- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A cartoon in the Pakistani media showing Uncle Sam opening the palm of his hand to disclose two peanuts said it all.

President Pervez Musharraf and his supporters have been expecting the United States to announce major relief for Pakistan's $37 billion foreign debt that is costing the country almost $3 billion a year in interest payments alone.

There has been no U.S. "quid" for Pakistan's "quo" when President Bush leaned on Gen. Musharraf for total cooperation in the war against transnational terrorism, say political sources close to Gen. Musharraf.

Gen. Musharraf assumed that the United States understood that a dirt-poor country that was 70 percent illiterate, and where 140 million people eked out an existence on an average of $450 a year, would remain putty in the hands of extremist religious leaders without a major change in the geopolitical relationship.

Mr. Bush, say these same sources, led Gen. Musharraf to believe that the partnership that existed between the two countries prior to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program would be restored.

Mr. Bush told Gen. Musharraf in their original conversation, they added, that a page had been turned and that the sanctions that had been imposed during two Clinton administrations would be rescinded.

Pakistanis at all levels of the political, media and business establishments are quick to remind their American interlocutors that since the end of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan they have been the victims of U.S. betrayals and sanctions.

So far, the United States has lifted only defense sanctions that prevent Pakistan from buying military equipment and spare parts.

These had little practical effect as Pakistan did not have the funds for such costly purchases.

"Democracy" sanctions imposed to punish Gen. Musharraf for his military takeover in October 1999 are also seen as a U.S. failure to understand how power-hungry political leaders were running a corrupt machine that had little to do with the democratic process.

Gen. Musharraf has been preparing the country for a return to orderly democracy by October 2002, the deadline imposed by the nation's Supreme Court.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved the third and final tranche of $130 million on a $596 million standby loan.

In a report he is drafting for a government delegation that is leaving for Washington for talks with the IMF Oct. 5, Mohammed Khan showed United Press International the title of his paper: "Less Than Peanuts."

Mr. Khan, who spent 18 years in the United States, including 11 years with the IMF, and has a doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins University, said, "There is still a failure to understand the enormity and the explosive nature of the crisis we face."

Speculation is rife in Pakistan that the United States is backing away from anything more substantial as the realization grows that there is little Gen. Musharraf can do without undermining the shaky stability of his own government and triggering more extremist violence.

As seen by senior Pakistani officers, speaking not for attribution, the United States appears to have concluded that the bombing of the little infrastructure Taliban has left would cause civilian casualties followed by riots in Pakistan's major cities.

Besides, the Taliban may collapse of its own volition as winter sets in without international relief assistance.

Taliban officials have been reported deserting their posts and joining the exodus from the major cities.

Many would rather take a chance and make their way into Pakistan than face the coming winter hardships without any resources.

The Pakistani minister for refugees has estimated that the cost of one refugee is $120 for the first six months, or $122 million if the expected exodus of 1 million materializes.

So far, the refugee relief fund has only $6 million.

[The United Nations yesterday began a campaign to raise $584 million in emergency aid for Afghanistan and for refugees fleeing the nation.

[In Washington, the State Department said the United States would respond generously, although a decision might not be announced until next week.

["We strongly support the efforts by the United Nations to prepare for the refugee outflow and indeed we have looked at this question carefully ourselves to make sure that we do everything possible to help in this situation," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

[U<I>.S<I>. assistance for Afghan refugees in 2001 now stands at $180 million.]

• Distributed by United Press International, for whom Arnaud de Borchgrave is an editor at large.

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