Saturday, July 28, 2007

Musharraf: Desperately Grasping at Straws?

Only a few years ago (in June 2004) Musharraf scornfully boasted that he would prefer to “kick” Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif rather than shake hands with them.

Yesterday, the dictator had to eat humble pie. Buffeted by a gale of public disenchantment he clandestinely (but not secretly enough) met with Benazir Bhutto in Abu Dhabi to salvage his future.

On the very day of the meeting The News (Friday, 27 July 2007) reported:

According to sources, Musharraf, during his six-day long discussions with his top military aides in Rawalpindi after the restoration of the chief justice, is said to have been advised that the best thing for him to do is to seek an “honourable exit”.

They said Musharraf did not react to these suggestions for the time being. He is expected to make a decision after his return from Saudi Arabia. He is likely to raise this issue with the Saudis to find a way out of the political “mess” without any loss of face, the sources said.

They said the absence of General Musharraf from public engagements since the historic judgment of the Supreme Court has raised questions in the minds of both politicians and media persons.

The silence of an otherwise articulate Musharraf has given currency to reports that all was not well at the presidency. His decision to visit the UAE and Saudi Arabia without any earlier announced schedule has given rise to the speculations in London that in his last ditch effort Musharraf was trying to seek help of his Saudi friends.

A source revealed that he had received reports from certain government quarters that General Musharraf was not expecting that the Supreme Court would restore the chief justice and with it his chances to get himself re-elected would be buried.

This judgment, he believed, has come as a major shock for Musharraf. It is said that during these six days of “isolation” at his Rawalpindi residence, Musharraf discussed with his top civilian and military aides and friends how to revive hopes of his re-election for next five years.

The sources said there was a consensus in the presidential camp that Musharraf was in such a situation that even the political support of Benazir Bhutto, or any other leader like Maulana Fazlur Rehman, could not bail him out.

He was told that now the ball was in the court of the chief justice of Pakistan. Sources said there was a strong perception among his friends and aides that even if the chief justice wanted to bail Musharraf out, he could not do so because of the high expectations people have developed after his restoration as the top judge.

Musharraf was now at the dead end of the tunnel…

What was obviously overlooked in the report was his intended furtive meeting with the PPP chairperson.

Clearly Musharraf, who is believed to be dependent on a coterie of handpicked advisors who were chosen for their loyalty rather than competence, has been living in a fanciful world of his own creation. The fact he came to firmly believe that the Supreme Court judgment would go in his favour is indicative of this state of delusion.

Right now he must be a bewildered man clutching at any straw to regain his lost authority. On the other hand Benazir Bhutto is known to be a wily political operator. Testing the current wind, she will dangle a line just to see what results from it. She is not rushed for time as she is aware that as each day passes Musharraf becomes all the weaker. Either he will eventually offer what she wants from him, or she will exploit the time and opt for any advantageous alternate opportunity that comes her way.

On the other hand if Benazir Bhutto enters into a deal with the military dictator at the expense of the public mood, she will in due course pay a heavy price for her opportunism. Never in the 60 year history of Pakistan has the public been so galvanised against the army's involvement in politics; and if she helps prop up a drowning Musharraf, Bhutto's perceived act of betrayal will not be forgiven by most Pakistanis.

An Addendum

Subsequent to posting the blog I came across Stratfor largely reflecting similar views to mine:

Stratfor has been saying for several months now that the Musharrafian state is in the process of unraveling. As per our prediction, Musharraf now must seek the help of mainstream political forces to deal with the growing crisis of governance and an Islamist insurgency. Moreover, the recent tensions with Washington over the U.S. threats to engage in unilateral military action against jihadists in the country's northwest -- which quickly followed the restoration of the Supreme Court's chief justice -- seem to have been the last straw.

There also were reports July 27 that Musharraf's corps commanders and agency heads have asked him to step down, another development we had anticipated. Stepping down does not necessarily mean that Musharraf would leave the political scene altogether. Rather he likely will be forced to relinquish the post of army chief and try to stay on as a civilian president while sharing powers with a coalition government led by Bhutto following parliamentary elections.

At this stage it is unclear whether Musharraf will be successful in his efforts to reach a compromise -- as these efforts could be too little and too late.


