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Guardian: Muslim allies break ranks with US; Alliance wobbly
17/10/2001 1:33 pm Wed
Muslim allies break ranks with US
Key Muslim allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan break
ranks with US over bombing
Matthew Engel in Washington Matthew Engel in Washington
Tuesday October 16, 2001
Relations between the US and two of its core allies in
the war against terrorism, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan,
approached crisis point yesterday after the Saudi
interior minister, Prince Naif, attacked the assault
on Afghanistan while Pakistan pressed Washington to
ensure that its bombing campaign would be short-lived.
In the latest and most public of a series of
disagreements between the countries that have
evidently taken the US by surprise in the five weeks
since the September 11 attacks on New York and
Washington, Prince Naif told the official Saudi Press
Agency that the kingdom wanted the US to flush out the
terrorists without bombing. "This is killing innocent
people. The situation does not please us at all."
Officially, the state department in Washington remains
"very satisfied" with the Saudi approach to the
crisis, but this masks increasing alarm not merely
about the governmental response but about potential
insurrection that could endanger the whole Saudi
Prince Naif's comments add to the diplomatic pressure
being felt by the US in its attempts to maintain
support in the region for its policies.
Secretary of state, Colin Powell, who holds talks with
General Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad today, took
further steps yesterday to bolster Pakistan's support
for the war, promising military-to-military contacts.
The sanctions imposed after Pakistan's nuclear test in
1998 still prevent the US selling the country any
weaponry or equipment, but by moving towards direct
military relations Mr Powell was clearly holding out
the prospect of future rewards if the Musharraf regime
continued to play ball.
But with strikes ordered across the country by
Islamist groups in protest at Mr Powell's visit, Mr
Musharraf is aware that his support for the US action
can go only so far. "The prolongation of the campaign
will be a source of concern to us," the Pakistani
foreign ministry said last night.
Further underlining the tension that now racks the
region, Indian troops broke a 10-month ceasefire with
Pakistan last night when they fired shells into
disputed territory in Kashmir, killing a woman and
A clearly worried President George Bush fired off a
salvo to the two nuclear powers when he said: "I think
it is very important that India and Pakistan stand
down during our activities in Afghanistan and, for
that matter, forever."
And in the most extreme language to emerge from Tehran
since September 11, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the
supreme leader of Iran, said that the US air strikes
on the Taliban were "dragging the world into a war".
At the top of Washington's in-tray of anxieties
relating to its war against terrorism coalition
partners, analysts now believe that Saudi Arabia -
where few western journalists are allowed - may be
turning into the gravest challenge.
"It's unbelievable how the feeling here has changed
from sympathy to anger in such a short time,"
according to a Riyadh-based westerner quoted by
Reuters yesterday. Another resident compared the mood
there to that of Iran in the late 70s, before the
overthrow of the Shah.
Since September 11, Riyadh has refused to allow
attacks on Afghanistan from its bases; Prince
Abdullah, the country's crown prince and day-to-day
ruler, has avoided meeting President Bush; Muslim
clerics within the once-monolithic country have issued
fatwas against the Americans; and, beneath the bland
assurances of amity, there has been growing US
frustration about the extent of Saudi cooperation with
this investigation too.
American feeling was expressed in a powerful editorial
in Sunday's New York Times, which described Saudi
behaviour as "malignant" and said the "deeply cynical"
bargain between the countries, which for decades had
offered American protection for the regime in return
for an uninterrupted flow of oil, was now "untenable".
David Wurmser, director of Middle East studies at the
American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said
yesterday: "The US's entire foreign policy structure
in the region has been anchored in the strategic
relationship with Saudi Arabia. If everything we're
hearing is true, then we're facing a total meltdown.
The whole war as currently conceived would have to be
reconsidered, because Pakistan won't hold if Saudi
support starts collapsing.
"You can't really separate Bin Laden from the Saudi
establishment," Mr Wurmser said. "There are
conflicting forces there, and part of the
establishment has been working with the Bin Laden
faction to embarrass the other half."
