Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Panic at the Lota Factory

The Benazir/Nawaz ‘Charter of Democracy’ seems to have caught Musharraf and his supporters on the hop.

Noticeably as Musharraf openly derided the Charter as “a political gimmick”, his weakness became all the more demonstrable. As the
Daily Times reported, not only did he announce that that items such as wheat, rice, sugar, ghee and pulses would be subsidised but that he would go on a countrywide tour to tell people about his government's 'beneficial' endeavours. In other words his 2007 electoral campaign is all of a sudden underway.

Then an obvious attempt was made to sabotage the emerging Benazir-Nawaz accord when
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi announced last Saturday, “Benazir is in direct contact with General Musharraf. She has talked directly to President Musharraf on the telephone 12 times.” This claim was vehemently denied by PPP politicians, but who really knows what is happening behind the scenes as the stakes begin to mount?

However it does appear that Musharraf’s main prop – the ISI-engineered ‘civilian government’ – is slowly beginning to unravel. Apparently many of the PML heavyweights have panicked and want to make a deal with Benazir to save their skins.

As an
Arab newspaper reported yesterday:

ISLAMABAD • Many stalwarts of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League are trying to convince the powers that be to cut a formal deal with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, sources in the party said here yesterday.

The senior PML leaders want aides of President General Pervez Musharraf to initiate a direct communication channel with Bhutto through political people instead of back channel contacts that have not yielded desired results.

Nasir Chattha and Manzoor Wattoo pleaded a rapprochement with Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party when they met Musharraf over the weekend, the sources said. Wattoo has already been in contact with Bhutto’s aides in Pakistan, they added.

“I have told the president that our contacts could be handy if he decides to open up direct communication channels with Bhutto,” a source quoted Wattoo as telling his party leaders recently.

Wattoo, he however added, is yet to receive any favourable reply from Musharraf. On the face of it, the question of a rapprochement with the PPP seemed to have died down in the ruling party and government’s camp.

This was especially in the wake of recent meetings between Musharraf and influential government and party personalities from across the country in which majority voiced against the PPP and ruling PML collaboration.

Informed circles, however, believe that “uniformed political managers” of the regime were holding in-depth discussions on two major issues these days, i.e. chances of a political collaboration with the PPP and launching of an “acceptable face” from within the rank and file of the ruling PML, for the upcoming general elections.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Sulk Continues

It is increasingly obvious that relations between Musharraf and Washington aren’t as hunky-dory as they used to be.

Little over a month ago Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, shortly after a meeting with Musharraf publicly chastised him by announcing “We firmly believe in civilian rule and civilian control of military in Pakistan” (see blog:
It's Time To Move On, Buddy)

And as if to pour further salt on the wounds Boucher recognized Musharraf’s uniform to be “an issue” and referred to Nawaz Sharif, Benzair Bhutto and their ability to contest the 2007 general elections as a matter of concern. In a subsequent TV interview Boucher “linked their return to politics with the US vision of a free, modern and democratic Pakistan.”

As if to reinforce this slap in the face a few hour later, on the very same day, the White House national security advisor Stephen Hadley announced in Washington that “the US administration will work with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to ensure 2007 elections in his country are ‘free and fair’. Hadley also said Washington “will encourage greater democratic reform and political freedom” in Pakistan.”


Here is the latest commentary on this vexed tale from Boston’s Christian Science Monitor.

Frustration mounts between US, Pakistan

Congress pressures Pakistan to give more information about possible proliferation, upsetting already-delicate ties.
By David Montero Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - One of the central relationships forged after 9/11 has hit a rough patch. The latest irritant between Washington and Islamabad came last week as US lawmakers urged Pakistan to wring more information from disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, alleging that he may yet hold the blueprint to some of Iran's nuclear secrets.

Earlier this month, Islamabad officially closed its investigation. While Mr. Khan remains under house arrest, Pakistani officials say they've given Washington all the details they could get out of him - though that information has never been made public.

"Some question whether the A.Q. Khan network is truly out of business, asking if it's not merely hibernating. We'd be foolish to rule out that chilling possibility," said Republican legislator Edward R. Royce in a statement at the Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation hearing. "Vigilance and greater international pressure on Pakistan to air out the Khan network is in order."

So far, the tough talk is coming only from Congress, suggesting that the White House may be more keenly aware of the many demands already placed on Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, including the pursuit of Al Qaeda suspects, the curbing of cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, and the development of good governance to keep radical Islam at bay. Some analysts say that the demand for access to Khan risks pushing an already delicate relationship to the point of overburn at a time when Pakistan is warming up to Iran.

"Even if the US gets access to Khan, he might not be able to give information on [Iran]. Khan has never been to Iran," says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst in Lahore, Pakistan. "If you apply pressure, you may not get the information you want. The US will have to determine its priorities."

Interrogating Khan is a wish that Islamabad has never granted: Washington has always had to go through the Pakistani military to get to Khan, cherished as a national hero. Some say that's the problem, that Khan has never been pressed hard enough. Pakistan authorities, however, defied Congressional demands last week, saying Khan would never be given up.

"The government of Pakistan does not allow direct interrogation of Khan," says Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, spokesman for the Pakistani military. Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, recently told a parliamentary session that Pakistan would not "take dictation from anybody on our national interests."

Some saw double trouble in these words. For not long after he spoke them, Mr. Kasuri and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were busy feting Iran's foreign minister, who came to Islamabad with visions of building a $7 billion gas pipeline.

Other signs of a deepening relationship between the two Islamic republics include:
• a proposed joint investment company to boost bilateral trade up to $1 billion;
• the ratification of a bilateral preferential trade agreement by the Iranian Parliament;
• a new Iranian center in Pakistan to provide artificial limbs for quake victims;
• Pakistan's opposition to a military option in the Iranian nuclear controversy.

Washington's relationship with Islamabad, meanwhile, is under greater strain as the US and its allies in Afghanistan face stepped up attacks from the Taliban. Islamabad remains extremely sensitive to claims that the insurgency operates from across the border in Pakistan. Earlier this month, Col. Chris Vernon, chief of staff for British forces in southern Afghanistan, told the Guardian newspaper, "The thinking piece of the Taliban is out of Quetta in Pakistan. It's the major headquarters. They use it to run a series of networks in Afghanistan."

Nor has Washington's courtship of Pakistan's nemesis, India, helped matters. The US has offered a civilian nuclear deal to India while flat out refusing one to Pakistan.

It's all led to dampening of relations that some analysts say are now at their lowest point since 9/11.

"Pakistan's real gripe is with the Americans. In recent months an angry Musharraf has quietly, but deliberately defied them. Relations between the two countries have not been so poor since 9/11," writes noted journalist Ahmed Rashid in a recent edition of Pakistan's The Daily Times.For analysts like Mr. Rashid, pursuing Khan now would be tone deaf at a time when Islamabad is in no mood to do Washington any favors or jeopardize its ties to Tehran.

