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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dilip Hiro on Zardari's Dilemma

But pro-American, secular Zardari faces a Herculean task. Anti-Americanism is rife in Pakistan, and exists not only among ordinary citizens but also the ranks of the security forces, from the regular army to paramilitary Frontier Corps and police.

To most Pakistanis, the military strikes against the Islamist militants in Fata and the Swat Valley, 100 miles north of Islamabad, are tantamount to "Muslims killing Muslims" for the sake of America. They believe that under the guise of conducting "war on terror", Bush is waging "war on Islam". The two countries he has invaded so far, Afghanistan and Iraq, are almost wholly Muslim, they say.

Against this backcloth of rampant anti-Americanism, Zardari needs to devise a strategy that allows him to distance his government from the United States and repress Islamist extremists on a nationalist agenda of maintaining law and order and the territorial integrity of Pakistan. Still, such a strategy would need to be underwritten by regional powers.

Zardari is reported to have drafted such a plan. It envisages the convening of the representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, India, China, and Russia to discuss the burgeoning threat of Islamist terrorism, and formulate a common, cooperative strategy. At that gathering America and Britain will be present, but only as observers.

"A consensus [of the regional states] is necessary so that the war on terror is not considered an American war but is owned by all countries," the Zardari position paper states.

Whatever the merits of the Zardari plan, which are considerable, it is unlikely to appeal to Bush. The last thing Bush wants is to see the US downgraded to a bit-player in the armed onslaught on Islamist radicals. He is embarrassingly aware of his bravado statement about Osama bin Laden after 9/11: "We'll get him, dead or alive".


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