Over the years, General Musharraf has been given undue credit for plans which appear to be home-grown solutions to domestic and international problems that involve Pakistan and the Muslim ummah. But often enough these schemes turn out to be American initiatives designed to perpetuate US hegemony over Pakistan and the Muslim world.
The present educational reforms, structural changes to the economy, the normalisation drive with India, the infamous Kashmir plan and peace-deals with the tribal agencies–to mention a few– were all conceived in Washington and Musharraf was simply given the task of executing them. Musharraf’s latest international endeavour is no different and bears all the hall marks of a plan made in America.
Musharraf’s visit to five Arab capitals and four Muslim countries cannot be divorced from America’s overall plan for Iraq and the broader Middle East–the heart of which is the settlement of the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict. It was no coincidence that Musharraf’s trip came after the publication of the Baker-Hamilton report and Bush’s State of the Union address.
Whilst Musharraf remains guarded about the substance of his visits, the US State Department is more candid about the content. At a briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “President Musharraf has made some recent trips around the globe to Arab Muslim states and some non-Arab Muslim states to talk about a couple of…. issues… One, how they can band together to address the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and two, also how to, in some way, address the divide within the Muslim community between the Sunni and Shia.”
Ostensibly, McCormack’s remarks are a salient endorsement of some aspects of the Baker-Hamilton report. For instance, recommendation 2 of the report states: ‘Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighbouring Muslim nations’. Apart from an odd mention of a forum of foreign ministers to discuss these issues, neither Musharraf’s government nor the US State Department were prepared divulge additional information. McCormack said, “As I understand it now, it’s still taking shape.”
Clearly then for the Bush administration to succeed in Iraq and the broader Middle East, two things are required: a) legitimacy in the Muslim world for the recognition of Israel and b) the deployment of Muslim troops to stabilise Iraq, when the Americans leave.
On the issue of Palestine, Musharraf has a head start. The Makkah accord reached between Hamas and Fatah implicitly recognises Israel. The appointment of neutrals to the finance and security posts is intended to placate international donors and satisfy the conditions imposed by Western powers on the new unity government. Against this background, Musharraf’s role is to forge consensus amongst key Muslim countries to give the Islamic world’s seal of approval to the deal, persuade the Palestinians to halt the violence against Israel and return to the road map. The Bush administration hopes that this will send the right message to both Israel and the Jewish lobby in the US to terminate their objections to the road map and commence final status negotiations with the Palestinians.
In Iraq–apart from providing valuable support to the Iraqi government–Musharraf’s function is to assemble a coalition of Muslim troops to takeover responsibility from retreating US troops. The Americans believe that the presence of Muslim troops is less likely to fuel resistance against the US occupation of Iraq–”especially in centre of the country. The Saudis have already expressed the idea of funding the establishment of Sunni brigades to offset Shia militias. Musharraf’s visit to Turkey, Indonesia and Egypt is an attempt to get these countries to commit a sufficient number of troops for Iraq. But why has the US given Musharraf such a task?
Two reasons come to mind. First, Pakistan’s strategic location and its extensive ties with the Arabs and the remainder of the Muslim world, places the Musharraf government in pole position for such a mission. Second, the political instability generated by hostile Muslim populations towards American ventures in the Muslim world make it extremely difficult for any leader to contemplate such a task. However, Musharraf differs from other leaders. His dedication to preserve American interests and his ability to manipulate state institutions to mollify public outbursts against American projects in Pakistan and the wider Muslim world place him head and shoulders above anyone else.
Nevertheless, there is a huge paradox with Musharraf’s American plan. Musharraf is relying on rulers– who like him have usurped power and depend upon US support to remain in power — to bestow legitimacy on behalf of the Muslim world to endorse US efforts to partition Iraq and create a Palestinian prison state. This will not be accepted by the Muslim ummah. Furthermore, it will permanently place the leaders–be they of secular or Islamic ilk–in the traitors camp and give credibility to those voices who call for the re-establishment of the Caliphate.