October 7, 2006
Musharraf and Pakistan Slipping Toward DisasterBy Rick Moran
All was peaches and cream late last month when President Bush sat down with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, as well as efforts by Musharraf to help the United States fight the War on Terror.
That is, if you believe the public pronouncements of the three heads of state.
In fact, there were several strained moments between Karzai and Musharraf that illustrate the rising tensions between the two countries. Karzai has complained bitterly about Musharraf's lack of action in closing off the border to Taliban incursions into Afghanistan while Musharraf accuses Karzai of not doing enough to defeat the Taliban who have already established a toehold in the southern part of the country.
All three men have tried to put the best face on what is rapidly becoming a crisis situation. Indeed, President Bush had this to say about Presidents Musharraf and Karzai in his remarks at the dinner:
What was left unsaid is that regardless of how well Musharraf understands the situation, he is rapidly becoming powerless to do anything about it — a result of internal Pakistani politics, external pressure by the United States, and the perilous state of his own hold on power in a country sliding toward religious extremism and potential rebellion.
It is not possible to overstate the danger Musharraf, and by extension the United States, is in. Several recent developments in Pakistan have backed Musharraf into a corner where all he can really do is play for time. With his own life in constant danger from half a dozen different sources and with his need to satisfy both domestic factions as well as the United States, his chief economic benefactor, Musharraf has been attempting to juggle an anti—terrorist and pro—terrorist policy that has only served to please no one and make his own situation dicey indeed.
Simply put, Musharraf has promised too much to both the United States and the Taliban and is unable to satisfy either side.
Throw in the growing power of religious political parties and the constant interference and independence exercised by the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI). Add a brewing crisis in Baluchistan where separatists have resumed their 50 year old rebellion against the central government and one can see that Musharraf is being overwhelmed by events and circumstances.
On top of all this, his power base in the Army must be tended while fending off calls for him to step down next year in time for elections. Those elections (if they are held) could legitimize religious extremists in sympathy to both the Taliban and al—Qaeda. The people of Pakistan are extremely angry at Musharraf for his cozying up to Washington, and they may, if given the opportunity, raise up anti—Western leaders who would make Pakistan a Taliban ally rather than a country on the front line in the War on Terror.
To deal with all of this, Musharraf has chosen to give in to pressures placed on him by external forces, while trying to keep some of the internal factions from uniting against him. His policies — sometimes wildly contradictory — reflect the realities of a nation being buffeted by militant extremism and a desire among its intelligentsia for modernity. Pakistan has been an 'on again, off again' democracy in its turbulent history, with democratic forces usually thwarted by a strong military who seize power from time to time when the army feels itself threatened by civilian control.
Musharraf came to power in a coup in 1999 when then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attempted to remove him from the position of Chief of Staff. Refusing to leave, the army backed Musharraf and he took over in a bloodless revolution, later making alliances with some of the larger religious parties in Parliament to push through a measure naming him President.
These alliances with the religious parties have proven to be problematic. When the United States requested that he close some of the more radical Islamic schools or Madrasses where anti—western hate is regularly preached, Musharraf tried to oblige but was ultimately blocked by those same religious parties who supported him in Parliament. Now those Madrasses are being used by the Taliban to radicalize their fighters before sending them off to fight in Afghanistan.
As with so many other promises he has made to the United States, Musharraf says he has already done what we have requested or is trying his best. The fact is, much of what Musharraf claims as cooperation with the US would be described otherwise by all except those with a stake in pretending things are going smoothly in our relations with Pakistan; namely, our own State Department and the Administration who seem to walk on eggshells when it comes to criticizing anything Musharraf has done.
And what he has done recently has been a shocking example of his weakness in the face of threats to Pakistan's independence. His recent deal with what Washington and Musharraf describes as 'northern tribal elders' but who are in actuality Taliban leaders and their al—Qaeda allies in North Waziristan virtually assures the Taliban and the terrorists a safe haven where they can live, train, and plan for attacks on Afghanistan which is just across the border
While Mushrraf points out that the Taliban promise in the agreement not to carry out any cross border raids into Afghanistan, there are plenty of indications that they have already violated that part of the agreement:
For Musharraf's part, he has also reneged on the deal by not releasing several hundred captured al—Qaeda members as he agreed to do. This is in response to enormous pressure from the CIA who point out that several high level al—Qaeda leaders are among those that would have been released (and still may be). The Taliban responded in typical brutal fashion; they launched a rocket that landed within yards of the Presidential palace and were evidently planning on attacking the Pakistani Parliament before two missiles were discovered in the vicinity. Asia Times reports that the
Thus, a demonstration of the dangers — both personal and militarily — of trying to play both ends against the middle.
But it is in Baluchistan where the Taliban now threatens both the permanence of the Pakistani state and the government of Afghanistan. And part of the problem has been one of Musharraf's own making when he had the army assassinate Nawab Akbar Bugti, a respected tribal elder and former governor of Baluchistan.
That assassination set off waves of violence directed against Pakistani infrastructure including a vital natural gas pipleine that supplies badly needed foreign currency for the government. And it is here that the confluence of an incipient rebellion, the Taliban, and rogue elements in the ISI have all combined to endanger the government's hold on the province as well as cause huge problems for NATO troops in Afghanistan directly across the border.
The recently concluded 'Operation Medusa' in the southern Panjwai district largely involving British and Canadian troops, caused the almost unprecedented call by NATO commanders for the alliance to deal with the political situation in Pakistan which allowed the Taliban to cross the border from Baluchistan with impunity:
Incredibly, NATO discovered two Taliban training camps over the border near Quetta while the terrorists are using hundreds of Madrasses to fire up their fighters before sending them over the border. Many of those Madrasses are run by Jamiat—e—Ullema Islam, the main Baluchi political party who helped organize the Taliban back in the 1990's.
NATO commanders are asking that Bush and Blair confront Musharraf over this blatant support for the Taliban by the ISI but to no avail. Besides, it is probable that Musharraf is powerless to do anything about it even if he wanted to. There are few Pakistani troops in that area by both agreement with the tribes and tradition. The fiercely independent Baluchis have never overtly acknowledged being part of Pakistan so it unclear what Pakistan could do to alter the situation.
So Musharraf is forced to let the situation work itself out. He is currently negotiating with the Baluchis so it is possible we may see some kind of a deal similar to the fig leaf agreement he signed with the tribes in North Waziristan — something that satisfies NATO with regard to atmospherics but falls short when it comes to implementation.
Beset as he is on all sides, is there anything to be done with Musharraf? Outside of supporting him as much as we can, there really is nothing to be done. Replacing him is out of the question because the chances of someone coming to power who would be much less friendly to the United States and more accommodating to the Taliban are too great. And the likelihood of elections throwing up even more radical extremists is very high.
In this way, Musharraf is almost like an American tar baby. We're stuck with him for as long as he can survive.
How long that will be depends on Musharraf's knack for avoiding the assassins blade and his complex political manoeuvrings. Because like it or not, Musharraf is still the best ally we have in the War on Terror. And he will remain so as long as he can continue to juggle the clashing interests and competing factions that threaten to bring him down at any time.
Rick Moran is the proprietor of the website Rightwing Nuthouse, and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.