Thursday, January 12, 2006

The US Finally Fed Up With Musharraf?

Can this be true or is it simply an excercise in wishful thinking?


From Asia Times

Jan 12, 2006

US turns against Musharraf
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999 and, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, still in effect rules as a military dictator.

Musharraf's firm grip on the affairs of state has until now served Washington's interests well, as he has been able to steer the country into the US camp as an ally in the "war on terror".

However, with the Taliban nowhere near defeated in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda still unbroken (the two major reasons that the US solicited Pakistan's assistance in the first place), the US is looking at its allies in Islamabad in a new light: Musharraf may be more the problem than the solution.

An indication of how things have slipped in the region is news that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has openly called for a truce with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. This was not how events were supposed to play out.
According to sources close to the power corridors in Washington who spoke to Asia Times Online, the administration of US President George W Bush is now convinced that a weaker Pakistani army is as necessary now as a powerful one was when Islamabad did a U-turn on its support for the Taliban soon after September 11, 2001.

This realization has taken root over the past few months, and developments since last November have been enough to set alarm bells ringing among the military leadership of Pakistan.

Goings-on in Balochistan

Rebellious tribesmen in the restive but resource-rich province of Balochistan have for decades challenged the writ of the central government in Islamabad. The Baloch insurgents have traditionally received weapons via Kandahar in Afghanistan, and via sea smuggling routes.

The Pakistani army has engaged in a number of operations in Balochistan over the years, and the most recent is continuing. The involvement of the military is highly unpopular not only among Balochis, but also among many segments of Pakistani society.

What is new in Balochistan, and which is causing concern in Islamabad, is the emergence of two sons of insurgent tribal chief Nawab Khair Bux Muri as organizers of a strong financial network to fund the insurgency.

"The whole operation of financing the Baloch insurgency is directed from Qatar, although this is a very unlikely place. One of the sons of Khair Bux Muri - Gazn Muri - has been shuttling between Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and is the main financial link between the insurgents in Balochistan, where command is in the hands of a brother, Balaach Muri," a top Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online.

"The real question, though, is not the transmission of money, but from where Gazn Muri is getting this kind of huge money. The answer lies in the activities of another brother, Harbayar Muri, who is based in London."
Although the official would not spell it out in as many words, he was questioning how Harbayar Muri could raise funds in Britain, where there is a negligible Balochi expatriate community. It was a clear hint at the involvement of Western intelligence agencies, which have strong centers of operations in Qatar-UAE and London.

Political maneuvering

The US is also making some backroom political moves in relation to Pakistan's interests in the region.

According to a contact who spoke to Asia Times Online, a person close to the US Central Intelligence Agency paid a low-profile visit to New Delhi in the third week of December and briefed strategic planners on Washington's plan to try to curtail the role of the Pakistani army, while at the same time renewing support for democratic forces in Pakistan.

India's cold shoulder on the diplomatic front toward Pakistan and a policy statement against the military operation in Balochistan was an immediate outcome. Islamabad promptly responded by accusing India of meddling in Balochistan, charges that Delhi strenuously denied.

The same person then visited Islamabad and held high-level meetings with political personalities. On his return to the US he stopped over in Dubai in the UAE and held detailed meetings with former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto, who lives there.

A sudden upsurge in the activities in Pakistan of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy - which Bhutto supports - followed.

Musharraf's mystique

The US first made contact with Musharraf in a meaningful way when he was still Corps Commander Mangla and he approached the Americans through a Pakistani mediator. Musharraf had no particular request, but the move was seen as "unusual and meaningful".

The US concluded first that he was ambitious and only wanted power, and that he had a flawed, "split" vision.
US officials noted that to build a constituency in the Pakistani Army, Musharraf embraced the Kashmir issue and enthusiastically supported the liberation movement there.

Last year's earthquake in Kashmir, in which the extensive jihadi influence in Pakistan-administered Kashmir was made clear (they played a significant part in relief operations), convinced the Americans that the Pakistani army would never back out from its strategic activities in Kashmir through supporting the armed struggle in the Indian-administered part of the Valley.

Musharraf, who derives much of his legitimacy from the army, simply cannot afford to abandon this cause. The militancy will continue.

In this regard, the US noted the ill-fated Pakistani army venture into Kargil in Kashmir in 1999, which was conceived by Musharraf shortly before he took power. Pakistan believed that India would respond to the aggression by going to the peace table, but instead it launched its troops in a full-out assault, quite ready to go to all-out war. Pakistan pulled back its troops from the ill-conceived operation.