Friday, July 27, 2007

SC Decision & It's Aftermath

Few people expected the Supreme Court verdict in the CJ case to be so overwhelmingly positive. Reports suggest that Musharraf, having been misled by his intelligence agencies, believed till the last moment that there would be a split judgment in his favour. While those in the CJ’s camp assumed that he would be reinstated with a long list of conditionalities attached to his restoration.

As the Friday Times editorial opined today:

Whatever they may say, the fact is that neither the government, nor the lawyers and supporters of the CJP, expected such a resounding verdict. Indeed, the government’s intelligence agencies had told it to expect 8-5 in favour while the friends of the CJP thought he would be restored only with some restraining conditions.

Faced with an independent judiciary the bells are now loudly tolling for Musharraf. It is no longer a question of whether he is going but when.

Perhaps his only remaining option is to impose martial law, get rid of this sham of a government, and openly declare himself as the military dictator that he has always been. But then even his supporters oppose this idea. As the Daily Times reported yesterday:

Army may not back martial law: Afgan
ISLAMABAD: The army will not necessarily support President General Pervez Musharraf if he tries to impose martial law in Pakistan, said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi on Wednesday. The minister made clear he did not support martial law. “If I sensed the president was going to impose martial law, I would quit as I can’t support any unconstitutional act of the president,” he told Daily Times in his office.

While your Blogger expects Musharraf’s days in power to be clearly numbered, the future for whoever replaces him remains decidedly uninviting. Unfortunately for Pakistan, eight years of Musharraf’s harsh, arrogant and intolerant approach towards the body politic has rendered the country virtually unmanageable.

As Aitzaz Ahsan recently commented:

“Anyone who wants to step into the shoes of General Musharraf, or who wants to get into a partnership with him, must remember that General Musharraf has made this country practically ungovernable. He presides over complete anarchy and absence of law.”

But having said this, there is no accounting for Benazir Bhutto. If she gives Musharraf a chance to breathe, and comes into government through the back door, she will have to pay the price for her dishonesty. Perhaps not today, but sometime in the near future she will be answerable to the people of Pakistan – including her supporters - for ditching democracy in return for getting off scot-free against the charges of money laundering in the Swiss Courts of Justice.


So what is making Pakistan ungovernable?

Here is your Bloggers version:

1. The Great Disparity of Wealth

While the rich elite of Pakistan troll around the streets in their BMWs and Land Cruisers and living in multi-million dollar luxury residences, millions of their countrymen live in a state of desperate poverty, many without access to drinking water, two square meals a day and education for their children. The great disparity of wealth is no longer in the rural areas but in the cities. Simply put in eight years of Musharraf’s rule the urban rich have got obscenely rich beyond their dreams and the unfortunate poor have just become poorer.

The bogus theory of trickle down wealth is basically just that: Bogus.

How can the poor benefit if all the money has been made in share market, property or sugar scams? Also how can they benefit if this wealth is then spent in the import of high-priced cars, premium whiskey, luxury goods and overseas trips.

Impoverishment has encouraged many of the rural poor to send their children to religious seminaries where they are fed for free. In return the children are often indoctrinated with a harsh and intolerant version of Islam. And so, potential Jihadis are being created in their thousands every year.

In the urban areas crime has soared. Armed robberies of homes and car hijackings are common occurrences in the urban areas. Some of these criminals display open hatred for the well-to-do, rape of some of the unfortunate victims is sadly becoming all too common.

2. The Authoritarian nature of the State.

Suffice to say that from the very inception of Pakistan the average citizen has had little say in the affairs of his country. Pakistan was ruled initially by haughty bureaucrats inherited from the British Raj and then by a series of Army generals. In between we had the odd civilian and even these people proved to be bullying despots by nature. ZA Bhutto attempted to brutally stub out all his political opponents. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, whilst hampered by overbearing generals, exuded little tolerance for diverging points of view from either the press or the judiciary – and, of course, police would regularly be used by them to ‘knock sense’ into their political opponents.

On the other hand the rich elite have been able to bypass the authoritarian nature of the state by using their wealth, influence and the ever-present social network, which enables them achieve their business or career goals while remaining mostly above the law.

