“[Musharraf] truly is somebody who believes in democracy.”
– President George W. Bush
Future historians will review the Pakistan of November 2007 as a classic of soap opera geopolitics. The main plot screams “revenge.” Rattled by a know-all exiled elitist (Benazir Bhutto) imposed on him by a scheming Washington, the hapless “Mush” – as President [soon to be ex-]General Pervez Musharraf is informally referred to by middle-class Pakistanis – decided not only to sing his own version of My Way but to follow his own timing.
In a little over three weeks, Musharraf proclaimed his own “surge” (aka emergency rule); sacked the Supreme Court; rounded up the usual suspects (journalists, lawyers, students, human-rights activists); kept at least 2,000 of them in custody (according to the Interior Ministry); got a puppet court to legitimize his way towards “re-election”; amended the constitution through executive order; hung up his uniform; and will become the next (civilian) president of Pakistan, with General Ashfaq Kiani replacing him as head of the army.
Meanwhile, Pakistani civil society – from lawyers to university students – has to be commended for showing former prime minister Bhutto the (new) writing on the wall. They exposed the utmost fallacy of Musharraf-Bhutto back-room deals forced on Pakistani public opinion for which Bhutto, the worldwide media darling (stylish, Oxford English-fluent, well-connected), would never qualify as a credible third-time-lucky prime minister. Chances are she would repeat her abysmal human-rights record and controversy – Bhutto’s husband was known as “Mr. 10%.”
I’m ready for my close up, Mr. Bush
A possible good alternative as Pakistani premier would be decent, non-corrupt opposition leader Aitzaz Ahsan, a former interior minister in the last Bhutto government and currently in jail.
But Washington instantly came up with other plans for fast-forwarding the plot – in the form of sinister John Negroponte, currently number two at the State Department and the designated George W Bush administration special envoy to Islamabad.
Negroponte’s lush experience of deadly counter-insurgency in Honduras and Mexico in the early 1980s was not handy enough to make Musharraf see the writing on the wall himself: clean up your act (that is, cut a deal with Bhutto as soon as possible) or else. “Or else”, with Musharraf out of the picture, would be Bhutto cutting a deal with the new top dog in boots, chain smoker and president of the Pakistan Golf Association General Kiani, the new Washington darling.
During early emergency days, there were widespread rumors Kiani – with US backing – had taken Musharraf into custody and assumed power. When Negroponte went to Islamabad in June to meddle in the crisis between Musharraf the Supreme Court, Ahsan told the Pakistani press, “The Americans have got their eggs in one basket and know only one phone number in Pakistan, and that is now a dud number because it does not communicate with any Pakistani citizens.” Now the Americans have Kiani.
Negroponte met twice with Kiani. According to Urdu-language media, “he spent more time with General Kiani than with General Musharraf.” Pakistani analysts are virtually unanimous. Beyond the Ahsan or Kiani “minor” issue, Negroponte’s visit had nothing to do with democracy, but with guaranteeing the prosecution of the “war on terror” and the interests of US multinationals. The White House didn’t bother to utter a single word about the fierce demands for democracy by Pakistani lawyers, journalists, students or human-rights activists.
Not a ladies’ man
Many people accept that Musharraf seems to have a problem with women. To counteract what he defined as Bhutto’s “negative vibrations” maybe he should play The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations. Musharraf has also defined Asma Jahangir – Pakistan’s top human-rights advocate, as “quite an unbalanced character”. In a statement released while she was under under house arrest, she wrote: “While the terrorists remain on the loose and continue to occupy more space in Pakistan, senior lawyers are being tortured.” Asma – or for that matter any Pakistani working with non-governmental organizations providing health and education support to women in the tribal areas – would be a more credible premier than Bhutto.
Peripheral characters in this soap opera can be even tastier than Bhutto and Musharraf. Take former star cricketer and opposition leader Imran Khan, who was arrested by hardcore fundamentalist Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) students at the University of Punjab campus in Lahore and then handed over to Musharraf’s police.