On the domestic front, the Musharraf administration in essence facilitated the formation of the the six-party alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which made impressive political gains in the general elections of 2002.

The aim was to scare the Americans by pointing to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in order to garner US support for Musharraf's uniform.

Similarly, the sweeping defeat of the MMA in local elections late last year amid widespread claims of fraud was to show the Americans that Musharraf had the ability to outwit fundamentalism. In this game, Musharraf's split vision does not allow him to visualize what kind of a message he is really passing on to Washington.

According to Asia Times Online information, Washington has now decided that the best outcome would be for a new man to replace Musharraf, 64, as chief of army staff, and at the same time to encourage liberal democratic forces to take over parliament.

As for Musharraf, the ideal way out for him is to become a civilian constitutional head of the country.


Anonymous said...

Liberal forces....that means Benazir?

Do you think that would be agood thing, even marginally for Pakistan?

Onlooker said...

Personally I am not sure if the US has a clue what next to do. If and when Musharraf goes he will most likely be succeeded with yet another General, who will naturally promise us all the moon.

And the new Khaki chappie - just to win international kudos - might even bring Benazir back as PM but will probably then insist on keeping her on a tight leash.

Right now the generals have too much vested interest - social, economic and political - to hand over power to someone else.

Unfortunately it takes something catastrophic (like events of 1971) to make them withdraw from centre stage.

Syed said...

Dear Onlooker,
Unfortunately our entire problem is not the Army fed by Pakistan, but masses of this country are also responsible. I meet many people who support Mush, Baboo, Bibi or politician on-line, but only a few realize the importance of a system and discipline.
An Urdu journalist (Hassan Nisar) very rightly described us in one of his columns as 'Be Sha-oor Awaam, Beghairat Hukamraan'.
None of us likes to follow any discipline in our personal or public behaviors. And the army is the worst example. This is an endorsement of your last post. Those Damned 'Miscreants'

I would request you and other learned persons like Mr. Haqqani to come forward and guide us a way out, not only in letter but also in spirit. And please do not impress us by the ability of switching sides for the petty benefits.(Last lines are for the consideration of Mr. Haqqani)


Anonymous said...

Well, Syed, it seems to me that our political culture is very stratified. Do u guys think losing the Establishment would be benefical for Pakistan?

Onlooker said...

I can't speak for Mr Haqqani but in my view until and unless the Establishment (aka the Army Generals) allow a reduction in defence spending - so that funds can be properly utilised in developing the country, especially in the field of education - nothing can be achieved.

In the past no civilian government was ever allowed to question defence spending. Under Musharraf obviously the same holds true.

Proper education of the young is the only true investment a country can make to safeguard its future.

And by the by, criticising Baloch Sardars and suchlike appears to be an historical subterfuge on part of Islamabad. Musharraf has already admitted on several occasions that 75 of 78 sardars in Balochistan have always been in the Establishment's pocket.

So where is the development in the areas of these 75 sardars? The reality is that these stooges have been pocketing most of the funds in return for professing their loyalty to Islamabad.

So who is really to blame?

Husain Haqqani said...

A few weeks ago Onlooker succinctly summarized the way forward when he wrote that the long term solution for Pakistan's ills is education. This requires diverting resources currently being squandered on military spending (which is not the same thing as national defense).

The experience of other countries shows that building of civil institutions is a good first step in reorienting national priorities for a paretorian state. In that sense, emergence of a national consensus on the military's withdrawal from politics is absolutely essential. The next civilian government will most likely be headed by someone with a flawed reputation but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Again, the experience of other countries (Some Latin American states come to mind) tells us that politicians known for huge mistakes in the past can learn from these mistakes and perform better once they govern in a changed instituional framework.

Pakistan's intelligentsia (including me) must get over its preoccupation with personalities and work on strengthening institutions: Judiciary, political parties, the media, academia and the civil service. We need only look across Pakistan's eastern border to recognize that even flawed and uncharismatic politicians, with roots among the masses, can deliver institutions of democracy. Over time, the institutions can deal with problems of corruption and incompetence of individual leaders.

The key for the civilians' success would be their willingness to submit themselves to the rule of law. The "winner takes all" mentality of the past, coupled with behind-the-scenes machinations of the Praetorians, has so far been the greatest obstacle to Pakistan's political evolution.

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