Focus Shifts to South Asia Hu Jintao and Musharraf May Be Tested

No solution in the Middle-East is possible unless Al Qaeda is defanged in South Asia. Belatedly, the US seems to recognize this simple truth. President Bush is being compelled to do now what he refused to do after 9/11. At that time he invaded Iraq instead of dealing with Al Qaeda. Now the Democrats are forcing his hand to rectify that costly diversion. The US Congress has passed a Bill restraining the administration from releasing funds to Pakistan unless it has certified that Islamabad is preventing Taliban from operating on its soil. Last week New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall from Pakistan's north-west region wrote unequivocally about Pakistan's complicity in Taliban insurgency. She was detained by Pakistan authorities, searched, and her tape recordings and notes were confiscated.

Clearly, sections of the Pakistan army and ISI are hand in glove with Taliban and Al Qaeda. President Musharraf of course must be aware of this but does not stop them. He has continued to walk the tight rope between peace talks and jihaadi terrorists. He perhaps assumes that continuing terror will get him a better bargain on Kashmir. Well, no more. Events are likely to force him off the tight rope. Pakistan's army was relying on Russian made engines to be equipped on 150 planes supplied by China. President Putin has forbidden China to pass the Russian engines to Pakistan. Like the US, Russia too is taking a hard line on Al Qaeda and Taliban. The question is, despite American and Russian opposition, what gives Pakistan's army the guts to defy?

It can only be support from China that emboldened Musharraf to withstand US pressure. Now, Chinese support too may weaken. There are indications that President Hu Jintao and the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) are not acting in concert. Readers might recall that after North Korea's nuclear test it had been conjectured in this column that the PLA, egged on by loyalists of former President Jiang Zemin, were scuttling President Hu's efforts to rectify the damage from Jiang's policies to China's economy and foreign relations. Hu's efforts included curbing corruption, which hurt powerful vested interests loyal to Jiang. Action against corruption developed into what appeared to be a silent power struggle. Voices in the ruling party are even being raised for replacement of President Hu by Zeng Quinghong, a staunch Jiang loyalist and current Vice President. President Hu does seem gradually to be prevailing over North Korea's intransigence for a settlement with the US, even if haltingly.

The conjecture that President Hu and PLA were not pulling together was met initially with skepticism. But after China's recent missile strike to destroy a satellite the US seems to have come to the same conclusion. The US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley has disclosed how Chinese diplomats responded with blank stares to questions about the missile strike. Hadley said: 'The question on something like this is, at what level in the Chinese government are people witting, and have they approved?' The US is uncertain about whether 'China's top leaders, including President Hu, were fully aware of the test or the reaction it would engender'. Twelve days after the test China's foreign office spokesman Liu Jianchao responded. He said: 'China will not participate in any arms race in outer space.' But can President Hu deliver?

The PLA, from its inception, has been a government within a government. Thousands of commercial firms owned by PLA prospered hugely under President Jiang Zemin. He was the architect of Sino-US trade which today has resulted in a trillion dollars of US securities being owned by China. President Hu Jintao may have appointed himself Chairman of China's Central Military Commission, but he never served in the army. The last leader whom PLA generals looked up to was Deng Xiaoping: he had participated in the Long March.

The PLA's close ties with Al Qaeda and Taliban have been repeatedly chronicled in these columns. But is President Hu trying to sever those ties? If so, will he succeed? The timing of China's space missile strike is intriguing for another reason. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert was invited to Beijing to strengthen Sino-Israeli ties. While Olmert was in Beijing, the missile strike was launched. If President Hu, as surmised, had not authorized the strike, was the PLA scuttling the purpose of Olmert's visit? Prime Minister Olmert's grandfather had lived in Shanghai after fleeing Soviet persecution. Most likely the Israeli PM would have sentimental ties with China. President Hu's advice to him therefore might carry weight. Prime Minister Olmert, like his predecessor Ariel Sharon, is undoubtedly following a policy of comparative restraint under US pressure to further the peace process with the Palestinians. Was the PLA signaling the Israelis to harden stance because they could lean on a powerful China capable of countering the US? Meanwhile hardliners are already out in Israel attempting to oust Olmert for alleged corruption.

Another possible symptom of the Hu-PLA struggle was provided on January 8th when the Chinese police killed alleged terrorists in northwest China's Xingjian Uighur Autonomous Region. The clash occurred in the mountains of Pamirs plateau. The terrorist training camp was run by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), labeled terrorist by UN in 2002. It is believed that more than 1,000 ETIM members were trained by Al Qaeda. Readers might recall this column drawing attention earlier to the reported entrenchment of Al Qaeda cadres in Little Pamir described once as Osama's safest sanctuary.

The crisis in Iran, as predicted earlier, will be allowed to simmer until the South Asian crisis is resolved. Last week a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei met the Indian Ambassador and proposed that India act as mediator and guarantor that Iran's nuclear programme would remain peaceful. Simultaneously a high-powered delegation of America's most powerful Jewish organization, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging India to restrain Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. President Bush's deployment of more US troops in Iraq is intended very likely to create leverage with Iran for a final Iraq settlement. The most feasible settlement seems to be a federal Iraq with three autonomous regions. With cooperation from Iran and Saudi Arabia the Shia and Kurdish regions could be compelled to share equitably oil revenues with the Sunni region, which is bereft of oil. But all this can happen only after Al Qaeda is neutralized in South Asia.
So the questions are: Can President Musharraf successfully take on his army and ISI? And will that not depend on whether President Hu can successfully take on the PLA? This year might provide some answers. 


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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