The JI was also against Musharraf’s emergency – it wanted at least the restoration of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry plus free and fair elections. But the JI cannot stand a secularist like Khan, who among other sins had been gloriously married to British blonde glamour girl Jemima Goldsmith. Jemima, who knows one or two things about upper-class serial plotters, has coined the ultimate branding of Bhutto as “a kleptocrat in an Hermes scarf.”
In a recent text, “The Battle for Pakistan”, released before his arrest, Khan pointed out how during eight years under Musharraf, only 1.8% of the country’s gross domestic product was spent on education, “the lowest ever in our history”. Pakistan’s state school education system is now in tatters. Khan also stressed how “Pakistan has the worst social indicators in South Asia”, according to the United Nations Human Development Index. “Even Burma [Myanmar] is ahead. On the other hand in 2006, Pakistan spent US$ 5.1 billion on arms.” Khan, now released, says he’s in favor of boycotting the January elections. Other opposition parties are still debating. Khan insists if they all do boycott, “the credibility and value of the elections is lost.”
As for JI’s criticism of Musharraf, it doesn’t focus on education or military spending. To the horror of secularists, the JI wants Islamic canon law applied in the whole of Pakistan. The JI cannot be easily dismissed. The JI’s leader, Qazi Husain Ahmad – who is also the leader of the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e Amal – the Islamic Action Council coalition of Islamic parties), was fiercely opposed to the US bombing of Afghanistan in 2001. The MMA holds 20% of Parliament, two key provinces of Pakistan’s five (the ultra-tribal North-West Frontier Province, NWFP, and Balochistan) and has wanted to be part of Musharraf’s feast since 2002.
The JI is not Salafi-jihadi as an organization, although some individual JI members are very cozy with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. What’s extraordinary is that widespread abhorrence of Musharraf led the the JI to consider entering a “joint movement” with Bhutto’s People’s Party Pakistan (PPP). That’s what Qazi himself revealed in an exclusive interview to the Urdu-language Khabrain daily.
But Qazi also stressed how “Bhutto started issuing statements such as allowing access to the Americans to [father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb] Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. The media continues to support her on her return. There has been no substantial increase in support for Bhutto. If you have money, you can gather 100,000 drumbeaters around you.” Qazi’s verdict on Pakistan under Musharraf is straight to the point: “The behavior of the government is leading to civil war.”
Mrs. Bhutto, you’re no Aung Sang Suu Kyi
All this time the US corporate media conveniently shelved the fact it was Bhutto, in her first term as premier, who enshrined the invention of the Taliban by General Nasirullah Babar, and then formally recognized the regime alongside other bastions of democracy such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (the Bill Clinton administration, of course, was staunchly pro-Taliban all through the latter half of the 1990s).
Any doubts about Bhutto should be cleared with her niece, the lovely Fatima Bhutto, a Karachi-based poet and writer. Fatima is the daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, killed in front of the family house in 1996 in Karachi when Benazir was premier. Not only Fatima remains loyal to her father’s memory, she accuses her aunt outright of posing as savior of democracy in Pakistan, charging that her collaboration with Musharraf is so blatant “that people now brand her party – the PPP – the “Pervez People’s Party.”
Musharraf is not referred to in Pakistan as “Busharraf” for nothing. Blowback for Bush hailing Musharraf as a dependable “war on terror” attack dog already is and will continue to be as inevitable as gun-running in the tribal areas.
Every well-informed Pakistani knows of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-Taliban dangerous liaisons on both sides of the border (as much as any tribal would say there is no border to speak of; it’s all part of Pashtunistan).
And they know what really matters for Washington is the “war on terror” – and Musharraf and/or the next military dictatorship will keep being financed to the tune of US$1 billion a year no matter what.
And people know the Pakistani army, martial law or Bush administration largesse notwithstanding, always plays by its and not the US-issued rules of the “war on terror.”
Amid the current vacuum the Pakistani blogosphere remains awash in doomsday scenarios – from Washington betting on the neo-Taliban to close in on Islamabad so they can take over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to Musharraf offering Bush a helping “military base” hand in an attack on Iran; from an American strike to take out the ISI to the American-sponsored emergence of an independent Balochistan and an independent Pashtunistan.
