General Musharraf wants to remain president-in-uniform till 2012. America wants to keep Pakistan occupied by its armed forces for as long as possible. It seems that with these complimentary objectives, Musharraf and Washington are getting along well. The reality, however, is totally different.
The United States extracted all concessions from General Musharraf through sheer blackmail. Musharraf would never have surrendered Pakistan’s sovereignty and independence merely on a phone call from Collin Powell or George W. Bush if he were not blackmailed for the ISI’s role in Operation 9/11.
Of course, the ISI was used to frame Arabs for the 9/11 attacks. But in the process, ISI’s guilt was established as an agency supporting and financing the so-declared hijackers. There are ample reasons to believe that evidence about ISI’s involvement in 9/11 was used to blackmail General Musharraf into the quickest surrender of our age.
Washington knows that the general did not concede much by choice. With elections for the next parliament due in 2007, General Musharraf is desperately building a political base in the country to get a re-election from the new parliament for the next term or to get a change in the constitution to a presidential democracy to be able to shed the uniform and also to retain the political and executive powers as president. If he succeeds in this plan, this will go in favour of Washington. But Washington sees some serious problems, which would derail Musharraf’s bid to remain the most powerful man in Pakistan. This may lead Washington to settle General Musharraf’s issue the way it dealt with General Zia. The following factors show that assassinating Musharraf might become one of the best options for the United States in the present circumstances.
General Musharraf has not outlived his utility for Washington as yet. However, it is not possible for General Musharraf to remain the army chief forever. The best way Washington believes its interest could be served is to make General Musharraf’s autocratic rule look more democratic. For that, instead of crafting new webs and making another leader to fully submit, Washington would like to see Musharraf become another Hosnie Mubarak in Islamabad. Washington now wants him to shed his uniform and become a civilian president in the present setup.
The dilemma before Washington, however, is that no civilian ruler can use the military in the service of the United States as effectively as General Musharraf is doing as the military chief. At the same time, the U.S. efforts to create an alternate political leadership in the country to increase pressure on Musharraf also seem to be getting nowhere.
General Musharraf’s present political allies are more of a liability than asset for him now. The main political allies, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML Quid-e-Azam group), are most corrupt, inefficient and ineffective, with no hope of securing required seats in the next elections. There is also serious internal dissent within the PML (Q).
General Musharraf’s other ally, Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is also considered a corrupt, blackmailing, sub-nationalist-minded, mafia-styled gang, which is fully exploiting the weaknesses of the general. MQM is the most unreliable, even treacherous, political ally for him.
Musharraf propped up the religious alliance of Muthahida majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and then used it for constitutional changes in his favour. Musharraf reneged on public promises to MMA to relinquish the post of chief of army staff as part of the process of restoring democracy in Pakistan. Islamabad’s suspension from commonwealth was lifted on the condition that General Musharraf would give up his military uniform by the end of 2004 as a proof of his commitment to democratic reform. Now the religious alliance is sensing his weaknesses and is gearing up its barrage against him.
There is a very strong perception within the religious parties that the MQM was behind the Karachi blast in April 2006. Scores of people, including prominent MMA leader Haji Hanif Billo, were killed when a bomb went off at a religious gathering in Karachi. Since then, the government has contemplated no action against the MQM, a factor that will agitate more public anger.
Former prime ministers Nawaz, Sharif and Benazir are now flexing their muscles to challenge him in the coming days. There are talks of joint efforts to remove Musharraf and even the MQM is signaling that it is willing to join such a campaign. If Benazir and Nawaz decided to return before the elections, even their arrest would make them political heroes, creating more embarrassment for the general.
The entire governance and economy is in a big mess. Musharraf relied on Shaukat Aziz, who has miserably failed on all counts. Inflation is wrecking the life of the common man –” the vote bank in any elections. That vote bank is not impressed with Shaukat Aziz blowing smoke in their face with economic jargon. For a common man, for example, it is enough to know that the sugar crisis is still haunting the country. The prices have almost doubled in recent months to record levels. Still, there are no imports and all the national demands are being met in abundant supply from local stocks. The price hike gave windfall profits of billions of rupees to a few select sugar cartel mafias within a few months. The much-vaunted National Accountability Bureau was forced to drop the probe immediately after it started. The common man knows that corruption is at an all-time high within the state machinery. Abuse of power and authority are daily headlines. Police and the judiciary system remain most corrupt as well.
Thus, General Musharraf and Washington are now left with extremely limited, difficult and almost impossible options.