"[Officials in Washington] don't understand the regime in Pakistan," contends Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent defense analyst in Islamabad. "It's a rent-seeking establishment, providing a service to the United States, like regimes in the Middle East. But ... beyond a certain point, [the Pakistanis] have a mind of their own."

Some see it differently, pointing out that the views recently expressed in Congress do not necessarily represent those of the Bush administration. "The US administration and the Pentagon understand the limits of what Pakistan can do, but the Congress does not," says retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a political analyst in Islamabad. Mr. Masood says that Congress, being influenced more by public opinion, has unrealistic expectations that threaten relations with Pakistan.

That's a gamble, given that Khan may have nothing substantive to say. Giving up Khan is also a huge political risk for Pakistan, since it would only add fodder to the claim that Pakistan is America's stooge, analysts point out. Plus, if Khan sings, he may implicate some of those in power. "It's suicidal to hand him over," says Siddiqa.

What is needed instead are better measures to build trust, analysts say. A recent US proposal to generate economic activity in Pakistan's tribal areas, where the Taliban are said to be growing in popularity, is a concrete step in the right direction, points out Masood. He says more bilateral trade and education assistance are the needed antidotes to the current tensions.

Trust, he and others add, cannot be managed so long as the current relationship remains one of demand and follow. "Even if [Pakistan] follows the US verbatim, there will still be so many frustrations," says Masood. "Raising the expectations too high can spoil the relationship."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

About Courage and Finally Getting Even

From time to time one comes across people who deserve to be praised. Today it is the turn of the journalist Amir Mir.

Mir has faced intimidation and harassment over the years for his lively reporting. In November 2003 things probably hit rock bottom for him shortly after he wrote an article on Dawood Ibrahim in the Herald.

This led to the head Chowkidar swinging in boots and all in his ineffable Gucci-commando style.

As the international watchdog
Human Rights Watch noted:

On November 20 [2003] at a reception for Pakistani newspaper editors [Musharraf] reportedly condemned the Herald for being “anti-army” and working against the “national interest”.

[Musharraf] referred to several stories published in the magazine under Amir Mir’s byline to illustrate [his] point. Some of the journalists present suggested that the government’s complaints be channelled through the proper forum (in this case the Council of Pakistani Newspaper Editors (CPNE)).

[But Musharraf] dismissed the suggestion, arguing that the time had come for the Herald and Mir to be “dealt with”.

And so as the
BBC reported:
"Two days later, unidentified persons set Amir Mir's car ablaze outside his house," [Then he] received a message warning that this was just the beginning.
So much for Musharraf’s much vaunted nonsense about press freedoms.

Anyhow after waiting patiently for two and half years Amir Mir who has been declared All Pakistan Newspaper Society’s prestigious ‘Best reporter of the Year’ has finally had a chance to avenge himself against his jackbooted bully.


Journalist Amir Mir declines award from Musharraf
PTI, Sunday, May 28, 2006 18:34 IST

ISLAMABAD: A prominent Pakistani journalist has refused to accept an award from President Pervez Musharraf, saying he cannot receive it from a military dictator who has "trampled the constitution"

Amir Mir, who has written extensively on militant activities in Pakistan and is working for several Indian and foreign newspapers, was declared best reporter for the year 2005 for his investigative report in Herald magazine by the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, an organization representing major Pakistani newspaper owners. APNS gives awards every year to journalist for best reporting, feature writing and photographs.

Mir was supposed to receive the award at a function here on Friday from President Musharraf. "In principle, I am unable to receive the award at the hands of a military dictator, who has on several occasions violated the constitution and has no respect for the country's highest laws," Mir wrote to APNS President Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman.

He sent copies of his letter to his journalist friends in and outside Pakistan. "Journalism is a sacred profession, whose foundation lays on freedom of expression. "But on contrary, the APNS has invited a military dictator as chief guest for distribution of awards, who has no respect for the basic principle of press freedom. Being a military dictator he neither believes in freedom of expression nor tolerates difference of opinion," Mir said in his letter.

"It will be a stain on my APNS award to receive it from a military dictator in an APNS function," he wrote.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Massacre of Innocents

This Blog is about Pakistan but not always.

I had tears in my eyes by the time I finished reading this piece from today’s Sunday Times.

After this horrific atrocity was committed it is reported that ‘American warplanes dropped 500lb bombs on the houses’. Why? To cover-up the evidence of the criminal bloodbath, of course.

It just goes to show that the armies can be ruthless maniacs anywhere in the world – they’ll do anything to protect their so-called honour.


The Sunday Times, May 28, 2006

Revealed: how US marines massacred 24
Sarah Baxter, WashingtonHala Jaber and Ali Rifat, Baghdad

PHOTOGRAPHS taken by American military intelligence have provided crucial evidence that up to 24 Iraqis were massacred by marines in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold on the banks of the Euphrates.

One portrays an Iraqi mother and young child, kneeling on the floor, as if in prayer. They have been shot dead at close range.

The pictures show other victims, shot execution-style in the head and chest in their homes. An American government official said they revealed that the marines involved had “suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership”.

The killings are emerging as the worst known American atrocity of the Iraq war. At least seven women and three children were among those killed. Witness accounts obtained by The Sunday Times suggest the toll of children may be as high as six. “This one is ugly,” a US military official said.

In Britain, the chief of the defence staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said yesterday that the “appalling” reports of the massacre could undermine British support for the war. “This sort of accusation does make that harder to achieve,” he said.

The pictures of the dead, which are being closely guarded by the US naval criminal investigation service, were taken by a military photographer who is believed to have arrived on the scene moments after the shootings.

Many American forces are accompanied by photographers to gather intelligence and to shield soldiers from false accusations of torture, intimidation and violence. In this case, the evidence points fatefully to a murder spree by marines.

The stain on the American military could prove harder to erase than the photographs of sadistic prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Comparisons are being made to the My Lai massacre in 1968 in Vietnam, in which American soldiers slaughtered up to 500 villagers.

Up to a dozen marines may face criminal charges including murder, which carries the death penalty, dereliction of duty and filing a false report. Three marine commanders were suspended last month.

The naval inquiry is focusing on the actions of a sergeant who may have been the leader of a four-man “fire team”.

Miguel Terrazas, 20, a lance-corporal from El Paso, Texas, was travelling in a convoy of four Humvees in Haditha just after 7am on November 19 last year when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle, killing him and wounding two others.

The events that followed are the subject of two military inquiries due to report soon: one into the facts, the other into a cover-up.

One witness, Aws Fahmi, heard his neighbour, Yunis Salim Khafif, plead for his life in English, shouting: “I am a friend, I am good.” “But they killed him, his wife and daughters,” Fahmi said.

It is clear the marines lied by blaming the deaths of 15 civilians on the roadside bomb and alleging that a further eight Iraqis were insurgents who died in a gun battle.

Asked last week how many Iraqis were killed by the roadside bomb, a Pentagon official said: “Zero.” The marines never came under hostile fire, a spokesman added.

Investigators have established that the killings unfolded over three to five hours. “This was not a burst of fire, but a sustained operation,” a Pentagon official said.