However, the state department spokesman, Philip
Reeker, yesterday repeated the "very satisfied" mantra
that his colleagues have been using for some time. He
noted that Prince Naif had said the situation did not
please the Saudis.
"I think that quite reflects the attitudes we've been
expressing for five weeks now. This situation,
clearly, doesn't please us. We would certainly rather
be able to focus on other things in our foreign and
Bombing must be brief, Powell is warned
American's visit aims to bolster shaky support for
Rory McCarthy in Islamabad
Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, flew into
Islamabad last night to shore up Pakistan's
increasingly shaky support for the military campaign
General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler,
will today tell Mr Powell that the bombing against the
Taliban and Osama bin Laden's network must be brief
and must not deliver the opposition Northern Alliance
into power in Kabul.
"The prolongation of the campaign will be a source of
concern to us," Riaz Mohammad Khan, Pakistan's foreign
ministry spokesman, said. "You can always expect
mishaps in which innocent lives will be lost and
nobody in Pakistan and the United States would like to
see that happen."
General Musharraf will tell Mr Powell to prevent the
Northern Alliance, which is backed by Pakistan's great
rival India, from taking power in Kabul alone. "A move
by outsiders to impose a group on Afghanistan will not
help the situation," Mr Khan said.
The general has threatened to withdraw his support for
the US bombing campaign if Washington breaches a tacit
understanding to limit its help for the alliance.
Pakistan has already been reluctant to share too much
of its intelligence on the Taliban and Bin Laden with
the US, according to sources close to the military
Islamabad, which backed the Taliban from the day they
first appeared in 1994, is desperate to have a
friendly government in Kabul, which may include
Even now the military regime is reluctant to break its
ties with the religious hardliners in Kandahar. "The
Taliban are not terrorists," said Mr Khan. "They
continue to control a very large part of Afghanistan.
We continue to deal with them."
Mr Powell said the UN would play a leading role in
forming the next government. "No one government will
be able to handle it," he said on the flight to
His trip is also intended to defuse tensions between
Pakistan and India, the world's newest nuclear powers,
in the disputed state of Kashmir. After visiting
Islamabad Mr Powell will fly to New Delhi for talks.
"Just give me a chance to listen to them, to hear
their assessment, hear their concerns and see how we
can be helpful," he said.
Islamist religious groups in Pakistan ordered a
nationwide strike yesterday to protest at Mr Powell's
visit and the arrival of US troops last week in
Pakistan, but few protesters took to the streets and
few businesses decided to close.
"We have asked our followers to exact pressure on the
Pakistani government to force Musharraf to send
American troops back to their country," said Maulana
Sami-ul Haq, an Islamist cleric who taught many
Taliban leaders in his mosque in north-western
In Quetta, scene of violent protests in the last week,
and in Jacobabad, a remote town in the south where US
troops are now based, nearly every shop was closed.
At least 100 people from Islamist groups were arrested
in Jacobabad and pickets were set up around the
Shahbaz airfield, where US forces are preparing to
provide logistics support for special forces
operations in Afghanistan.
"At this critical juncture, Colin Powell is coming to
visit Pakistan to sprinkle salt on the wounds of
Muslims," a group of 11 Islamist parties said in a
statement. "The nation will not tolerate his unholy
steps on the soil of Pakistan."
There was a heavy deployment of police and soldiers
across the country. In the larger cities of Peshawar,
Karachi and Lahore the strike was largely ignored.
In Islamabad three special envoys from Zahir Shah, the
former Afghan king who lives in exile in Rome, met
Pakistan's foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, to discuss
the shape of a future government for Kabul.
The elderly king has emerged as a likely figurehead
for the new government, although it is still not clear
which groups would hold the key powers in the next
The Independent, London
Powell in Pakistan to shore up 'wobbly' alliance
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
16 October 2001
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, arrived in
Pakistan yesterday to attempt to shore up the critical
but increasingly wobbly diplomatic front in America's
drive to stamp out Osama bin Laden's terrorist
The headlines scream war, and television screens are
full of missiles, jets and anthrax alarms, of retired
generals and experts on bioterrorism. But the
long-term prospects of the campaign will largely hinge
on preserving a semblance of support in an Islamic
world growing edgier by the day. If that is to be
achieved, then General Powell's less visible
endeavours will be critical.
