The Subcontinent: Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif Leaves U.S. Empty-Handed but Successfully Faces Down Military Commander

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THE SUBCONTINENT: Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif Leaves U.S. Empty-Handed But Successfully Faces Down Military Commander

A lot of hopes were attached to the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the United States in the third week of September. That President Clinton had agreed to receive him, while at the same time not receiving Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee during the latter's U.N. visit, was quoted as a sure sign that the United States was willing to befriend Pakistan (and not India) again, provided Sharif signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

On the night after his meeting with the U.S. president, Sharif told Pakistanis at a dinner in New York: "I am glad to state that there has been a meeting of minds today. President Clinton understands the compulsions under which we tested the nuclear weapons last May. I explained to him the excruciating 17 days that we spent following India's nuclear blasts. We did not rush with our decision although my government was under severe pressures to go ahead. We waited to watch the reaction of the world powers to New Delhi's defiance, seeing none coming, and in the face of India's literal threats to us, we were pushed into testing our own nuclear devices."

The Pakistani prime minister added: "I expressed my disappointment to President Clinton that the U.S. did not make any distinction and clamped sanctions on both India and Pakistan. We are paying for the sins of others, I told him."

Nawaz Sharif was aware of the fact that the number one issue for the elite Pakistani gathering he was addressing at the New York Hilton was the acute economic crisis facing Pakistan. Since it was obvious that he did not have any breakthrough to announce on the subject, he skillfully skirted it and kept harping on the nuclear tests, saying, "We have better than matched India's score." (India detonated five nuclear devices and Pakistan reacted with six explosions.)

When someone from the floor asked him about "accountability in the country," he discussed reports that his political rival and predecessor as prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, had fat bank accounts in Switzerland. He spoke of the Kashmir dispute that was the bone of contention between Pakistan and India. Then he went on to speak about the shariah (Islamic code) legislation that his government had introduced in the Assembly.

"Islam is the genesis of Pakistan," Sharif declared. "We have decided to keep a promise that has been delayed for over 50 years...We owe this to the people of Pakistan." He also spoke of the centerpiece project of his current administration, construction of a major Islamabad-Lahore highway.

CHANGE IN THE ARMY COMMAND

Gen. Jehangir Karamat, Pakistan's army chief of staff, in a forceful Oct. 5 speech, strongly criticized the Nawaz Sharif government for its failures and asked that military personnel be included in policymaking and in the administration of the country.

"We cannot afford the destabilizing effects of polarization, vendettas, and insecurity-driven expedient policies," the general said. Within hours Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had consulted with President Tararr and his cabinet and summoned General Karamat to his office for an explanation.

The meeting ended with Karamat requesting early retirement, which was immediately granted by the prime minister. Nawaz Sharif named Gen. Pervaiz Musharaf to replace Karamat.

Removal, resignation or retirement of a military general may be a routine exercise in most countries, but in Pakistan this one took on immense significance. Until now, elected governments in Pakistan have largely operated at the pleasure of the military, which also has ruled overtly for half of Pakistan's half-century of existence. Therefore, when Gen. Karamat, instead of the prime minister he criticized, bowed out, it made history.

Clearly General Karamat miscalculated the political fallout of his speech (see the Oct./Nov. Washington Report p. …