|Asia News Digest
Military Coup in Thailand Is Still Undefined
On the night Sept. 19, the chiefs of all the military forces and the police seized power in Bangkok, Thailand, while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York for the opening session of the United Nations. The coup was orchestrated by Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda, a former Prime Minister and now head of the King's Privy Council, who has been in open preparation for this move for several months. General Prem met with the King and arranged for Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin (the Army Chief who ran the coup on the ground) and the other military chiefs, to meet the King, who subsequently gave his official endorsement of the junta.
Deposed Prime Minister Thaksin, now in London, has not called for his supporters to oppose the junta, but called on the junta to return the nation to democracy. Despite the overwhelming support which Thaksin enjoys among the rural population, there has been no significant resistance, although this is not known for certain, since the media is under tight censorship. Only Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit and three cabinet ministers have been detained.
General Sondhi has reported that he will appoint an interim Prime Minister and Cabinet within two weeks, with elections planned for late next year. The junta has shortlisted four potential civilian Interim Prime Ministers, including Prem's close ally on the Privy Council, Gen. Surayudh Chulanont, who was removed by Thaksin as commander of the northern army when he tried to start a war with Myanmar; and former WTO director and current UNCTAD director Supachai Panitchpakdi. The choice of Surayudh would indicate a strong hand from Washington, where he has long been held in esteem. Supachai, on the other hand, has been an outspoken opponent of the Washington consensus and defender of developing nations against controls by the international financial institutions. Much will be revealed about the future of Thailand by who is chosen.
Musharraf Meets Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice
Over two days (Sept. 21-22) Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf met with top Bush Administration officials, including the President, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The meetings took place at a stage of heightened tension between United States and Pakistan.
Following his meeting in the White House on Sept. 22, President Musharraf and President Bush, at a joint press conference, the Pakistani President said that a peace treaty between his government and tribes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is not meant to support the Taliban. Expressing his belief in what President Musharraf said, Bush said that Musharraf had looked him in the eye and vowed that "the tribal deal was intended to reject the Talibanization of the people and that there won't be a Taliban and there won't be al-Qaeda in Pakistan." Musharraf also told reporters: "We are on the hunt together.... There is total coordination at the intelligence level between two forces. There is coordination at the operational level, at the strategic level, even at the tactical level...." These comments mark the first time the Pakistani government has not expressed opposition to U.S. forces operating on Pakistani soil.
This public display, in which the two Presidents expressed confidence in one other, is a mere facade. On Sept. 26, President Bush will meet the Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington. Karzai has accused Pakistan for years of sheltering and using the Taliban militia and al-Qaeda to weaken Kabul. On Sept. 27, Bush, Musharraf, and Karzai will have a tripartite talk.
U.S.-Pakistan relations are facing a crisis. The anti-U.S. and anti-Karzai forces have gained ground in Afghanistan and have begun to seriously hurt both the NATO and the U.S.-led coalition troops. Both Kabul and Washington need Islamabad's cooperation to tame the insurgency. However, Musharraf has shown little capability, or intent (as some observers point out), to satisfy either Washington or Kabul. The problem is not new, but because of the very high level of violence, and the fear that Afghanistan may go the Iraq way, Washington may try to lean very heavily on Islamabad.
Musharraf Says After 9/11, U.S. Threatened To Bomb Pakistan Back to Stone Age...
The U.S. threatened that Pakistan would be bombed after 9/11, if it did not join the U.S. in the Afghan war, according to President Musharraf in an interview with CBS's "60 minutes." The Pakistani President said that Richard Armitage, then Undersecretary of State, had told his intelligence director: "Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age." (The threat is remarkably similar to the one that Secretary of State James Baker III issued to Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz before the 1991 Gulf War, warning Iraq off use of chemical weapons.)
Musharraf told CBS that he responded to the threat in what he thought was a responsible manner. "One has to think and take actions in the interest of the nation, and that's what I did," he said. Armitage, he said, gave him a list of seven demands, including logistical support and free overflight and landing rights for military aircraft.
Armitage told CNN on Sept. 22 that he had indeed threatened Pakistan, reporting that he told the intelligence chief on Sept. 13, 2001two days after the attacks in the U.S.: "I told him that for Americans it was black and whitethat Pakistan was either with us fully or not. It wasn't a matter of being able to negotiate. He started to tell me the history of Pakistan-Afghan relations, and I ... cut him off and said: 'History starts today, General. Secretary Powell and I will be presenting you with a list of requirements for Pakistan tomorrow. Go and consult with President Musharraf. Secretary Powell will call the President to make sure he understood the gravity of the situation.'"