Cynics would be tempted to define his trip, first to
Pakistan, then to India, as "Mission Impossible".
Simultaneously, he must shore up Islamabad's reluctant
support for the campaign against Mr bin Laden and the
Taliban regime it once protected, and seek regional
agreement on the shape of a post-Taliban Afghan
government on which Pakistan and India have very
At the same time, General. Powell is urgently seeking
to lower the temperature between the two nuclear-armed
neighbours over Kashmir - this latter at the very
moment India launched an artillery barrage at
Pakistani positions on the other side of the line of
control in the disputed territory.
Too accommodating a line towards Pakistan, and there
will be howls of protest from Delhi, with which
Washington is trying to forge a new strategic
relationship but which believes the Taliban and Mr bin
Laden have been complicit with Pakistan in fomenting
the Islamic terrorist attacks across the line of
But if General Powell is perceived by Pakistanto be
tilting towards its arch foe, then he risks further
weakening President Musharraf, who has risked the
wrath of the radical Islamic elements inside his
country by siding with the US against the Taliban.
According to a poll this week, 83 per cent of
Pakistanis back the Taliban in their showdown with the
US, and General Musharraf has from the outset not
concealed his impatience for the bombing campaign to
end as soon as possible.
The eve of General Powell's arrival brought a bizarre
indication of how frayed nerves have become with an
"interview" given by President Pervez Musharraf to
USA-Today and CBS radio in which he urged Washington
to "take out" Mullah Mohammad Omar. Hours later
however, the Pakistan government strongly denied the
interview ever took place.
In another ominous development, the Saudi Interior
Minister Prince Naif criticised the bombing campaign,
saying that Riyadh, another important but deeply
ambivalent ally of Washington in its anti-terror
coalition, was "not at all happy" with the bombing
The remark may have been for domestic consumption in a
strict Islamic country but it was emblematic of how
the relationship between the world's largest oil
producer and its US military protector has come under
intense strain since the bombing started on October 7
- and only adds to the delicacy of General Powell's
Not only has yesterday's most senior American soldier
turned into its most senior diplomat. What he needs to
achieve in his new role may well eclipse in importance
anything he accomplished in uniform -- even the
successful organisation of the war against Saddam
Hussein. "The bombs are important," said one retired
four-star general here, "but this war will be won by
men in striped suits." And he might have added, by the
war of ideas and propaganda.
Never has a conflict been more 'assymetrical.' Huge US
aircraft carrier groups prowl the Arabian Sea. But
American planes rain down not just precision guided
bombs and missiles upon an enemy whose only aim is to
survive, but also humanitarian food packages and
At home, public opinion is gripped not by fear not of
invasion by a human enemy, but by millions of spores
of deadly anthrax which may, or equally possibly, may
not have been let loose by that enemy. All the while
the Bush administration, starting with General Powell
today in Pakistan, must convince moderate opinion in
the Islamic world that the terrorists are the enemy,
not the US.
Belatedly "public diplomacy" has become a buzzword in
Washington. This week the campaign for Muslim hearts
and minds started in earnest, with senior officials -
yesterday the national security adviser Condoleezza
Rice, today - the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -
being wheeled out for interviews on the al-Jazeera
satellite TV news network based in Qatar, which last
week carried videotaped statements by Mr bin Laden and
another al-Qaeda spokesman.
But as he embarks on perhaps the most critical mission
of his nine months as Secretary of State, General
Powell is reaping the bitter fruits of years of
neglect and underfunding of the State Department, and
the main government information agencies. Nowhere have
the repercussions been more evident than in getting
out Americaís message to the Muslim world.
Voice of America for instance puts out only seven
hours of programmes to Arab countries which are heard,
it is estimated, by just 2 per cent of the their