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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

US Indifferent To anti-Musharraf struggle

By Chandramohan - Syndicate Features

Before he first became president of the United States about six years ago George W. Bush was little known for his interest in foreign policy issues. So, perhaps it is hardly surprising that his pursuit of American relations with the outside world has been a disaster for the country. He has few friends in Latin America, his European allies are suspicious of him and he is the most hated figure in the entire Muslim world, from Indonesia to Morocco, for his ill-advised misadventure in Iraq and half-hearted approach to problems that followed the exit of the medieval Taliban regime in Afghanistan brought about by US bombardment.

A somewhat similar lackadaisical approach to Pakistan has led to what looks like yet another extended period of unrest and uncertainty close to India’s western borders—a cause for anxiety in India and further mistrust of the US among ordinary Pakistanis. Many believe that if the fast spreading struggle by the civil society in Pakistan following moves to remove the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikar Chaudhary, has to end in a change at the top it can come only with the approval of the White House. And the more visible signal from the US president’s office is that General Pervez Musharraf should be given another ‘extension’ even though the longer he stays as head of state the more severe the assaults on democracy and democratic institutions are going to be in the benighted country.

Bush may no longer believe that Musharraf is sincere in fighting the so-called war on terror but he would not let go of him. Inputs from the US and NATO field commanders, the intelligence community and strategic analysts suggest that Musharraf has been leading Bush up the garden path. Yet, he continues to believe that Musharraf’s departure will pave the way for immediate Taliban take over of Pakistan and transfer of its nuclear arms to ‘rogue’ elements in and out of the country. Hence, Pakistan cannot have a larger dose of democracy than the one prescribed by its military ruler.

What American President is unwilling to see is that the process of Talibanisation of Pakistan began quite some time ago, well and truly under Musharraf’s patronage and today Pakistan is overwhelmingly anti-American even after all the praise he has constantly showered on Musharraf and all the gifts in cash and kind that he has given him in the last six years. Pakistan’s western borders are now considered the save haven for terrorists of both the Al Qaeda and Taliban varieties—the latter for use in territories nearer Pakistan, in Afghanistan and India. With the possible exception of Bush himself, everyone in the US believes that if the fugitive Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding anywhere it is most likely to be in a territory controlled by Pakistan.

The Taliban influence in not only the tribal belt on Afghan borders but also Balochistan and North West Frontier Province has spread to alarming levels. The rest of the country is still far from embracing ‘enlightened moderation’. Even Bush agrees in public that post-Taliban, Afghanistan may be facing the largest ever Taliban offensive in the next few weeks, so well prepared and equipped has this Pak-based terrorist force become thanks to the congenial atmosphere in Musharraf land.

Even as he was talking about taking Pakistan to the road of ‘enlightened moderation’, Musharraf was openly cutting a deal with the religious fundamentalist forces to stay in power and gain ‘legitimacy’ by claiming majority support in parliament. The mullahs who supported him had extracted their pound of flesh at the very beginning when Musharraf started a farcical exercise to show that he was pursuing militants and fundamentalists. He ‘banned’ terrorist organisations but allowed them to function under a different name. He ‘arrested’ their leaders only to keep them for a few days in the comfort of well-guarded and well-appointed mansions and later releasing them unconditionally.

Despite claiming to have been influenced by Kamal Ataturk, the great Turkish leader who fought orthodoxy to put his country on the path of secularism, Musharraf has shown no desire to stand up to the fundamentalists who accept nothing but a rigid religious rule, which reduces non-believers to non-entities. What is more he has recently yielded to the demand from gun-totting and burka-clad women students of an Islamabad madrassa who were protesting against the demolition of two ‘illegally’ constructed mosques in the city, which officials said were harbouring fundamentalists.

When Musharraf’s links with the mullahs aroused suspicion he pretended to be looking for support from among the so-called ‘secular’ parties, either by creating divisions in their ranks or striking secret deals. Only now his calculations seem to be going wrong with both the mullahs and the so-called ‘secular’ parties joining hands to seek his ouster. But forces opposed to him have not reckoned with the powerful backer of Musharraf or his manoeuvring skills.

The Pakistani chief justice was sent on ‘compulsory’ leave as his continuation in office would create legal hurdles for Musharraf’s plan to seek another term as president, sometime later this year. Now Musharraf is looking for scapegoats to put the blame on. Musharraf has also alleged that his adversaries are behind the present trouble in Pakistan. This is perhaps a reference to some retired generals who have openly come out in support of the protests against him.

One of these retired generals is Hamid Gul, who, as the head of Pakistan army’s Inter-service Intelligence, was the architect of the terrorist structure that was so enthusiastically built with the cooperation of the entire Pakistani establishment to seek ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan and ‘bleed’ India with constant wounds till Kashmir was annexed. These retired generals are not clamouring for democracy. Their interest is to ensure that the military supremacy in running the affairs of Pakistan is not diluted and to see that Pakistan does not give up its K- policy.

Musharraf may have enemies in the armed forces but do they pose much of a challenge to him? He had taken care long ago to appoint only his trusted men as corps commanders so as to minimise, if not eliminate, the chances of a rival from within. This is not to suggest that there is absolutely no chance of a counter coup against him, but he has been encouraged to think that he can survive all odds as long as the US continues to publicly express faith—despite some private rebukes now and then—in his leadership.

If the people of Pakistan want to see Musharraf go they will have to wait till the US has found another trusted and tried general—or, maybe, a pliable civilian leader-- to replace him. Some believe that the US has indeed ‘chosen’ a successor in Pakistan. He will be unveiled at the appropriate time. In the meantime, the flaws in the Pakistan policy of the Bush administration are being thoroughly exposed.

- Syndicate Features -

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