The Sunday Times has reconstructed the events with the help of Abdul Rahman al-Mashandani, of the Hammourabi human rights group in Iraq. It appears the first killings took place when a taxi carrying four students pulled up at a checkpoint set up by the marines.

Abu Makram, 50, had been awakened by the roadside bomb and watched from his window as the terror unfolded. The car’s occupants were all ordered out and shot.
The marines then stormed three nearby houses. “They blew open the front door of the first house,” Makram recalled, “Once they were inside, we heard another explosion followed by a hail of gunfire.”

It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hameed Ali Hassan, whose leg had been amputated because of diabetes. “He was a blind old man in a wheelchair,” Makram said.
Hassan’s granddaughter, Iman Waleed, 10, was in her nightclothes. “About 10 marines entered the house,” she said. “They threw hand grenades and began firing in all directions. Grandpa was sitting close to the hall and they shot him dead.”

In a nearby room, her father was reading the Koran. “The American soldiers went into the room and killed him too,” Iman said. “They gathered all of us into one room — my grandma, my mama, my brothers and my uncles. They threw in two handgrenades and started shooting at us.”

The adults tried to protect the children with their bodies, but were slain. When Iman dared to look, she saw that “everyone was dead around me except for my brother and my uncle”.

Both were injured and Iman was hurt in the leg. The rest of the family, including her brother, Abdullah, 4, died.

Iman fled next-door, where her other grandfather Yunis lived, only to find everybody there appeared to have been killed too. There was in fact one survivor, Safa Yunis Salim, 12.

“My daddy tried to open the door to let the Americans in, but he was immediately shot in the head and body,” Safa said.

“I managed to hide under the body of my brother Mohammed. His blood covered me and protected me as I pretended to be dead.” They also killed her four sisters including Aysha, 4, and Zainab, 2.

Five hours passed before Safa managed to escape. “I was the only one who survived. I watched them kill my entire family. I am all alone now,” she said, crying.

When the marines stormed the third house they changed tactics. The men were separated from the women and stuffed into a large cupboard, according to Yussef Ayed Ahmad, the brother of the dead men, who lived next-door.

“They placed my four brothers into the wardrobe and proceeded to shoot them as they were inside,” he said. “My mother and sister told me later how they died.”

The marines found an AK 47 in the house — the only gun found in all three homes — but there is no evidence it was fired.

The marines’ cover story quickly began to unravel. In March, Time magazine revealed the existence of a video shot the day after the attack by an Iraqi student journalist. It showed the victims still in their nightclothes, a trail of blood and shrapnel and bullet marks on the walls.

At the local morgue Waleed al Obeidi, who received the corpses 24 hours after the killings, also disputed the marines’ account. “Two bodies were completely charred,” he said. “The others, including women and children, had all been shot at close range.”

According to some reports, American warplanes dropped 500lb bombs on the houses.
The marines paid $2,500 (£1,350) in compensation for each of the 15 victims who were shot in their homes. They refused to pay for the four brothers and five occupants of the taxi, claiming they were insurgents. Officials now say those men were innocent.

General Michael Hagee, the US Marine Corps commander, flew to Baghdad last week to prepare his troops for the grim findings of the investigation. Many marines had witnessed the deaths of friends, he said. “The effects of these events can be numbing. There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonour upon ourselves.”

The conclusions are likely to provoke widespread revulsion.

In my humble opinion no punishment is dire enough for these inhuman bastards.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Musharraf's New Uniform?

Last June the man took it upon himself to ban a woman from leaving Pakistan and this month he personally banned the future entry of an inebriated actor into Pakistan.

Okay as we say in Urdu there is ‘zameen aur asaman ka faraq’ between Mukhtaran Mai and a drunk-has-been movie actor from India, but the question remains: what does this have to do with our rigged-referendum-imposed General in command?

On the face of it absolutely nothing; unless of course, general Musharraf has opted to don the uniform of an immigration official as well.

Does that mean that the next time we venture overseas we might spot him at the airport checking and stamping people’s passports as well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Stupidity Continues

Pakistani generals seem to have a predilection for short-term solutions without thinking through their long term effects; disastrous examples proliferate the landscape: 1965 war, East Pakistan 1970, Balochistan 1974, Afghanistan 1980’s, Kargil 1999 et al.

Some would think that Kakul teaches its students to act like belligerent GI Joes at the expense of their brains – and years later when they get stars on their epaulettes Pakistan quite often ends up paying the price for their mindless brawn. And if you call it like you see it then you are accused of being anti-Pakistan – all very convenient!

History is often cruel, and almost as if to remind me of this a Baloch friend recently informed me: ‘Fifty years from now Musharraf will just be a minor footnote in history like Ghulam Muhammad, Iskander Mirza, etc’. And then he pointedly added: ‘Now and for years to follow Akbar Bugti will continue to be a legend in the hearts of all the Baloch’.

Was he talking nonsense? I think not. Why? Well it would appear that the traditional Baloch culture venerates valour above all else, and the idea of an 80 year-old man living in caves (these days during 50 C plus temperatures – can our AC and Mercedes-accustomed generals do that?) and then brazenly defying the might of our pampered army hits the Baloch cultural heartbeats.

Other Pakistanis may hate Akbar Bugti but for the Baloch race he is fast becoming – if he already isn’t – a racial and cultural idol.

A Lahori could colourfully chide Musharraf by saying: 'Hor Chuppo Gunnay'

Anyhow this is how
CNN (via Associasted Press) covered the simmering issue:

Pakistan's forgotten war
Baluchistan struggles for independence from Islamabad

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) -- In the remote desert of Baluchistan, a war for independence is distracting Pakistan as it struggles to contain Taliban and al Qaeda militants along the Afghan border.

It is up against an array of Baluch fighters who accuse it of plundering the hidden riches of the arid southwestern province: natural gas.

It's Pakistan's "other" war, a sideshow to its battle in troubled Waziristan some 250 miles (400 kilometers) to the north, where pro-Taliban fighters have gained stature and Osama bin Laden is still suspected to be hiding.

But the conflict in Baluchistan is also a costly one, feeding off the deprivation in what is Pakistan's largest and poorest province despite sitting on the nation's principal gas reserves.

The army put down another tribal rebellion here in 1974, reportedly leaving about 3,000 dead.

"It's not just a few tribal chiefs against the government. There's a genuine movement of Baluch nationalists. There are people enlisting every day and picking up arms," said Asma Jehangir, chairwoman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Violence escalated sharply after rockets landed about 300 meters from President Gen. Pervez Musharraf while he was visiting the town of Kohlu in December.

The Pakistanis then launched an offensive against the Bugti and Marri tribes, whose leaders control swaths of Baluchistan like feudal lords with militias numbering thousands.

People in Baluchistan feel shortchanged. The royalties on their gas have barely changed since 1952. Only 25 percent of villages are electrified, and only 20 percent have safe drinking water.