At the same time over a hundred and fifty million of the hapless non-rich and the non-influential have remained victims of the rapaciously dishonest officials, whether they be members of police or petty bureaucracy.

Some may suggest that these poor do get to exercise their rights at election time. This view clearly overlooks the reality that virtually all our recent elections have been rigged by the military agencies. Just recently Musharraf had the audacity of offering to "adjust the vote" in Benazir Bhutto’s favour as long as she accepted his terms.

This state of power disenfranchisement has created a political pressure cooker, which is now probably ready to burst. Your Blogger is certain that if Musharraf foolishly carries on with his plan to rig the 2007 elections the streets of Pakistan will implode thereafter.

3. The Centralist State

All power has rested in the twin cities of Islamabad/Rawalpindi. Despite promises made by successive rulers of devolving power from the centre to the provinces, in reality the reverse has happened. Currently all power in Pakistan is centred in the hands of a President/Army Chief/Chairman National Security Council, what the future holds remains uncertain.

It goes without saying that the smaller provinces of Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP have been demanding greater power for their elected provincial representatives for over four decades but to no avail. Their demands are not unjustified, take for example the following fact: Balochistan was receiving a royalty of Rs. 26 per million cubic feet of gas, while Punjab was receiving between Rs 80 and Rs. 190 for the same measure.

Right now Balochistan is in the throes of a Musharraf created rebellion. The military has admitted using F16 bombers, dozens of helicopter gunships and heavy artillery in an attempt to suppress Baloch insurgents. While Musharraf refers to these people as traitors, in reply many Baloch ironically deem Musharraf’s use of overwhelming force to be treasonous and anti-state.

While there is no insurgency in the interior of Sindh, the mood is tinged with anger. And there are few takers for Islamabad in NWFP, neither among the nationalist nor the religious parties.

Musharraf’s foolishness in so completely alienating the Baloch, means there is a good chance of Pakistan unravelling at some future stage.

4. Religious Extremism

Our India-centric GHQ has played a major role in creating religious extremism in Pakistan. After the success of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets, our military geniuses adopted a similar policy to liberate Kashmir by using deniable proxies to wage war on their behalf.

The rise of the Ayatollahs in Iran led to a massive Saudi funding of Wahabi seminaries in Pakistan. GHQ happily recruited these Madrassah-educated extremist groupings in Kashmir and later in Afghanistan in pursuance of its policy seeking strategic-depth against India.

Some of these fanatics started killing hundreds of Shias and other minorities as ‘apostates’ and the Pakistani police found themselves helpless, for as soon as they detained a few, orders would come from high above to have them released.

Soon after 9/11 the GHQ’s policies lay in tatters.

It was now blowback time. The thousands of angered extremists have begun rounding up against Islamabad for its perceived betrayal. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Musharraf has been trying to appease them, while at the same time acting as the US’s policemen against Al Qaeda and other foreign militants.

However, as far as Pakistan is concerned, the real danger stems from local extremists and until the recent carnage at Lal Masjid little was done to stem this tide of intolerant fanaticism.

In Conclusion

Musharraf’s successor has a tough job ahead. The body fabric of the state has been imperilled by an immensely incompetent dictator. The task ahead is extremely complex and difficult. We need a leader to unify and bring justice for the civil society – and that includes all 165 million of us (and not just for the rapacious ruling elite) – and using the goodwill of the majority of Pakistanis to stem the tide of fanaticism as well as sending our back the Army to their original and only task – to defend our borders.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lal Masjid

Much has happened since I last blogged.

Since then we have had to behold the dreadful Lal Masjid catastrophe in Islamabad, which was followed a week later by a momentous judgment from the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Perhaps it is time your Blogger attempted to come to grips with the violent finale at the mosque at Islamabad.


The Lal Masjid - which happened to be located only a few blocks away from the ISI headquarters – was widely recognized for having provided, over the years, shelter to various groupings of Sunni extremists.

