The buzzards are circling: Musharraf at risk

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By Sol Sanders

Sol W. Sanders

Friday, April 6, 2007

A demonstration of lawyers staged for CNN wherein loyalists are beaten, a New York Times article in which our learned columnist “discovers” the absence of child welfare in a corner of the Third World, the multi-face-lifted former lady prime minister parading as a democrat through Georgetown cocktail parties although under indictment for moneylaundering in Switzlerland…

For those of us who have been through it all before, these are telltale signs of an orchestrated media campaign against Pakistan’s Gen. President Pervez Musharraf.

Not that there are not real issues. But the Bush Administration finds its domestic opposition now dedicated to using parochial politics, from parsing the war against terrorism [which its legislative drafting instructions finds is not an acceptable phrase] into its separate and [they would have you believe] unconnected parts.

Washington’s issues with Pakistan are so complicated and subject to further deterioration, another straw could break the camel’s back. And that may be just what’s in the air.

U.S.-Pakistan multitudinous frictions include: First, the war against the Al Qaida remnants, masquerading as Neo-Taliban, and using age-old tribal retreats along the ill-defined Pakistan-Afghan border as sanctuary. No Pakistan government, as no plains Indian regime before it, has extended civil government into these barbarous areas. Now, despite casualties for his military-backed regime, Musharraf has been playing cat and mouse [or rather old punitive expeditions and bribery] trying to expel foreign [Arab, Central Asian, etc.] fighters. Success has been limited, although the last few days hiccupping, suggests indigenous multitribal Pushtoons have decided the welcome mat for “guests” may not always be extended as legend has it.

Then there is massive aid for a bankrupt and near failed state of 150 millions. The U.S. has been generous since it threatened Islamabad after 9/11 with “you are either with us or against us”, forcing Islamabad to summarily withdraw its support for Afghanistan’s Taliban then giving international terrorists sanctuary. In March Washington announced another $750 million aid for development of the tribal areas under the threat of Al Qaida, It was a gesture of support to Musharraf, an addition to the $3 billion five-year assistance provided since 2003. That was intended to counter to the move in the U.S. House of Representatives, backed noisily by failed Democratic presidential Sen. John Kerry, to place restrictions on Pakistan aid.

But Musharraf’s ex-Citibanker Prime Minister Shakaut Aziz’ effort to liberalize, get the economy off its uppers, has run into Punjabi feudal barons and corrupt nonperforming state-owned enterprise babus. Sale of a decrepit old monopoly Soviet steel mill to Saudi entrepreneurs has become a political football, with Musharraf bouncing the supreme court chief justice [himself charged with nepotism and corruption] who vetoed it. This compromises an unprecedented level of freedom for a bastardized dictatorship which nevertheless has maintained a level of press freedom and judicial oversight [with all the obfuscations a combination of English common law and anti-colonial intent can engender]. Ahead is a struggle over whether Musharraf can “constitutionally” keep his military hat and as a “civilian” president.

Meanwhile, Pakistan faces a relatively small but fanatical internal terrorist campaign uniting Islamofascists with tribal despots in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest province, elsewhere exploiting old, deep ethnic and religious feuds in fetid megacities, and inflicts additional economic sabotage, creates general confusion and discredits the regime.

Then there is the Indo-Pakistan conflict, a prism distorting all problems in the subcontinent. New Delhi has virtually ignored Musharraf’s efforts to end the impasse by pragmatic step-by-step [e.g., sectoral demilitarization] for solving the overarching issue of Moslem Kashmir. There 750,000 New Delhi’s security forces, massive subsidies and writing sovereignty into the Indian Constitution over 50 years have lost popular support. India’s charges of Pakistan terrorist complicity are true, but then so, too, probably, Islamabad’s complaints of Indian fishing in tribal unrest. A welter of allegiances constantly defies both countries’ infiltrated intelligence.

For Washington, down the road is Pakistan’s alliance with China, seen as fundamental by Pakistani nationalists and threatening by Indian strategic planners. Musharraf has just dedicated a deepwater port, Gwadar, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, a gift of Chinese aid, a hoped for new regional center for trade with Central Asia. When he shortly goes to Beijing, he would be asking for more Chinese aid and investment. But both Washington and New Delhi suspect Beijing is hanging their “string of pearls” across the Indian Ocean”, bases and intelligence outposts for eventual deployment of their growing submarine fleet.

Meanwhile, in a world of growing conflict — both India and Pakistan are courting Iran to feed their energy maws in contradiction to Washington’s attempts to put economic pressure on Tehran to end its nuclear weapons pursuit — Musharraf’s interests may not always be Washington’s. Yet it would be catastrophic if his regime were to fall to uninformed media subversion and petty domestic American politics, giving way to who know’s what. His collaboration in the war on the Islamofascists has been crucial — several of the 9/11 plotters were caught through Pakistani cooperation. India, where Prime Minister Mamohan Singh takes an economic determinist view of security, ignoring a crumbling northern belt of Himalayan states and their growing internal guerrilla allies, facing the Chinese buildup in Tibet. India would have no way of stabilizing its Western border nor preventing further penetration of its own Moslem population [greater than Pakistan’s] were Islamabad to stumble into chaos. That’s why, media talking heads notwithstanding, Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power could be crucial for Washington.

Sol W. Sanders, (, is an Asian specialist with more than 25 years in the region, and a former correspondent for Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and United Press International. He writes weekly for World and

Friday, April 6, 2007

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