The shadowy and recently outlawed Baluchistan Liberation Army is blamed for near-daily attacks on gas pipelines and electricity pylons that have disrupted the province's power supply. It claimed responsibility for bombings at a police training school at the provincial capital Quetta on May 11 that killed seven people.

'Indiscriminate bombing'

Musharraf says he wants to develop Baluchistan. He is building a deep sea port at its coast and encouraging foreign investment. But new military garrisons intended to secure the restive region have bred suspicion and hardened resistance.

"The government wants to take complete control of the gas fields for future digging and drilling. Their policy is to exterminate the Baluch," said Nawab Akbar Bugti, 79, the silver-bearded Bugti chief, speaking to The Associated Press by satellite phone from his mountain hideout.

He said thousands of soldiers and paramilitaries had been deployed, using helicopter gunships, bombs and artillery. He claimed hundreds of civilians had been killed and tens of thousands displaced from around Dera Bugti, some 300 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Quetta.

In a report on two recent fact-finding missions to Baluchistan, the rights commission accused the military of "indiscriminate bombing" and listed more than 60 dead in December and January, many of them women and children. It also voiced "grave concern" over militants mining roads.

The government denies killing civilians and presents the problem as one of law and order.

Raziq Bugti, a spokesman for the elected Baluchistan provincial government, said that if militias disbanded, gave up heavy weapons and stopped challenging Pakistan's sovereignty, negotiations would be possible.

If not, "force will be used. It's very clear," he said.

Punjabis targeted

The Baluch make up about half of the province's 6.5 million people. They have coexisted with ethnic Pashtuns, Sindhis and Punjabis but long-brewing tensions are increasingly coming to the surface.

"Punjabis should leave," said Asif Baluch of the Baluch Students' Organization, which advocates independence for the Baluch. "We're not against them as human beings, but as a dominant class."

He accused intelligence agencies of holding Baluch activists for months, sometimes years, without trial.

Baluch separatists have started targeting ethnic Punjabis who dominate Pakistan's bureaucracy and security services.

On March 18, at a mountain picnic spot southeast of Quetta, masked men shot dead two junior government officials they believed to be Punjabis. A third survived his gunshot wounds by playing dead.

Faruq Shah, a Pashtun, was spared after the attackers twice checked his ID. "It feels like I escaped from the jaws of death," he said.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Rise & Rise of an Ambitious Banker

Sorry I’ve been away for a while but unfortunately even Bloggers have to make a living.

There is so much percolating right now – ‘a London-based ‘charter of democracy’, a panicked regime, sugar and cement scams, and the rising spectre of rampantly increasing poverty.

Rather than go into any of these issues right now I think it is time to relate a particularly choice story.

In the heady days after Musharraf’s coup d’etat in October 1999 among the scores of ambitious hopefuls there was an enthusiastic scramble for government positions. The routes they chose to pursue their dreams were several; one of these happened to be through a local entrepreneur who was Musharraf’s first cousin.

Within days of the military takeover the Cousin was approached by two businessmen – one of whom I shall call the ‘Hamburgler’ (as he was then a local franchisee of a well-known international fast food chain) and the other, an infamous ex-citibanker known for being involved in several corrupt and shady transactions, who shall be simply referred to as ‘Mota’ (or Fatty).

These two told the Cousin that they had the perfect minister of Finance for Musharraf’s regime.

‘Who?’ asked the Cousin.

‘Why, none other than Shaukat Aziz of Citibank and New York fame!’ the Hamburgler and Mota replied in unison. ‘But’, they added, ‘he will only come to Pakistan if he is guaranteed the job’.

‘Well’, said the Cousin, ‘I’m in no position to guarantee anything, but I can arrange all the meetings in Islamabad if he is really interested’.

Whereupon Mota picked up his mobile telephone, dialled New York and spoke to Shaukat Aziz. ‘He’ll happily come but on two conditions’, he told the Cousin, ‘The first condition is that no one knows about his visit to Islamabad and the second is that his passport is not stamped on arrival by immigration officials’.

The Cousin informed Mota that these conditions weren’t much of a problem. After a brief chat on the phone Mota announced ‘He is flying in this Saturday’.

According to my reputable source Shaukat Aziz casually left work headed for JFK Airport and quietly slipped on a flight to Pakistan just carrying a briefcase. He wanted no one to know of his movements.

At Islamabad Airport Aziz was met by the troika (the Cousin, the Hamburgler and the Mota) and whisked off the tarmac without anyone stamping his passport thus leaving no documentary trail of his visit. He was taken to the Pearl Continental Hotel in Rawalpindi as it was feared he might be more easily recognised at the Marriot in Islamabad.

Once he got into his hotel room Aziz quickly stripped to his vest and underpants as he didn’t want to crease his clothes further in preparation for his all-important meetings – the furtive nature of his trip hadn’t allowed him the luxury of bringing a spare suit with him. Excited by future possibilities he volubly promised to appoint Mota president of National Bank of Pakistan at his very first opportunity as the new minister of Finance.

Once the four of them settled down and made themselves comfortable, the Cousin attempted to telephone his relative only to learn that Musharraf was not available as he was attending a Corps Commanders’ meeting. The afternoon turned to evening and the evening soon turned into night, Musharraf continued to remain unavailable. A degree of panic set in as Aziz had to return to New York the very next day and time was at a premium. Bathed in a sheen of nervous sweat the Aziz, dressed as he was in his underpants, promised the National Bank job twice more to his friend, though a shade less confidently as the hours began ticking away.

Sometime late that evening the Cousin finally managed to speak with Musharraf. The General made it clear that he had better things to do on a Saturday night than meet with the Citibanker, even if he had flown in all the way from New York. However, he said, he would arrange for Aziz to be interviewed the next day by a panel of officials at the Army GHQ. Later a time was confirmed for the Sunday morning meeting.

The strange nature of the circumstances had by now sapped Aziz’s self-confidence and he implored the Cousin to escort him to the GHQ. Aziz made it clear that he didn’t wish to undertake a journey into the Khaki heartland all alone. And so on a cool October Sunday morning the Cousin drove our would-be minister to the GHQ. The panel consisted of the bureaucrat Tariq Aziz and a couple of senior generals.

The generals seemed disgruntled at being ordered into office on a Sunday morning when they could have been at golf or whatever Lieutenant-Generals like to do in their leisure time. The interview did not go all that well. Much to Shaukat Aziz’s discomfort he was asked some questions which are normally enquired of entry-level trainees – ‘What are your hobbies?’ and similar trivial nonsense.

Aziz left the interview feeling very dejected and told the Cousin how he felt. The Cousin decided to shift into higher gear and drove straight to the Army Chief’s house and being a close relative was instantly allowed into the residence with the New York-based Citibanker following in tow.

Musharraf was shaving himself at the time and when he had finished he walked into the reception room looking irritated by this unexpected Sunday morning interruption. While the Cousin managed to smooth things over, Musharraf briskly informed Shaukat Aziz that he had already offered the job of Finance Minister to Syed Babar Ali, the highly regarded Lahori businessman and there was already another alternative if Babar Ali declined - so Aziz would be in the remote no. 3 reserve slot for the job. Seeing the look of disappointment on Aziz’s face Musharraf then offered him the relatively junior Minister of Commerce’s job. Shaukat Aziz eagerly accepted the offer without any trace of hesitation. Having struck a cherished deal and he headed off to the airport to catch his flight to New York.


