Pakistan last week was awash with rumours that President Musharraf’s departure is imminent. As the tide of opposition mounted from several quarters, especially from the PMLN and the civil society, President Bush considered it expedient to express his support for President Musharraf by making a phone call.
The US President’s rationale for supporting President Musharraf is manifold. With American elections less than a few months away, failure of the Bush administration’s Musharraf-centric Pakistan policy will have adverse consequences for the electoral fortunes of the Republican Party.
With not much to show either in Iraq or Afghanistan, a failure in Pakistan would be politically ruinous for Bush’s legacy.
Washington also would like President Musharraf to stay in office to play a role in the formulation and implementation of peace agreements so that the US’ and NATO’s interests are not marginalised. As is common knowledge the Bush administration has reservations about the restoration of judges because that would mean the reopening of the missing persons’ case.
In addition, it is part of President Bush’s character to demonstrate loyalty to his friends and political allies when they are in trouble.
The United States is also deeply sceptical about the stability and effectiveness of the coalition government. For these reasons every effort is being made by the US to keep President Musharraf’s lifeline afloat until November 2008, although the cost of this unflinching support may be high.
Analysing from a Pakistani perspective, the timing of this expression of support from the White House appears most inappropriate, and a categorical rebuff to the people of Pakistan as they had clearly voted for the parties that were opposed to President Musharraf and his political allies.
What is most unfortunate is that by inextricably linking the US with President Musharraf, the US is overlooking Pakistan’s fundamental interests.
Over the years due to major distortions brought about by military and civilian rulers in the constitution the power structure of our state has been deformed. Despite having a parliamentary system in place, power revolves round an indirectly elected President. And in case of President Musharraf, even his legitimacy is questionable.
Efforts of the civil society to correct these constitutional and political anomalies are thwarted by President Musharraf and his allies and it is regrettable that instead of standing with the progressive forces the US is putting its full weight behind forces of the status quo under the mistaken belief that this way its security and strategic interests will be well-guarded.
The Bush administration in trying to impose its will against the wishes of the Pakistani people further heightens anti-American sentiment in the country, discredits the war on terror and makes it more difficult for the new civilian government to stabilise the current environment.
Threats of air-strikes by US forces in the tribal belt and its fierce opposition to peace agreements also lead to widespread resentment and instability.
Clearly, Pakistan is the front line state in the war on terror, and one of its worst victims. Afghanistan’s instability and the US’ and NATO’s military engagements in the region are essentially the contributory factors, although it is also a fact that since the last few years, powerful local Taliban groups have emerged.
Pakistan is bearing the maximum brunt of this war. More than 1200 of its servicemen have died and thousands of civilians fallen victim to explosions and collateral damage.
Yet when Pakistan tries to find indigenous solutions based on tribal traditions and historical experience and makes a deal with the militants, the US and its western allies seriously oppose it. No doubt in the past the militants took advantage of the truce and expanded their influence. But this time a carefully crafted military operation in South Waziristan and Swat preceded the peace deals and Pakistan is not talking to the militants from a position of weakness.
Washington should also realise that a strategic pause would allow the government to re-establish its contacts with the tribal elders and explore opportunities of developing community projects to win over the people. In essence this war can best be fought if the government can create and sustain a local power structure that has the support of the people and is able to eventually isolate the militants.
Of course Pakistan’s new civilian government will have to be highly sensitive to the security concerns of the US and other European powers and ensure them that during the truce its territory is not being used to launch attacks in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. Close cooperation on intelligence and operational matters can be helpful in removing US doubts and interference.
When the US backs Musharraf it casts itself in the role of a bully in the eyes of the people and works against its own interests; the militants benefit from this. Not surprisingly politicians in Pakistan see public criticism of the US as a convenient way of rallying people and improving their own image.
The question is: how will the Bush administration react to the growing opposition from the PMLN, APDM, the lawyers’ movement and the civil society?
Notwithstanding US involvement, the ultimate responsibility of steering the country rests on our civilian leadership. For Pakistan, as many analysts have succinctly observed, is more a case of failed leadership than a failed state.
Instead of using the parliament where the coalition has a two-thirds majority to restore judges or decide about the President’s future they have been relying, as in the past, on the establishment and taking decisions outside the parliament.
We are fortunate that the current army leadership is staying away from politics and it is now up to the politicians to take major decisions in the parliament and strengthen the democratic process.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at email@example.com
Source: Daily Times, 5/6/2008