It is not all that long ago that Musharraf attempted to enlighten the world about the distinction between the regular terrorist and the Pakistani ‘freedom fighter’. According to Musharraf’s yardstick Al-Qaeda and its associates were terrorist organisations, while all the Sunni extremists fighting our proxy wars in Kashmir and elsewhere – groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Toyiba – were ‘freedom fighters’ resisting the might of pitiless occupiers.

And yes, despite the military regime's avowed aim of cleansing Pakistan from all forms of terrorism, exceptions were always made. As BBC recently noted:

Many of Pakistan's top militants - including those suspected of plotting to assassinate the country's leaders - are known to have once been members of the myriad militant organisations engaged in Kashmir.

Yet they appear to have been totally exempted from the [anti-terrorist] campaign.

Even in cases where high profile Kashmir-related militants have been arrested, the government has shown little interest in pursuing their prosecution.

It is true that British born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is in jail. He is currently contesting his conviction in the murder of Wall Street reporter Daniel Pearl.

But most militants linked to Kashmir have been spared altogether.

Leaders of three of Pakistan's largest militant organisations engaged in Kashmir - Lashkar-e-Toyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkatul Mujahideen - roam free to this day and are reportedly in touch with their cadres.

During the Lal Masjid siege even Musharraf was forced to concede that most of the militants holed up inside the mosque belonged to the supposedly banned bunch of ‘freedom fighters’, namely the Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Muhammed).

At the time of the siege many questions were openly raised by the media and others. As BBC then commented:
But what makes Lal Masjid of special interest to the media is the alleged involvement of Pakistani security agencies in its affairs.

It is generally believed that the mosque administration has powerful friends within Pakistan's security apparatus…

In view of a history of the mullahs close connections to the ‘authorities’ the questions being raised after the disastrous and bloody conclusion are:

- Why were these mullahs allowed to hold sway and intimidate ordinary citizens for so long?

- Despite heavy security precautions prevalent in the capital city, how did the inhabitants of the mosque obtain stocks of gas masks, machine guns, anti-tank mines, incendiary explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, recoilless rifles, dozens of AK-47 assault rifles, pistols and two-way radios.

- Why was there this noticeable coincidence of the mullahs of the mosque indulging in dramatic headline seeking activity every time there was an upsurge in the news coverage of Chief Justice’s case?

- What was the need for the attacking troops to carry out such a horrendous mass slaughter?

- Why the media was not allowed access to the destroyed mosque for two days after the army's strangely appropriate named operation 'Silence'? (This led many members of the general public to wonder if there were too many skeletons hidden in the Lal Masjid cupboard?).

It is now widely believed that Musharraf decided to act after receiving a severe reprimand from Beijing. As the Daily Times reported on 29 June 2007:
The federal interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, during his visit to Beijing, got an earful from the Chinese minister of public security, Zhou Yongkang Zhou, who asked Pakistan for the umpteenth time to protect Chinese nationals working in Pakistan. The reference was to the assault and kidnapping of Chinese citizens in Islamabad by the Lal Masjid vigilantes. The Chinese minister called the Lal Masjid mob “terrorists” who targeted the Chinese, and asked Pakistan to punish the “criminals”.

Given these circumstances your Blogger is of the opinion that there had been a symbiotic relationship between the regime’s agents and the mullahs of the mosque. But as can happen in such cases, this alliance caused the empowered party, in this case the mullahs, to become more and more bombastic as time went by. Finally their ill-considered highhanded activities led to a point where they were damaging rather than propping up the regime.

The Pakistani military establishment serves only its own interests. It has a history of ruthlessly severing off connections from anyone past their sell by date. Just ask the members of the agency-created MQM (Haqiqi) or the handpicked police officers who helped round up the MQM men during the period of violent upheaval in Karachi during the mid-1990s. When Musharraf needed to make a political alliance with MQM, these Haqiqi party members and Police SHOs were left out completely unprotected in the cold and many, if not most, were subsequently gunned down at will.

And so in early July, despite the fact that a deal to end the siege was almost complete, Musharraf, after months of prevaricating, ordered his men to wipe out the militants of Lal Majid.

Why then? Because it obviously suited him to do so. Caught between a rock and a hard place, as he is these days, Musharraf will do anything that prevents his kursi from tottering too visibly.

And yet once again he botched it up badly.