The Economist used be one of my favourite magazines until its perchant for conservatism overtook good sense and it became enamoured by George W. Bush
Anyhow, here is what its editorial staff have to say in the magazine's latest issue about the Commando-in-Control and his current travails.
Musharraf's unhappy new year
Jan 19th 2006 LAHORE From The Economist print edition
Troubles are piling up for Pakistan's president
FOR Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, troubles are coming not as single spies but in battalions. An American rocket attack on January 13th on a remote mountain village in Bajaur, a tribal agency near the border with Afghanistan, provoked angry nation-wide protests. Army action in Baluchistan province against rebellious tribesmen continues to take a toll of soldiers and civilians, and this week anonymous threats prompted foreign aid organisations to suspend operations there. Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, devastated by an earthquake in October, is suffering the misery of a Himalayan winter. Many Pakistanis fear the peace process with India is going nowhere (see article). To cap it all, the president has faced a political rebellion in Sindh province.
The strike in Bajaur was aimed at Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy leader of al-Qaeda, mistakenly thought to be there. It is reported to have killed three or four al-Qaeda terrorists—including an explosives expert on the most-wanted list—but also 18 civilians, including women and children. Pakistan has complained, but not over-loudly, given the presumed existence of secret agreements allowing America to wage war on Pakistani soil in certain extreme circumstances.
For the past three years, Pakistan's army has faced an uphill task in this mountainous area. It is infested with heavily armed Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, bent on making trouble in Afghanistan. Hardly a day goes by without killings by both sides. On January 10th, for instance, seven soldiers and 14 “terrorists” died in clashes in the tribal areas. Locals sympathise with the militants and see the army as an intruder, there at the behest of the Americans. The army commanders say they have killed hundreds of foreign fighters, and frequently claim that the job is almost done. But that is not the case.
As if his troubles in the tribal areas and Baluchistan were not enough, General Musharraf has antagonised Sindh province by promoting the construction of a dam on the Indus river at a place called Kalabagh in Punjab. Sindh, further downstream, is bitterly opposed to the project. Such is the lack of trust that Sindhis suspect Punjabis will “steal” the waters of “their” Indus. They fear that new canals from the dam's reservoir will reduce the flow of water and leave the fertile Indus delta in Sindh vulnerable to the encroachments of the Arabian Sea.
In Sindh, even members of General Musharraf's own ruling coalition are afraid of openly supporting him. In early January the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which controls Karachi and the urban areas of Sindh, threatened to quit the Sindh government unless the Kalabagh project was ditched, and military action in Baluchistan halted. It took Pakistan's prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, and General Musharraf an hour each on the phone to placate Altaf Hussain, the MQM's leader, who lives in self-imposed exile in London.
This week, General Musharraf was forced into an embarrassing retreat. Instead of Kalabagh, he said on national television, two other dams would be built first. MQM workers celebrated by dancing on the streets of Karachi. Yet delay in building a string of big dams, including Kalabagh (the most feasible one), could seriously impair agricultural productivity and energy supplies. According to a World Bank study, Pakistan is already one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, “a situation which is going to degrade into outright water scarcity”. Pakistan has only 150 cubic metres (33,000 gallons) of water storage per person compared with over 5,000 cubic metres in America and Australia and 2,200 in China.
Many Pakistanis criticise General Musharraf for making his own life difficult by picking fights on so many controversial fronts. He seems rattled by the opposition he has provoked, and has resorted to bluster. In December he thundered against the rebellious Baluch tribesmen: “I will sort them out—they won't know what hit them.” In the event, the insurgents almost downed an army helicopter carrying the top military commander in Baluchistan. The rebels also had the audacity to lob rockets at General Musharraf himself when he visited the area last month.
If unchecked, the Baluch insurgency could destabilise the region and jeopardise oil and gas exploration, which are critical to Pakistan's economy. Similarly, any laxity in prosecuting the war against militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan would hurt relations with America, Pakistan's most important benefactor. As it is, the Americans are still pressing for a chance to interrogate the disgraced scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, outside Pakistan about help he is alleged to have provided for Iran's nuclear programme. Handing the father of Pakistan's nuclear deterrent over would infuriate nationalists at home.
Besieged as he seems to be, General Musharraf still shows no inclination to broaden his political base by making friends with the parties of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, two exiled former prime ministers. Rather, he seems to see the presidential elections due next year as a chance to weaken them further, and consolidate his own power. Ruling Pakistan is not at all easy, even for an all-powerful dictator who, most observers reckon, sincerely wants to do well by the country.
Your Blogger's comment on the last point: In my view saying 'an all-powerful dictator who...sincerely wants to do well by the country' is all very good but for the fact 'what is judged good for the country' comes from the viewpoint of an Army General and all the extraneous baggage that position brings with it.
Unfortunately it is this very Army viewpoint which has, in my opinion, immeasurably damaged the country over a period of over five decades. Besides , these days one might also question Musharraf's prime motivations - how much weight does he place on considerations which relate to safeguarding his grip on power vs. what is genuinely good in the interests of all Pakistanis?