Even if the military is still behind him, it is highly unlikely that he may decide to confront the Americans, forget about democracy, stop taking international pressures, and take absolute power in his own hands once again as he had when he took power in October 1999. It does not seem possible that Musharraf would once more abolish the assemblies, defer the constitution, draft his own constitution, and declare a presidential system or even martial law. In the past, he formed a team of so-considered honest, selfless and efficient professionals to rectify the damages done in the past few years and tried to bring back control in the economy, security, governance, judiciary and social welfare of the country. He has clearly failed. Of course, the suffering masses are not interested in democracy or martial law. They want security, dignity, cheap food and energy, as well as economic development. It does not matter to them who delivers this. Nevertheless, it will be a huge task to fool them twice with the same mantra. On the part of General Musharraf, it would amount to saying, “I am redoing the eight-year experiment.”
Another option is renegotiating with the Americans. It is not a problem for him to bend backwards even more. He would send Pakistani forces to Iraq, recognize Israel, commit more troops to Miranshah, take responsibility for finishing off the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Madrassas in Pakistan, and allow more unrestricted access to the United States into Pakistan’s security and intelligence, as well as nuke apparatus. Nevertheless, for sustaining all this he has to remain the chief of armed forces. With these measures, he can immediately become the blue-eyed boy of the Americans once again and there will be no further chatter in Washington about democracy. But Musharraf will have a revolt on hand in the home front and perhaps even a rebellion in the army.
The third option is to contest elections with whatever support base the general has so far and keep Benazir, Nawaz and Sharif out of the electoral process to weaken their collective nuisance. Some heavy-duty management will be required to “arrange” the required results and to neutralize the MMA and PPP/Nawaz factor. The general has done this with the help of ISI before and can do the same again. Consequently, MQM will continue to exploit the situation and basically nothing will improve in the country in terms of economy and governance or law and order; likewise, the same team of suspects will reappear to exploit him even further for the next four years. Things can get mismanaged if Nawaz and Benazir decided to come back before the elections and launch a street protest calling their court cases politically motivated. The MMA would also join them and a bit of “hidden hand” support could start an unexpected but very real inferno. Even if everything goes well, the general will have to give up his position as the military chief. Losing his military position will make the general lose all attractiveness to Washington, which is mainly concerned with sustaining Pakistan’s occupation with the Pakistani armed forces and using the Pakistani army in the interest of the United States.
The fourth option is that the general reads the writing on the wall and decides to quit, handing over power to the next army chief who would promise the elections or would decide to stay in power depending upon what he wants to do. Musharraf will have to leave the country with his family and may settle in some friendly or neutral country like Turkey or a country in Europe. This option suits Washington, but General Musharraf is addicted to power to an extent that it is highly unlikely that he will hang his boots up so easily.
The last option is assassination. He may be assassinated either by his army men, any local resistance groups, Baluchistan Liberation army assassins, or someone sent by the Americans to blame “religious extremists” and pave the way for another general to take over and continue Pakistan’s occupation for another decade or so. Being in charge of the general’s personal security in many ways, it is only the Americans who can successfully carry out the assassination operation against him. His departure in a violent manner will serve many of the U.S.’s objectives.
In the next few weeks or months, events would basically unfold in one of the many options discussed above. Right now, both Musharraf and Washington are confused and have not clearly decided on any of the options.
The assassination option carries the most weight. We know from experience that leaders in the Muslim world who associated themselves with Washington unconditionally are doomed. The Shah of Iran, General Zia and Saddam Hussein are prominent examples. General Musharraf may continue to rule by force and power, but would not have any grassroots support and hence would remain on shaky ground within his own country.
Washington is now giving General Musharraf a very tough time. He is not finding the courage to stand up to Washington or to face the nation. He has gone silent these days and is not defending U.S. actions, nor is he making supportive statements about the U.S. strategy in the Muslim world. He was under the misconception that Washington would appreciate his concessions, which it was obtaining from the general through blackmail, as his favors. This, however, was not the case. Washington didn’t appreciate the “sincerity” and “sacrifice” of the entrapped general. Now, the disillusioned general is annoyed and offended by the American rebuffs to his demands and is feeling ditched and betrayed. That is a sick feeling for a man who had put all his eggs in one big American basket and is now left alone and abandoned to be replaced with another strongman, who could keep himself in uniform for a longer period than the burnt out General Musharraf. A more docile and cooperative political leadership would be the last option considered in Washington.
General Musharraf is in the middle of nowhere at the moment. His only option is to come out clean on his relations with the Americans and to give voice to what he has been hiding from his people and the whole world. He might be portrayed as insane as a result, but to save Pakistan and the world from the scourge of a greater war, he must tell the truth and the whole story of his entrapment to grab the initiative back and restore the confidence of his nation in his words and deeds. Unless General Musharraf restores the confidence of his people in his policies at home by telling the whole truth about the way the ISI was used in 9/11 and how Pakistan has been blackmailed, he is doomed.
Abid Ullah Jan’s latest book on this subject, "From BCCI to ISI: The Saga of Entrapment continues" is released on July 20, 2006 and will be available at:
For introduction to the book, see: "The ICSSA"