Despite his rhetorical claim that he is “not scared of anyone”, general Pervez Musharraf is a worried man. The “not scared” boast flies in the face of the facts: he is in effect a prisoner in the presidential compound. Meetings and conferences are organized inside the compound so that he does not have to go out, for fear of being assassinated. He has survived two assassination attempts. When it is absolutely necessary to go out, at least three identical motorcades leave simultaneously, in order to keep any would-be assassin guessing.
With no political base except the military (an important constituency, but by no means the whole country), he faces challenges on several fronts, and is now coming under pressure from the US as well. South Waziristan and Baluchistan are in turmoil; two major political figures, Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Muslim League, met in Jeddah early last month and signed a three-point agreement to work together; this would have been unthinkable even a few months ago. Although the agreement is not a significant threat to Musharraf personally, it has affected Pakistan’s fickle politicians. With no principled commitment or loyalty to anyone, Pakistani politicians can turn on a dime for personal gain. Should they start to abandon ship, as they may well do if they realize that the Americans are no longer as happy with Musharraf as he makes out, Pakistan’s political house of cards would come tumbling down.
Apart from the fickleness of the political elites, Musharraf has worse problems. He has taken on the Waziri and Mehsud tribes in the volatile North West Frontier Province to appease theUS, and has opened another front against the tribes of Balochistan. Under pressure from the US, he first abandoned the Taliban and has now abandoned the Kashmiris as well, despite the pretence of protecting their rights. More worrying is the fact that the US has increased its drum-beating about Pakistan’s nuclear activities, especially the “proliferation” of nuclear weapons. Time magazine recently carried a feature article with Dr Abdul Qadir Khan on its cover under the title “The Merchant of Menace” (February 14), with not-so-subtle hints that theUS expected more “transparency” from Musharraf. The intensification of Washington’s campaign against Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme is also squeezing Musharraf. Unfortunately, he himself has provided ample ammunition to Washington by blaming Dr Khan, the renowned Pakistani scientist, who is a hero to the Pakistanis, while Musharraf is regarded as an American agent.
Musharraf’s threats against the Balochi tribes—”if they do not behave, they will not know what has hit them”, in the manner of Yahya Khan against the Bengalis 35 years ago, with disastrous consequences—stand in sharp contrast with his surrender not only to the US but also to archrival India. In talks with the wily Indians, everything under the sun is to be discussed except Kashmir. The latest development is an announcement about the bus service between Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir and Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir, which will commence on April 7. This was agreed during the visit of Natwar Singh, India’s foreign minister, to Pakistan on February 16. The Indians want to turn the Line of Control into an international border; Pakistan will probably not accept this (or at least not yet), but otherwise Musharraf has shown little inclination to be serious about Kashmir, having already abandoned 55-year-old UN Security Council resolutions without consulting the Kashmiris or getting anything from India in return.
The Wazir and Mehsud tribesmen gave a good account of themselves when the Pakistan army attacked their villages last year. A large number of civilians were killed, but the tribesmen exposed the army as amateurs when it comes to fighting in the mountains. Not only were heavy losses inflicted on the army, but a number of soldiers and officers refused to fight, saying that it was America’s war and not Pakistan’s. In recent days Safdar Husain, the general in charge of these operations, has had to make amends, and a number of Mehsud tribal elders have been paid millions of rupees for their loyalty.
A similar shortsighted policy is being pursued in Balochistan, provoking the wrath of the Balochi tribesmen. The rape of a female doctor by an army captain at Sui and the army’s refusal to punish the culprit has further fuelled the people’s fury. Gas pipelines and other installations have been attacked by tribesmen seething with resentment over their perceived deprivation in the division of the province’s assets. Balochistan produces the natural gas that is used to heat homes throughout the country, yet the Balochis have only recently had the benefit of this commodity. There is also resentment over the award of contracts in Gwadar, the port city being built by Chinese engineers. The military is also building three huge bases, paid for by the US Central Command. Who will use these bases, and against whom, appears not to have been thought about. Military officers are being given huge tracts of land in and around Gwadar, the hottest property market in Pakistan today, but the Balochis are left out of this bonanza. The military has gone into the business of real estate as if that, not safeguarding the country’s frontiers, were its primary function.
Musharraf’s handling of the nuclear issue has made Pakistan more vulnerable, not less. The shabby treatment meted to Dr Khan has angered many Pakistanis who were already upset about the general’s kowtowing to the US. His policies are not acceptable to the vast majority; Dr Khan, despite his public humiliation, is still a hero. Pakistanis, like Muslims throughout the world, consider that America’s “war on terrorism” is really against Islam. Those Muslim rulers who have jumped on Bush’s bandwagon are considered the enemies of Islam. Musharraf now joins the ranks of rulers such as Husni Mubarak of Egypt, Abdullah of Jordan and the House of Saud, as the most-hated Muslim rulers.
Musharraf’s uncertainty can be gauged from the fact that he has refused to abandon the post of military chief of staff, although nearly two years ago he promised to do so in order to get the opposition Muttaheda Majlis-e Amal to accept his proposed amendment to the constitution. While his political U-turn is not a major issue (all politicians lie and break pledges), the more crucial problem is his lack of confidence in his personally crafted political framework, and even less trust in his handpicked deputy chief of staff. Using continuity as a pretext, Musharraf refuses to resign as army chief. The real reason is that if he does so, he will be at the mercy of the new army head. “Kingship knows no kinship” is a true saying. Musharraf has betrayed the very people who brought him to power, although they were his colleagues for decades. He knows that in Pakistan, all real and meaningful power still resides in the head of the military; all else is talk.
The political framework is also fragile. It includes many corrupt politicians, despite his boast of having ended corruption; a number of ministers have charges hanging over them, brought by the military-led National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Others’ massive loans have been written off, at the expense of the ordinary people. The message is clear: support the military and everything will be forgiven; cross them and you risk being consigned to jail, or worse.
The military sees no one as capable of filling the post of prime minister from within the country (and certainly no one can be trusted to ensure that the army continues to get its princely privileges); an American banker (who is also a Qadiani) has been imported to take this post. Musharraf’s political system will not outlive his rule. Few rulers in Pakistan ever think of what will happen after they are gone; their concern is usually only with the here and now. That explains why Musharraf is so keen to keep on the right side of the Americans, but his usefulness to them is wearing thin. In a report on February 14, the Congressional Research Service declared Pakistan the “most anti-American country” in the world.
With friends like these, no one needs enemies. Musharraf ought to take out a huge life-insurance policy; his family will need it. Local assassins have missed him twice, but the CIA is far more efficient; if general Zia’s ghost could speak he would confirm it. Perhaps Musharraf should go the Jabra Chawk in Islamabad (where Zia is buried) and find out.