Musharraf On The Brink
The last time the leader of a major nation in the economically developing world fired several prominent military advisers, he was assassinated. That was in January when Laurent Kabila - then leader of the Congo was killed after dismissing military leaders in his government. Laurent Kabila immediately came to mind when we learned over the weekend that General Pervez Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan, had dismissed several military generals, and in the case of two of the highest ranking generals - with leanings toward the Taliban - promoted their subordinates over them.
Kabila was immediately assassinated after relieving his military officials - murdered under circumstances and a motive that still remains cloudy. That the firing preceded his murder is not disputed. That widespread dissatisfaction with his rule, even among those closest to him, also preceded his assassination is also not disputed. With the obvious exception of his demise and a few other factors there are more than a few parrallels in the circumstances that faced Kabila prior to his death, and those which Musharraf is confronted with today. In a volatile mixture that few if any could manage, both men came to power via a military coup; both men have seen the unity of the forces that brought them to power fracture; both men preside(d) over countries whose problems and violent relations with neighbors have destabilized an entire region; and both leaders, in countries with tremendous international debts and economic poverty, and at the height of their unpopularity at home, attempted to form a new relationship with the West.
And like Kabila - battered by mistakes, errors and the confluence of cultural, political and economic forces - we do not believe that Musharraf will be able to survive, politically and possibly otherwise. Musharraf, in the classic scenario of a military dictator in the developing world who has barged his way into the corridors of power, finds himself in the quagmire of watching his domestic support erode as his influence and support rises from abroad.
Some men like Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Muammar Khadafi in Libya and even Saddam Hussein in Iraq have managed the Musharraf-like transition - from bum rush, to bureaucracy, to ballots (to some degree),with success, having been granted the grace period to solve a preliminary set of problems in the societies that they govern, while having the benefit of an external enemy toward which they could channel the dissatisfaction and anger of their citizenry, temporarily taking the focus of the people off of the domestic nature and aspects of their condition.
General Musharraf has no such circumstance and finds himself in the position of not being able to solve any of the most intractable problems of his country while having to suddenly direct a measure of the dissatisfaction and anger of his people not toward their most visible enemy and neighbor in India, but toward a regime and country that many Pakistanis have friends and family in; that the government just yesterday supported; and which the perceived citadel of imperialism - in the eyes of many - has asked, and some say bribed them to oppose.
Musharraf, perceived as carrying out the dictates of the United States government, has reached the limits of a military dictatorship. He is now perceived by a significant portion of his population as a puppet of the West, and worse yet, as a pawn of a government that has used his country as a political and military doormat for over twenty years.
One Pakistani commentator, ashamed and embarrassed over the plight of his country and its management by its leaders, unceremoniously and rather graphically referred to Pakistan as the United States' political and military condom - which she (the United States) used in her efforts to put down communism during the Cold War and disposed of, only to reach yet again for it -this time in the service of a "war on terrorism".
But how long can Pakistan, a country which the US State Department, as recently as last year listed on its list of nations that may be sponsoring terrorism, be an intimate of the "leader of the free world" in Operation Enduring Freedom, before the hypocrisy and contradictions become too much to bear?
A profile of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM), a group of Pakistani militants operating in Kashmir (allegedly with the support of the Pakistani government) in opposition to India, makes this point clear. Here is how the US State Department described HUM in its two-year foreign terrorist report in 1999:
Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM) a.k.a. Harakat ul-Ansar, HUA, Al-Hadid, Al-Hadith, Al-Faran
Description: Formerly the Harakat ul-Ansar, which was designated a foreign terrorist organization in October 1997. HUM is an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan that operates primarily in Kashmir. Leader Fazlur Rehman Khalil has been linked to Bin Ladin and signed his fatwa in February 1998 calling for attacks on US and Western interests. Operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan and suffered casualties in the US missile strikes on Bin Ladin-associated training camps in Khowst in August 1998. Fazlur Rehman Khalil subsequently said that HUM would take revenge on the United States.
Activities: Has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in Kashmir. Linked to the Kashmiri militant group al-Faran that kidnapped five Western tourists in Kashmir in July 1995; one was killed in August 1995, and the other four reportedly were killed in December of the same year.
Strength: Has several thousand armed supporters located in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, and India's southern Kashmir and Doda regions. Supporters are mostly Pakistanis and Kashmiris, and also include Afghans and Arab veterans of the Afghan war. Uses light and heavy machineguns, assault rifles, mortars, explosives, and rockets.
Location/Area of Operation: Based in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, but members conduct insurgent and terrorist activities, primarily in Kashmir. The HUM trains its militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
External Aid: Collects donations from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf and Islamic states and from Pakistanis and Kashmiris. The source and amount of HUA's military funding are unknown.