Subsequent events:

As both Syed Babar Ali and his alternative unexpectedly declined the Finance Minister’s job, Shaukat Aziz’s dream came true and a few weeks later in November 1999 he took oath as the Finance minister (instead of the offered post of Commerce minister).

Within a short time the Cousin fell foul of Musharraf’s wife for some alleged private misdemeanour and was thus rendered persona non grata at his cousin's residence.

The sleazy Mota never got the promised job as president of National Bank of Pakistan but he remains a close confidante of Shaukat Aziz and meets with him regularly. He still retains his childhood ambition of becoming the chairman of PIA. Who knows maybe Aziz still might fix it for his pal Mota one of these days?

And yes, in June 2004 Shaukat Aziz did get elevated to the position of ‘prime minister’ of Pakistan.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

New Statesman on ISI & Pakistan

Hugh Barnes is a reputable British journalist who has written for Financial Times, New Statesman, Independent on Sunday, the Sunday Times and once was a senior correspondent for Agence France Presse. He is currently director of the democracy and conflict programme at the Foreign Policy Centre.

In his lengthy New Statesman article on the ISI and Pakistan (which came out today) he makes a number of interesting points, including the following

  • Pakistan is a dictatorship run by the army, whose intelligence wing sponsored terrorism in Afghanistan and Kashmir until Musharraf's 180-degree policy turn in the wake of 11 September 2001. Today Pakistan is teetering on the brink of chaos and the ISI is largely to blame.
  • Many leading Pakistani politicians feel that the recent anti-Cartoon riots were being orchestrated by the army itself. They say he's using the riots to send a warning to the west - as if to say, 'Look, I'm the only person saving the country from Muslim extremism’. And the writer believes that to an extent Musharraf's recent behaviour seems to bear this out.
  • In Kashmir, as in Afghanistan, Pakistan's intelligence services have found that controlling Islamists is an inexact science. Musharraf banned Lashkar-e-Toiba in early 2002, but he allowed it to create a domestic charity under another name, Jama'at-ud-Da'awah (the Preaching Society), with the same leader.
  • The difficulty for Musharraf is that a country run by a military dictatorship with tacit links to terrorism does not seem the best advertisement for "enlightened moderation". Now many of the general's backers in the White House also see it that way.
  • Corruption remains rampant, and far from regenerating democracy the khaki leadership has alienated the large majority from the political system. Violence and protest are now the people's only ways of venting their frustration.
  • The more unpopular Musharraf becomes, the less inclined he is to undertake reform or to implement the "true democracy" that he has promised.
  • Pakistan's generals have always been loyal to the army, rather than to such abstract ideas as democracy, Islam or even Pakistan.
  • The fate of this military dictatorship is likely to depend on the support of the US. As long as Musharraf is able to play politics the necessary return to civilian rule will remain a prospect much more distant than a further descent into chaos.


Only spies can stop the chaos
Hugh Barnes, New Statesman, Monday 8th May 2006

Pakistan's intelligence service used to sponsor the Islamists. Now it is trying to prevent them taking over the country.

The headquarters of the Pakistani secret services lie hidden behind towering, beige-coloured walls in the old British cantonment of Rawalpindi. Sweeping, arched roofs and sprawling verandas evoke memories of the Raj, as do the street urchins playing cricket outside the gate.

The languid appearance is deceptive. I have come behind the lines in the so-called "war on terror". One of the world's most sinister organisations, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is often seen as Pakistan's invisible government. It has long operated out of the public gaze. During the Soviet occupation of Afghan-istan it funnelled CIA funds to the mujahedin fighters; in the 1990s it bankrolled the Taliban into power. Its links to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are a matter of record. Yet ISI chiefs now find themselves cast in an unlikely role as the west's policemen, hunting down jihadists in the lawless tribal areas of northern Pakistan.

The only modern nation founded on Islam, Pakistan is a homeland that has failed to work. Now it is teetering on the brink of chaos. The ISI is largely to blame. Late last month, Islamist militants in North Waziristan ambushed a convoy of ISI-led troops, killing seven soldiers and wounding 22. The attack was a reprisal for the killing in a nearby village of seven Qaeda suspects, including Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, an Egyptian on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

The figures at the top of the ISI are almost pathologically averse to the glare of the media, so it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation from Brigadier A-, head of the counter-terrorism section, to discuss a secret operation to stem the "two-way traffic" of terrorists between Pakistan and Britain in the wake of last July's bombings in London. Once, the only civilians permitted to enter this building were suspects, and not all of them made it out alive.

A dapper man in his late fifties, dressed in an immaculately tailored business suit in spite of the heat, the brigadier greeted me with sandwiches, cakes and tea. A bearer wearing a white waistcoat and black wool Jinnah cap served us from a table piled high with documents and newspaper cuttings, plus a stack of empty notepads and other pieces of stationery. (I am ashamed to say I took one of the ISI pencils as a trophy.) A laptop computer flickered with a PowerPoint slide show of images of the World Trade Center engulfed in flames on 11 September 2001.

The brigadier appeared troubled. Hours earlier, a suicide bomber had set off an explosion at a parade in Karachi, killing at least 57 people. The blast happened not far from the site of another bombing in March, in which a US diplomat was killed. Roughly 45 Islamist groups operate in Pakistan. The best-known are Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami (Movement for Islamic Jihad), Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Muhammad) and Jundullah (Army of God), but with ever-changing names, splits and overlapping ideologies, it is difficult to differentiate between them, let alone keep track of their attempts to replace Pakistan's leadership with a fundamentalist regime.

"There's a lot of work to be done in defeating al-Qaeda," said my host, slumping in his chair. As if to underline the point, helicopter gunships were busy strafing the village, a hundred miles away in North Waziristan, where several Qaeda members, possibly including Bin Laden, are said to be hiding out. Twenty years have passed since Bin Laden led a group of a few dozen men - Saudis, Egyptians, Algerians and Pakistanis, whom he had recruited and trained - out of a cluster of caves in the mountains on the Pakistani frontier. These were the men who would fight the Soviet infidel in Afghanistan.

The brigadier knew every ridge and mountain pass, every CIA trail. He gossiped about these mysterious strangers who have returned to North Waziristan, using a portfolio of disguises and pseudonyms. They still appear to move with ease, travelling between the Pakistani tribal lands and southern Afghanistan - sometimes protected by the Pathan tribes, sometimes by drug barons - in a circle of a few hundred miles, using the same mountain passes and little-known trails as the mujahedin's convoys during the jihad years.

Towards the end of our conversation, Brigadier A- talked of the "Talibanisation" of Pakistan's borderlands. Yet the ISI itself is largely responsible for importing Arab jihadists into the region in the first place. "The United States used to think very strongly that we could just deliver Bin Laden," he said. "But I have been telling everyone, 'We can assist, not assure,' and I think we have been successful in driving that point home."