For the moment, it’s enlightening to keep track of what’s happening on the ground while Musharraf was proceeding with his “let’s jail all the lawyers” scheme.
The Taliban already control large parts of Afghanistan and Kabul itself could fall in the next spring offensive. Pashtunistan is back with a vengeance.
The neo-Taliban have established a de facto Islamic emirate in North Waziristan, with Mirali as its capital; this is the home base of fabled Afghan jihad commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. The emir is none other than Mullah Omar (remember him – the uber-Taliban who escaped American bombing in 2001 on the back of a motorcycle?). Both Haqqanis run the day-to-day operations. The emirate’s tentacles are up and running in all seven tribal agencies. This is in practice an embryo Pashtunistan – with Pashtuns from both Pakistan and Afghanistan plus fighters from Uzbekistan and a lot of “Chechens” (that’s how the tribals call anyone from the former Soviet republics).
From its Waziristan base the emirate has comfortably launched an offensive in the formerly quiet Swat Valley – not to mention a strong presence in the very center of Peshawar. Taliban FM stations rapping on jihad are all the rage in the tribal areas. The Taliban have taken over police stations, erected their own white flags, and their leader Maulana Fazlullah has literally taken over the Swat Valley, appointing his own “governors” and setting up Islamic courts.
This boiling cauldron is a direct consequence of Bush’s self-proclaimed “freedom agenda” presupposing dictator Musharraf as an ally in the “war on terror”. The Pakistani army and police have refused to fight the “enemy within” as established by a US-controlled dictator.
When Bush ordered Musharraf to do the “war on terror” shuffle “our” dictator arrested the usual Arab and Uzbek suspects but left the Taliban unmolested. When Pentagon ire reached fever pitch, Musharraf blamed the Pashtuns as a whole for supporting the Taliban. Then he cut a deal – ie bribed – tribal leaders in South Waziristan to turn the heat on the Taliban. They pocketed the bribe and did nothing.
Virtually all Taliban are Pashtuns but not every Pashtun is a Taliban. Many a Pashtun can’t stand forced Talibanization. Musharraf sending the army to smash Pashtun tribals has not and will not accomplish anything. Only true democracy will. But the Pakistani army – Musharraf, Kiani, whoever – is not interested in democracy, only in perpetuating their power and privilege.
Your nation is no more
Musharraf’s bungled approach has in fact accelerated what may be the partition of Pakistan – a cataclysmic event that would not be exactly regretted in Washington. Admiral William Fallon, US Central Command chief, has made a typical Bush administration “creative destruction” proposition to Musharraf: let us fight the Taliban in the tribal areas and in the Swat Valley. Musharraf might have been in trouble, but he’s certainly not suicidal; that would lead directly to the partition of Pakistan.
Khaled Ahmed of the Friday Times newspaper has been one among many to alert what may happen: Pakistan reduced to basically the Punjab. The NWFP would gladly recover a lot of hydroelectric power. Balochistan would gladly recover a lot of gas – and become a Turkmenistan-style gas republic. And Sindh would gladly profit from its industry and ports.
The partition of Pakistan as we know it is not such a far-fetched scenario because, according to a wealth of Pakistani civil society’s opinions, there seems to be no national consensus whatsoever regarding the current mega-crisis. This is above all a crisis of the Pakistani state – which simply cannot be in place any more just based on an idea of Islam.
Washington think-tanks will come up with piles of studies certifying how to profit from the partition of Pakistan. For the moment, there are just the pedestrian imperatives of the Pentagon frantically seeking alternative routes to its transport axis (75% of supplies, 40% of oil) to Afghanistan via Pakistan. It’s a safe bet to say absolutely none of the neighbors – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran – are remotely interested.
In his 2005 inaugural address, Bush solemnly declared to all freedom-loving peoples in the world the US would “not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors”. As the Bush-Musharraf embrace is still on, Pakistanis have the right to attribute their sorrow to the fact their nation has been mercilessly squeezed in between.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007).