ‘we do not wish to become an enemy of the United States, but neither are we prepared to be the target of an enemy dressed as a friend’.
At this point it appears evident that Pakistan’s strategic alliance with the United States does not have much of a future in the form it existed in the Musharraf period. It is worth keeping in mind the troubled alliance was forged in 2001, in a response to a threat from America to include Pakistan in the list of so-called Axis of Evil countries.
At present it is also hard to know what the new Pakistani government’s regional and international proposals will be. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine it could return to the days of close ties with China, or that it would once more build them with Russia.
It is in this atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty that we propose the European Union strengthen its political and economic ties with Pakistan and strives to become the preferred institution in the terrain of democratisation, of a country devastated by corruption and public inefficiency.
The low profile of European institutions in the region and the respect in which they are held could, in this case, be an opportunity to establish links that are not a cause for concern among the more outspoken regional powers. It could be a new opportunity for Europe and a magnificent opportunity for a giant of more than 165 million inhabitants that finds itself between various, dangerous extremisms and a general social weariness that calls for a new period of democratic stability.
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