I asked the ISI chief about his pictures of the twin towers. It seemed odd, given the past role of Pakistan's secret services - no strikes without al-Qaeda, no al-Qaeda without the Taliban, no Taliban without the ISI - that they would peddle this mawkish nostalgia. The brigadier peered from behind his glasses, and smiled. "If you say the ISI alone is responsible for 9/11, I would have an objection to that. I think Pakistan was responsible. I think the free world as a whole was responsible for 9/11. When the Soviet Union was defeated, the money was coming from all over the world, from Egypt, the Middle East, south-east Asia. A lot of these people would have conflicted, but the world just melted away, and we had no choice. We have always supported any government in Kabul, but the Taliban would have come to power with or without the ISI. We joined the train after it had started, but a lot of people thought it was a force that could bring some kind of stability to Afghanistan."

As I left the brigadier's office, I recalled that Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, once called the army his country's "last institution of stability". Yet the tension is rising. After the protests against the Danish cartoons of the Prophet, he went on television to declare that his government would stand shoulder to shoulder with the mullahs against the "sacrilegious acts" of the west. "The entire nation and the Umma [Muslim community] is unanimous," he said, but warned that "antisocial and criminal elements" were responsible for torching a KFC restaurant, a Norwegian phone office and other western-linked businesses.

Visibly pale, blinking and sweating, the general looked like a man who knew the game was up. Pakistan is a dictatorship run by the army, whose intelligence wing sponsored terrorism in Afghanistan and Kashmir until Musharraf's 180-degree policy turn in the wake of 11 September 2001. Until now, army discipline has managed to contain opposition to his deeply unpopular alliance with President George W Bush. However, the cracks are beginning to show, and the pact between the US and India on nuclear energy, agreed in March, makes things worse. "Musharraf is on losing ground," a senior figure in the government told me as protests spread to Islamabad, and even the former cricket star Imran Khan was placed under house arrest.

Yet the demonstrations are not quite what they seem. In Islamabad, the most militarised city, a bunch of school students managed to storm the diplomatic compound, where they proceeded to throw stones at European embassies and smash envoys' cars. Musharraf loyalists acknowledge that the government sometimes permits religious parties, including the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, to let off steam. But the complicity may be different this time. So who are the "antisocial elements" stoking the violence? Many leading Pakistani politicians feel that the riots are being orchestrated by the army itself.

"Musharraf is responsible for this violence. He gave the orders for the riots to begin, for political reasons, and the army helped to stage the protests," said Amanullah Kamrani, a senator from the western province of Balochistan. "The general knows that he is losing power and so he's using the riots to send a warning to the west - as if to say, 'Look, I'm the only person saving the country from Muslim extremism.'"

Musharraf's recent behaviour seems to bear this out. At a meeting with Hamid Karzai in February, both he and the Afghan president affirmed their determination to see "enlightened moderation" (Musharraf's catchphrase) triumph over radical Islam, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was beating the same drum to any foreign visitor who would listen. "Pakistan joined this effort to fight terrorism from its own conviction, not to please anybody, because terrorism knows no borders. There are no good terrorists or bad terrorists. Terrorism hurts everybody," the prime minister told me during an interview at his official residence in Islamabad.

The trouble is that the best-laid plans of the Pakistani army and the ISI often go awry. For decades, Delhi has been protesting about Pakistani-backed infiltration into Indian-administered Kashmir. Several times the two nuclear-armed nations have gone to the brink of war, but stepped back. At the end of 2001, gunmen allegedly linked to the ISI-funded Jaish-e-Mohammad attacked the Indian parliament building in Delhi, killing 12 people. For six months the world looked on as Islamabad and Delhi traded ultimatums and threats, but then the world's longest unresolved conflict lapsed into paranoid inertia, the signature condition that is just one of Kashmir's many betrayals, as Salman Rushdie notes in his novel Shalimar the Clown.

By supporting jihadist groups in the disputed territory, Pakistan's generals, who have governed the country since a coup d'├ętat in 1999, hope to advance what they regard as a righteous cause, and to pressure India's government to negotiate over the future of Kashmir, divided after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. After the Kashmir earthquake last October, tensions all too briefly took second place to reconstruction efforts.

Kashmir's mountains rise between 4,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level, and mark a tectonic inter-section that was almost visible to the eye as I flew over the earthquake zone in a Puma helicopter. The Pakistani army's sluggish response to the disaster may be explained by the inhospitable terrain, or by its own heavy losses in the area where the quake hit. According to an army spokesman, 450 officers and soldiers died on the road to Muzaffarabad, capital of what Islamabad calls "Azad Kashmir" (meaning "Free Kashmir"), the part that Pakistan controls.

The helicopter zigzagged across the Neelum Valley, where landslides had sealed off the canyons and blocked the only road. In many places, the sides of mountains had fallen away, as if sliced off with an axe. In the villages below, hundreds of people wandered aimlessly between the piles of rubble, clutching photo-graphs of relatives or bundles of food and clothing distributed from the valley's relief depot, which is supplied by air.

For the past 15 years, the Pakistani army has supported rebellion on India's side of the Line of Control by aiding violent Islamist groups, some of them with ties to al-Qaeda, which are seeking to unify all of Kashmir with Pakistan. One of the most prominent of these groups has been Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure), which the Bush administration designated a foreign terrorist organisation in 2001.

The feuding in Kashmir goes back a long way. In 1947, Pakistan was carved out of British India, which had more than 500 princely states; one of them, the predominantly Muslim Kashmir, was ruled by a Hindu maharaja who could not decide whether to join India or Pakistan. In October that year, tribesmen from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province invaded Kashmir, arriving in British trucks. That hastened the maharaja's decision to join India, which quickly responded by airlifting troops into the area.

After the quake, Musharraf launched a fresh peace offensive. "Let success emerge from the tragedy," he said. Yet even his main spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, has conceded that efforts to demilitarise the borderlands have failed. "We want to seize the opportunity - open the Line of Control and let people move freely. But unfortunately the movement from the other side is not fast enough. That is what is discouraging for us," he said.

As a result, Kashmir remains mired in conflict. The causes of the 2002 Indo-Pak crisis - jihadist terrorism, mutual suspicion and a relatively young, unstable system of nuclear deterrence - have not disappeared. If anything, the pace of terrorist attacks has quickened. In Kashmir, as in Afghanistan, Pakistan's intelligence services have found that controlling Islamists is an inexact science.

One example is Lashkar-e-Toiba. This was (and still is, depending on whom you ask) a radical jihadist organisation that has carried out persistent and sometimes spectacular attacks against Indian targets, both military and civilian, in Kashmir and elsewhere. Under US pressure, Musharraf banned Lashkar-e-Toiba in early 2002, but he allowed it to create a domestic charity under another name, Jama'at-ud-Da'awah (the Preaching Society), with the same leader. The new group runs conservative madrasas and promotes an austere vision of Islam through its preaching and social work, and, according to a spokesman, it has hundreds of thousands of members throughout Pakistan. Azad Kashmir had been an important base for Lashkar-e-Toiba, offering sanctuary and a convenient launching ground for anti-India operations.

