Monday, March 06, 2006

A Sticky Wicket for Musharraf?

For the past couple of days I have been scratching my head trying to work out what was achieved by Bush’s visit to Pakistan.

Admittedly, the main purpose of his South Asian trip was to meet with India’s leadership and envelop them in a warm friendly embrace. As we all know, India, after decades of self-inflicted a socialist/bureaucratic slumber, is heading to become a global economic powerhouse. Washington recognizes this reality and wants to harness India growing dynamism to US’s economic advantage - as a partner rather than a potential rival. Besides the US also wants to use India as a counterweight to China’s economic and military muscle in Asia.

The modern world inexorably revolves around international trade and strategic resources – such as oil. With the entry of China and India as major players, the international economic scenario is changing and Pakistan has, unfortunately, no role to play in it.

As we know, since 9/11, Pakistan’s role has been largely relegated to acting as a US appointed ‘Thanedar’ against the international threat of radical Islam. But now there appears to be growing suspicion that Washington might be having a rethink about this.

A Pakistani journalist,
Amir Mir, had this to say:
[W]ith the Taliban remnants nowhere near defeated in Afghanistan and the Osama-led al-Qaeda still unbroken (which were the two major reasons that the US solicited Pakistan's assistance in the first place), Washington is looking at its allies in Islamabad in a new light: Musharraf may be more the problem than the solution.
Some well-connected diplomatic circles in Islamabad are of the view that the Bush administration is almost convinced now that a weaker Pakistani army is as necessary now as a powerful one was when Islamabad opted for a U-turn on its support for the Taliban soon after September 11, 2001. They insist that this realization has taken root over the past few months and has set alarm bells ringing among the military leadership of Pakistan.
As for the Bush visit, whatever spin Islamabad may wish to put on it, the reality is that Musharraf emerged empty-handed – no mention of the much-hoped for trade treaty or any other benefit - from his meeting with the US President. To make matters worse, the US President indirectly rebuked Musharraf by publicly urging him to hold ‘open and honest elections’ in 2007 .

At last Saturday’s joint press conference Bush was his smug and cocky self, while Musharraf appeared tentative and a shade uncomfortable. At the conference Bush rather revealingly stated (
Daily Times):

The elections scheduled for 2007 are a great opportunity for Pakistan. The President understands these elections need to be open and honest. America will continue to working — working with Pakistan to lay the foundations of democracy.
Your Blogger sees two messages being conveyed here
1. Contrary to Musharraf’s claims about democracy, it was an implied US admission of the fact that previous elections in Pakistan have neither been ‘open’ nor have they been ‘honest’. Bush was now making it clear that the US expects the 2007 elections to be clean and above board.
2. That the US ‘will continue working’ with Musharraf up and until the 2007 elections but not beyond.

And, as if to further emphasize, Bush added:

[In] the long run [Musharraf] understands that extremism can be defeated by freedom and democracy and prosperity and better education. And we spent a lot of time strategizing on that subject today.
‘A lot of time’ spent on ‘strategizing’ on democracy? No wonder Musharraf looked to be strangely out of sorts that day.

Obviously Musharraf could not take his frustrations out on Bush, so yesterday he picked a fight with a weaker rival – Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. Yesterday a grim-looking Musharraf lashed out at the Afghan president, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Karzai is "totally oblivious of what is happening in his own country."

An abridged version of the interview appears on
CNN’s website:

Musharraf was furious over an Associated Press report that Karzai had given Pakistan intelligence suggesting that former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and his associates are hiding in Pakistan.
The report also said Afghanistan gave Pakistan information about locations of alleged terrorist training camps along the border between the two nations.
"I am really surprised and shocked why they have disclosed this to the media," Musharraf told CNN.
"We've already gone through it, this list. Two-thirds of it is months old, and it is outdated, and there is nothing," he said. "What there was, the telephone numbers that they are talking of, two-thirds of them are dead numbers, and even the CIA knows about it, because we are sharing all this information with them.
"The location that they are talking of Mullah Omar is nonsense. There's nobody there."
He also accused Karzai of "waiting for a presidential visit to hand me over this list" -- an apparent reference to President Bush's visit to both nations this past week.
"Is that the way intelligence functions? I am totally disappointed with their intelligence, and I feel there is a very, very deliberate attempt to malign Pakistan by some agents, and President Karzai is totally oblivious of what is happening in his own country."
Musharraf accused Karzai personally of releasing the information publicly, saying he "has raised this accusation against Pakistan."
He added, "There is no need of releasing such sensitive information to the press. And he did that. His government people did that, and [that is the reason for] the response, the harsh response that I am now giving against that."
I imagine what really stung Musharraf was the fact that Karzai would not have embarked on such a course of action without US approval or complicity. Rather than unleash his fury at the mighty Americans, Karzai obviously presented a less threatening target to Musharraf.

While officials in Islamabad, in private, routinely deride Karzai as an ‘ex-restauranter’, they conveniently overlook some basic truths, such as Karzai inherited his father’s role as the chief of the Afghan Popalzai tribe and as a leader of an Afghan political faction. In fact Hamid Karzai has on occasion displayed individual valour by personally leading armed resistance in the Kandahar area.

As far as the derisive ‘ex-restauranter’ taunt is concerned, the truth is that thanks to the Soviet invasion for many years the Karzais were refugees in Pakistan. In dire times people have to survive. So if Hamid Karzai supported himself and his family by running a restaurant, what of it? Should he have swept streets instead?

The other charge hurled against Karzai is that he would not have been elected President if he had not been supported by the mighty US. This is certainly true. On the other hand could Musharraf have ever called himself ‘President’ without the backing of the powerful Pakistan army? The truth to be told: neither of them can get elected if free elections were held in the two countries.


Arun said...

If Pakistan seems to have no role in the emerging order, then it is because Pakistan so chooses, and not because of anything intrinsic.

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