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Pakistan: Government Faces Dilemma At UN Security Council Vote

  • Antoine Blua

Pakistan's government this week will face a dilemma in the UN Security Council as it decides whether to support a draft resolution that sets a 17 March deadline for Iraq to fully comply with UN demands to disarm. Should Islamabad support a U.S.-backed resolution, unpopular at home, that would likely authorize an attack on fellow Muslims in Iraq? Or should it risk the anger of Washington, President Pervez Musharraf's ally?

Prague, 12 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A draft resolution that sets a 17 March deadline for Iraq to show it has demonstrated "full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation" with its disarmament obligations is expected to be submitted to the UN Security Council later this week. The measure implies military action if Iraq does not comply.

The resolution will pass if it receives "yes" votes from at least nine of the 15 council members. Apart from the U.S., Britain, and Spain, which have proposed the new resolution, only Bulgaria has so far joined in support. It would require five more affirmative votes and "yes" votes or abstentions from the permanent five members to pass.

It is a time of intense diplomacy at the UN, during which opposing factions are seeking to win the votes of the council's undecided members, including Pakistan, a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism. But there are signs that Pakistan -- a rotating member of the council -- is uncomfortable with the deadline in the U.S.-backed draft.

In a nationwide speech broadcast on television, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali yesterday said the government had taken a unanimous decision that it will be "very difficult" for Pakistan to support war against Iraq. Jamali did not mention, however, whether Pakistan will vote or abstain on the resolution:

"It is going to be very difficult for Pakistan to support the war against Iraq. This goes in the interest of my country, in the interest of my nation and in the interest of my government."

Senior officials of Jamali's party, the Quaid-e-Azam faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, said earlier that the cabinet had decided Pakistan would abstain from voting.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan also argued yesterday against a war with Iraq: "Our position is very well known. We want the resolution of this problem [with Iraq] through peaceful means. We feel that the [Hans] Blix report is quite positive, that he has stated that the disarmament and the process and the work of inspectors is proceeding fairly satisfactorily."

But Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, told reporters earlier this week that no decision has yet been made on how his country would vote: "We will vote in accordance with our conscience. We will vote taking into account the facts on the ground, whether we think a peaceful disarmament was possible, is possible, what the consequences of a war will be, what our people think about it and, naturally, what our friends think about it, including, in particular, the United States."

Washington's tough stand against Iraq has upset the conservative Islamic parties that enjoy support among a significant minority of Pakistanis. More than 100,000 marchers protested on 9 March in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, against a possible war against Iraq. The rally, which followed a huge antiwar demonstration last week in the southern city of Karachi, highlights the mounting pressures on President Pervez Musharraf as he contemplates Pakistan's vote on the latest UN resolution.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad, political leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key member of a religious alliance that opposes the military-backed government, told the crowd at the rally that Pakistan must not simply abstain but should oppose the resolution, "The New York Times" reported. "We should not miss the opportunity of slapping America in the face," he said.

Using a softer tone, Abdul Rafar Aziz -- the director of foreign affairs of Jamaat-e-Islami -- tells RFE/RL that the government -- instead of obeying what he calls "orders from outside" -- should reject any resolution that would damage stability in the region: "On this historical point, Pakistan must say not only what the Pakistani people are thinking but peace-loving people all over the globe. So Pakistan has a golden opportunity to join hands with all these global communities and the global family of peace-loving people. But unfortunately, the Pakistani government, they are facing this dilemma, and they want to please the United States of America, which is impossible in our opinion."

According to some diplomats and political experts, Musharraf's view of Pakistan's strategic and economic needs runs counter to popular sensibilities, just as it did after 11 September, when he severed ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan and joined the war against terrorism. Washington rewarded Pakistan by providing more than $1 billion in aid to Pakistan and has helped it reschedule more than $12 billion in debt, a U.S. diplomat told "The New York Times."

Therefore, it is possible that Pakistan will vote this week to support the U.S. position, especially if its vote becomes decisive, or it will -- at the very least -- abstain. This time, analysts say, Pakistan is likely to seek compensation for the indirect costs a war in Iraq war may impose, such as a jump in oil prices.

Imtiaz Bokhari is vice president of the independent Islamabad Policy Research Institute: "The international community or the Americans have to understand it for themselves that there would be lots of repercussions for an action on Iraq if it is unilateral, and they would need to support Pakistan so that its effects are diluted."

Because of strong opposition at home, Imtiaz admits it will be difficult for Pakistan to vote for any UN resolution that would, in effect, endorse a military attack on Iraq. But he said the government would be better able to handle any repercussions if it is a decision taken by the international community, as opposed to unilateral military action by the U.S.: "The government will be able to handle a situation in which it is the United Nations which authorizes an action, as it was last time [in 1991]. There would still be opposition, but that opposition would be less. But the present tempo is that America intends to take a unilateral action. And people are very much against that."

Even if the draft resolution receives the required nine votes, a "no" vote from any of the five permanent members would constitute a veto. France and Russia, two permanent members, yesterday said they would vote against the current resolution. Britain has said it may put forward proposals amending the draft to introduce a set of steps to be taken by Iraq within a specific time to demonstrate full compliance with UN disarmament requirements.

U.S. and British officials have stated their determination to disarm Iraq by force, even without Security Council backing.

Fatehyab Ali Khan is the chairman of the independent Pakistan Institute for International Affairs, based in Karachi. He says the institute is preparing a proposal intended to peacefully resolve the problem caused by the divergence of interpretation of UN Resolution 1441, passed in November. That resolution threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq did not disarm.

"We are going to suggest to our government, and the United Nations, and the [UN] secretary-general, and the members of the Security Council that, since there is a dispute about the interpretation [of Resolution 1441] between the two groups [the U.S. and U.K. and those who oppose military action], it is necessary and imperative that the resolution should be referred to the International Court of Justice for interpretation in letter and the spirit -- whether a declaration of war without the Security Council's unanimity or consensus is against international law or not."