Less than a mile from the main Jama'at-ud-Da'awah camp in the Azad Kashmir capital, the US army has erected a field hospital. US Humvees on a break from chasing remnant Qaeda elements in Afghanistan share the streets of Muzaffarabad with ambulances from the Rashid Trust, a charity whose funds were blocked by the Bush administration in 2001, following accusations that it had assisted al-Qaeda. Musharraf's position has been perilous ever since. In 2003, for instance, a fighter from Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group that the president had singled out, tried to assassinate him. The success of jihadist groups in providing earthquake relief has strengthened their claims to legitimacy in Pakistan.

The difficulty for Musharraf is that a country run by a military dictatorship with tacit links to terrorism does not seem the best advertisement for "enlightened moderation". Now many of the general's backers in the White House also see it that way. The government in Islamabad is becoming an embarrassment to its sponsors in the west.

Tension increased just before Bush's visit to Delhi in early March. Some Pakistani hard-liners fear the US-India nuclear technology deal could lead to Pakistan losing the strategic advantages it gained from signing up to the "war on terror". Among the conspiracy theories swirling around Islamabad was a senior minister's hint that the CIA might even be the hidden hand behind the anti-Musharraf demonstrations. He suggested that Pakistan's nuclear capability was to blame and said the US leadership could not tolerate a nuclear-armed Pakistan that was also stable; it therefore felt obliged every three or four years to do something to destabilise the country. The protests in the streets of Lahore and Karachi were just the latest example of US "dirty tricks".

Pakistan's leaders fear the loss of status that would ensue if others develop nuclear capability. Where Iran might go, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Egypt might follow. "Being a nuclear power bestows kudos in the Muslim world," a leading minister told me. "We don't say it out loud, but it's a fact. The nuclear powers are a club apart and so we don't want Iran or any other Muslim country to become a nuclear power."

Yet the US still sees Pakistan as a special case, thanks to Afghan-istan and Kashmir. The former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has warned of "a large possibility" that jihadist groups will set off a war on the subcontinent. In turn, Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, blames the US for destabilising the region. "Until the west glorified jihad, inviting young men to come and fight the godless communists, Pakistan was a very peaceful country," he argues. "In the process, the border was radicalised, but once the Soviets were defeated, the Americans melted away. Afghanistan was a great theatre for jihad, in the same way that jihadists have found Iraq to be a great theatre."

The more unpopular Musharraf becomes, the less inclined he is to undertake reform or to implement the "true democracy" that he has promised. He speaks the language of a populist: devolving power, taxing the rich and arresting the corrupt. Yet corruption remains rampant, and far from regenerating democracy the khaki leadership has alienated the large majority from the political system. Violence and protest are now the people's only ways of venting their frustration.

Prime Minister Aziz claims that his government is neither "defensive nor apologetic" about its undemocratic nature. Musharraf's 1999 coup was "in the interest of Pakistan", he said, "and I think, with hindsight, it was the correct decision. We are not apologetic about our position. We think it suits our current set-up. We don't need any lectures in democracy but, step by step, we'll get there. It's not that we think democracy is bad."

Pakistan's generals have always been loyal to the army, rather than to such abstract ideas as democracy, Islam or even Pakistan. The country's 59-year history has been a series of duels between the generals and politicians. Judging by years in office, the generals are in the lead. Elected representatives have run the country for 15 years, and unaccountable bureaucrats or their proxies for 11, but the army has been in power for 33 years.

The fate of this military dictatorship is likely to depend on the support of the US. As long as Musharraf is able to play politics with Muslim discontent, however, while discredited former leaders such as Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif continue to divide the opposition, the necessary return to civilian rule will remain a prospect much more distant than a further descent into chaos.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Khaki Pakistan - 'A Top Failed State'?

In 2005 the US Foreign Policy magazine and the US-based Fund for Peace think-tank introduced the annual Failed States Index by ranking 76 nations according to their viability.

The "failed states index" is based on "tens of thousands of articles" from different sources gathered over several months in 2005 and reviewed by experts, its authors said.

Each nation was given an overall score based on the 12 criteria:

  • mounting demographic pressures
  • massive movement of refugees and internally displaced peoples
  • legacy of vengeance - seeking group grievance
  • chronic and sustained human flight
  • uneven economic development along group lines
  • sharp and/or severe economic decline
  • criminalisation and delegitimisation of the state
  • progressive deterioration of public services
  • widespread violation of human rights
  • security apparatus as "state within a state"
  • rise of factionalised elites
  • intervention of other states


In 2005 Pakistan was ranked 34th in a list of 76 countries topped by:

  1. The Ivory Coast (106.0 points)
  2. Democratic Republic of Congo (105.3 points)
  3. Sudan (104.1 points)
  4. Iraq (103.2 points)
  5. Somalia (102.3 points)
  6. Sierra Leone (102.1 points)
  7. Chad (100.9 points)
  8. Yemen ( 99.7 points)
  9. Liberia ( 99.5 points)
  10. Haiti ( 99.2 points)

34. Pakistan ( 89.4 points)
75. China ( 72.3 points)
76. India ( 69.5 points)


And so this week the 2006 Failed States Index was released.

And guess what? Pakistan has crashed dramatically to become the 9th most at risk state out of a newly extended list of 146 countries.

  1. Sudan (112.3 points)
  2. Democratic Republic of Congo (110.1 points)
  3. The Ivory Coast (109.2 points)
  4. Iraq (109.0 points)
  5. Zimbabwe (108.9 points)
  6. Chad (tie) (105.9 points)
  7. Somalia (tie) (105.9 points)
  8. Haiti (104.6 points)
  9. Pakistan (103.1 points)
  10. Afghanistan ( 99.8 points)

    BBC commented:
    Pakistan moved from 34th last year to ninth in the new report - one of the sharpest changes in the overall score of any country on the list.
    The contributing factors were Pakistan's inability to police the tribal areas near the Afghan border, the devastating earthquake last October in Kashmir and rising ethnic tensions, the report said.

Monday, May 01, 2006

US-Pakistan On a Rocky Road

Ahmed Rashid is known for his commonsense analysis of local affairs. His latest take on the current situation is in your Blogger’s opinion spot on.

Pakistan's rocky relationship with US (BBC)

Relations between the US and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government have reached their lowest point since September 2001 when President George W Bush first embraced Pakistan as a critical ally in the war against terrorism.

Gen Musharraf's future political survival depends primarily on finding agreement with Pakistan's disenfranchised secular political opposition before scheduled elections in 2007.

However over the past five years as his popularity has dwindled, Gen Musharraf has also come to depend on support from the US.

Now he needs to strike a new deal with the US if he wants to retain Washington's support to remain as president until 2012

It was clear after the brief 4 March stopover in Islamabad by President Bush that the Americans were not happy and had made several tough approaches to Gen Musharraf.