The true litmus test, of the U.S. war on terrorism, especially in the eyes of India - a nation which has felt the effects of HUM, will be if the United States goes after HUM which, as we have seen in the State department description, the US has linked to Ussama Bin Laden. India describes HUM and other Islamic militants fighting its forces in the disputed Kashmir region as "terrorists'' who receive direct help from Islamabad. Pakistan, in response, denies it provides any military help to the group and others that it refers to as "Kashmiri freedom fighters.'' India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir.
It has only been days and weeks since September 11th and the shallowness of Musharraf's external support from the U.S. is transparent and liklely incapable of providing the resources - financially and otherwise necessary to solve Pakistan's most endemic problems -the real job that Musharraf volunteered for when he grabbed power in October of 1999 in a bloodless coup (he appointed himself president this past June). The sudden presence of Afghan refugees that international relief agencies say will eventually number 1 million, would be a tall problem for any leader to solve much less one with the challenges and growing number of enemies that Musharraf is accumulating with each passing day.
That Musharraf has made a Faustian bargain is without question, regardless to what picture is painted by the denials offered by the West and the Pakistan government. To borrow and revise a phrase from those privileged few, in governments in the West who claim to hold facts that are beyond reproach; the circumstantial evidence is "overwhelming" that a deal has been cut in order to win Pakistan's support. Today at BlackElectorate.com we have linked to a Newsweek interview of Musharraf that more than hints at the quid pro quo that exists between he and the U.S.
Three weeks of cooperation with Operation Enduring Freedom have produced what years of pleading, negotiating and lobbying could not. Two weeks ago the UN lifted sanctions on Pakistan and the U.S Congress at this very moment, is moving to lift economic sanctions on Pakistan right now. In addition, countries like Japan have been cajoled by the U.S. into moving to lift sanctions on Pakistan and just a little over a week ago the IMF approved a $135 million disbursement, and along with the U.S., is said to have given Musharraf a nodding glance in reference to Pakistan's persistent requests to have over $30 billion in debt relieved, restructured or largely forgiven.
Coupled with the financial support are political and military favors - the U.S. has agreed to not attack HUM and its associates, or demand that the Pakistani government do so, just yet. Both Islamabad and Washington believe that Musharraf would be removed from power if he were to move against the Kashmir Muslims at the request of the U.S. But the train has already left the station, and on board are enough Musharraf concessions to the U.S. to convince Islamic militants, in and outside of HUM and Kashmir, to believe that after Bin Laden and the Taliban are disposed of, they are next.
The Musharraf-forced resignation of Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmad, the hard-line chief of the directorate of InterServices Intelligence (ISI), and the decision to replace him with the more moderate, Lt. Gen. Ehansul Haq, the former head of military intelligence, has angered two increasingly important constituencies in the Enduring Freedom era : Muslim militants in Kashmir and the newest entrants into Pakistan - former Taliban leaders who have fled their country and have taken refuge in Pakistan.
The Muslim militants are angry because the changes in the military regime represent the latest example of Musharraf's lack of commitment to their cause. These Muslims, including HUM, were singing the praises of Musharraf as recently as this past July when Musharraf boldly took up their cause in summit talks with India but they have since turned away from the President after the evidence of his growing linkages with the U.S. began to accumulate. The dropping of Gen. Ahmad, popular among the Muslim zealots, in favor of Gen. Haq - who will now be the point man for dealings with the CIA - has some believing that the dye has been cast and Musharraf, at the pressure of the U.S., will be forced to crackdown on the insurgents in Kashmir, which he and members of the military previously supported through a variety of means. If Musharraf goes too far in offending the Islamic militants in Kashmir, then it is very possible that the anger which they currently direct toward Indian security forces will be aimed at Islamabad and the Musharraf regime. The Oct. 1 suicide car bombing and murder of 38 people in the state legislature, allegedly by Muslim militants and the murder yesterday of Ziyarat Hassan of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba has only added to the heightened tensions in Kashmir, at a time when Pakistan's president is preoccupied and wary of publicly opposing Muslim fundamentalists in his country.
Simultaneously, many of the ex-Taliban leaders entering Pakistan, who are being viewed as heroes in certain towns near the Afghanistan border, view Musharraf as a traitor who sold the Taliban out in exchange for financial crumbs and empty promises from Washington. If these leaders are able to organize any of the opposition groups inside of Pakistan, Musharraf's days in power become increasingly numbered.
As Operation Enduring Freedom continues, likely moving beyond Afghanistan; the refugee crisis continues to worsen; Kashmir's problems continue to flare up and Muslim militants there become more dissatisfied with Musharraf; political opposition groups and spiritual leaders begin to form coalitions in opposition to Musharraf; as former and disgruntled members of the Pakistani military and ex-Taliban members who have entered into Pakistan continue to publicly challenge Musharraf's relationship with the United States; and as Musharraf and the White House continue to offer contradicting explanations regarding the aim purpose and scope of Enduring Freedom, the General's eventual removal from power becomes a foregone conclusion.
We think that the chain reaction has begun which will result in General Musharraf being out of power by the end of winter - creating a leadership vacuum that further destabilizes the region.
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Tuesday, October 9, 2001