Those became public on 5 April, when on his first visit to Islamabad, Richard Boucher, the new US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia delivered some stinging demands.

Mr Boucher firmly stressed the need for free and fair elections in 2007.

But he went much further than any other US official when he stressed that the US strongly favoured civilian rule and civilian control over the armed forces.

He said that for Gen Musharraf to continue to be both president and army chief negated democracy.

He also refused to offer any sop to appease Pakistan's concerns about the recent civilian nuclear cooperation deal between the US and India.

And he said the US wanted more cooperation from Pakistan's rogue nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is under house arrest in Islamabad.

Finally, Mr Boucher insisted that the US would not declare the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which has led the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan province, a terrorist group.

An earlier US messenger, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman had told the government on 13 March that the situation in Balochistan was "an impediment" to investment in Pakistan.

And just in case the generals may have thought Mr Boucher too junior to make such criticisms, the next day National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley repeated the same message during a speech in Washington.

The military and the government were stunned because the Bush administration had now - in public - committed itself to contradicting almost every facet of US support for military rule that the army has depended upon since 11 September 2001.

An angry Islamabad responded by banning the BLA as a terrorist group on 9 April. It complained that Washington had not informed it properly about the US - India nuclear deal. And it blamed Afghanistan - another key US ally - for stirring the pot in Balochistan and Waziristan, where the Pakistani army is combating Pakistani and Afghan Taleban.

At the same time Islamabad has decided to test Washington's true intentions towards Pakistan, by placing an order for 77 American built F-16 fighter aircraft at a cost of $3.5bn. Such a huge order has to be passed by the administration and Congress.

American frustration has mounted over the past 18 months over Pakistan's failure to rein in the Taleban who have ready access to the main population centres along the Afghan-Pakistan border, including Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province.

The Taleban have now launched a major effort to derail Nato's deployment of over 10,000 troops to southern Afghanistan this summer.

The Americans are also frustrated over the deadlock in Waziristan, where the army appears to have lost control of the countryside to Pakistani Taleban.

Defence and foreign ministers from Nato countries now deploying troops in southern Afghanistan have been to Islamabad to tell Gen Musharraf to deal more forcibly with the Taleban in Balochistan.

They point out that, whereas the US army's major concern was al-Qaeda and getting Osama bin Laden, their priority is dealing with the threats to their troops from the Taleban.

Mounting fears
For Gen Musharraf, the key need is unqualified US support for his re-election as president after the 2007 general elections.

Now it seems that US support is contingent on a free and fair election.

There are mounting fears amongst Western ambassadors and Pakistani politicians that the army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are planning another 2002 election, in which the secular opposition leaders were barred from standing and the elections were heavily pre-rigged in favour of pro-army politicians and the fundamentalists.

That has resulted in a lack lustre, discredited parliament, a technocrat prime minister who has no control over the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, Islamic fundamentalists being anointed as the formal opposition and a countrywide increase in Islamic extremism, sectarianism and terrorism.

Now the combined opposition is demanding that, before the elections, the present government and the army step down in favour of an interim government headed by an impartial figure.

They also want a powerful and clean Election Commission, a new voters list and full freedom for all politicians to take part in the elections.

No illusions
What the Americans and many Pakistanis are pushing for, but which Gen Musharraf is resisting, is that he strike a deal with Benazir Bhutto, allowing her secular, anti-mullah Pakistan Peoples Party, full freedom to run in the elections in return for her support for his continuation as president.

Nobody is under any illusions that the Americans are about to dump Gen Musharraf.

Washington still prefers him to anyone else, but they would like to see him become a conventional politician depending on secular parties for support, rather than the extremists he presently relies on.

Gen Musharraf will need to strike a new deal with the US if he wants their support in the critical coming months.

He will need to strike a genuine rapprochement with Ms Bhutto, curb the Taleban in Quetta, open a dialogue with the Baloch nationalists and get tougher with the Islamic parties who are fuelling the militants in Waziristan.

Just Desserts From Time Magazine

This week’s Time magazine published a list of the 100 ‘The People Who Shape Our World’. With the current U.S. focus on the ‘War on Terror’ it wasn’t surprising to see our Head Chowkidar’s name there.

Here is an
excerpt of what was written on Musharraf:

In an era superrich in nightmare scenarios, nothing disturbs the sleep of world leaders more than the prospect of chaos in Pakistan—and jihadists' gaining control over its nuclear weapons. Standing between order and that cataclysm, those leaders believe, is General Pervez Musharraf, the country's leader since 1999…His ties with the U.S. enrage religious radicals, who are his most dangerous opponents.

Musharraf styles himself a blunt-talking soldier. Yet his rule has a circus quality—half high-wire act, half tiger riding. He has yet to confront the broader jihadist movement, and he has two local rebellions to deal with. Musharraf remains the West's best bet in Pakistan. The question is whether he is good enough (your Blogger’s emphasis).

What will probably enrage Mush is the name of the other Pakistani on the list. It was none other than our illiterate village woman– Mukhtaran Mai, who, truth be told, has displayed twice as much spine as Musharraf ever could.

While the Time magazine qualified it’s inclusion of Musharraf name on the list by questioning his abilities, Mukhtaran got nothing but fulsome praise. Here is an excerpt:

Only a few leaders are alchemists who take the worst of human behavior and turn it into the best. Mukhtaran Bibi, a Pakistani woman raised in poverty and illiteracy, has responded to the violence and gender apartheid directed at her and other women with an insistence on justice and education…

There are perhaps thousands of such "honor crimes" in Pakistan each year. Survivors are more likely to kill themselves or be killed by their families than turn to a legal system that requires four male adult Muslim eyewitnesses to testify to rape—otherwise the victim can be convicted of fornication and adultery. But Bibi went to court. Her bravery attracted support from international media and women's groups, and her attackers were convicted. With the compensation money plus contributions from people who read about her struggle, she created a girls' school. Now 33, she has become a skilled organizer and trusted leader, and a magnet for other women escaping violence.

But Bibi is far from safe. Only global pressure forced Pakistan [in other words Musharraf] to give her a passport so she could meet women abroad, and she still receives death threats from those who view her as a danger to the nation's image and social order. Like Nelson Mandela, another alchemist who redeemed human nature by example, she depends on ordinary supporters to keep herself and her work alive.

Who can ever forget Mush’s asinine declaration directed at Mukhtatan Mai:

[Rape] has become a moneymaking concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped - Washington Post 12 Sept. 2005

Even today if one asks a government official in Punjab or Islamabad - as I have on frequent occasions - about Mukhtaran Mai, one typically gets a similar unbelievable reply. In a nutshell the answer you get is: ‘The woman was never raped. It is all a drama for publicity and she has made a lot of money in the process’.

After all the 'King' has spoken and his lackeys have to disgracefully follow suit.

With Time magazine reserving unqualified praise for Mukhtaran Mai over a qualified billing for our dictator, it is a case of just desserts for the fruitcake and his followers.