MUSHARRAF FACES DEMONS OF HIS OWN MAKING
by Aman Singh
American Reporter India Correspondent
New Delhi, India
NEW DELHI, June 22, 2002 -- A "perfect diplomat," "high-strung," "hasty" and "a charmer" are some of the ways those who interact with Pakistan's self-proclaimed President Pervez Musharraf have described him.
Indeed, Musharraf has shown a multitude of faces as he tries to juggle a restless domestic public and an irate international community during his three years of autocratic rule. Even now, between the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the recent escalation of tensions at the Indo-Pakistani border, he is clearly trying hard to sound belligerent and be compromising - at the same time.
Under pressure from America to reduce tensions at the India-Pakistan border, and pushed by much of Pakistan's civil society and demons of his own creation - the Taliban and al-Qaida - to wage war, Musharraf is truly a man in trouble.
Pakistan's national reputation was profoundly damaged on Sept. 11, and with it that of its President General, primarily due to the Frankensteins that he had created years earlier, the Taliban, and the mujahadeen that he had carefully and consistently trained. And when America sought Pakistan's cooperation to get at Afghanistan and the Osama Bin Laden, Musharraf's political fortunes slid deeper into the muck, albeit as a newly-minted major American ally.
Mercifully, the advanced stages of preparation for war that recently prevailed at the India-Pakistan border have now been scaled back. At the same time, the number of Pakistani incursions into Kashmir have fallen sharply. With India taking a tough stand and the world fearful of war, Musharraf has been left with few choices about how to handle his domestic situation or the border tensions.
But now a new wave of bombings and other activities by al-Qaida in Pakistan have undoubtedly alerted Musharraf to the fact that he still stands to lose it all at home if he encourages militants with al-Qaida ties who back Kashmiri separatists. What is driving his political and strategic approach? Ultimately, it is American pressure, although that is perhaps less important in his political decision-making.
As a member of the Indian Parliament, veteran columnist Kuldip Nayar - an expert on Indo-Pak relations - said about the American government, "They are sick of the Muslims now, especially after 9-11. They have pressurized Musharraf to act as he is because, seen strategically from his viewpoint, he didn't have an option."
He says most of the incursions that takes place every day on the India-Pakistan border has stopped. "The Taliban and al-Qaida have been stopped and restrained by Musharraf only as far as the U.S. sees it in their own interest," Nayar continued, adding that for India the facts of Musharraf's statements are not always matched by what India sees on the ground.
India's Ministry for External Affairs spokesperson Nirupama Rao told The American Reporter, "The infiltration is definitely down. But it is clear that military de-escalation is a long way off. There is still a lot of action that we expect from Pakistan in terms of dismantlement of the infrastructure of terrorism, in terms of permanent, visible, satisfactory action on the ground in response to the pledges and assurances that the Government of Pakistan has made on the subject."
Clearly, Musharraf has two faces, one for India and another for Washington. But he thrown into a quandary by America after Sept. 11, having to choose between being an ally of the Taliban and al-Qaida and being a friend of the United States. In fact, he had little choice because the first option would have left him and his country battered. The notorious Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and the various terrorist organizations it encouraged has left Pakistan responsible for much of what happened on Sept. 11.
Even after the attacks on New York and Washington, al-Qaida reportedly shifted its base from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Some reports said that even bin Laden had, too. Under those conditions, Musharraf's strategy became a game of hide-and-seek between himself and the ISI, in turn establishing a kind of state within a state.
India produced a parallel mess in the form of an extremist named Bhindrawalan in 1984, when the Hindu-Sikh riots took place. The extremist Akalis created him, and then had to face him in the form of a monster who racked havoc in Punjab. Similarly, if not more treacherously, Musharraf trained the Taliban under as commander of the army under President Nawaz Sharif, and now is being forced to face their threats and actions. And so policies that once mirrored the image of a General and an army man's one-track mind now speak of diplomacy and surrender.
In his various speeches, beginning with his initial declaration on October 13, 1999 when he successfully staged a bloodless coup and assumed absolute power, that no terrorism - cross border or otherwise - would be tolerated, there is a pattern of role-changing that Musharraf has adopted. That speech was followed by his "Great Dictator" speech in November 2000 when he levelled graft charges against former President Benazir Bhutto while strengthening his control over the country and the militant fundamentalists.
In July 2000 the General metamorphosed into the politician by winning the propaganda war at the Agra Summit, emerging as the champion of the Kashmir cause. He followed this success by trying to establish himself as a politician. He donned the role of "America's General" in September 2001 when he agreed to ally with the United States, and illustrated this promise by abandoning the Taliban and Pakistan's two-decade old control of Afghan affairs.
In December 2001 after the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, the General made a number of cosmetic moves to take the alleged culprits such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) leader Masood Azhar into custody to satisfy international demands. Then came his most recent address to the nation on May 27, when he spoke about stopping all forms of cross-border terrorism and infiltration into India and simultaneously said that Pakistan was not sponsoring any of it.
Through speeches and superficial actions that have kept the international community at bay, Musharraf's multiple roles have also come into focus while he tries to juggle his country's issues and foreign demands.
What has happened as a result of the mixed-up three years of his presidency is that the followers and militants once fed by him are now his greatest threat. As he continues to control the army and the ISI with unexpected grace, domestic unrest is increasingly making his people and his presidency insecure. That is, religious fundamentalism in Pakistan has now become as much a threat to the country and Musharraf's own authority as Pakistan has been to India for the past five decades.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's civil society is also now showing signs of being completely tired of the strictures of Muslim fundamentalism initiated by Musharraf's predecessors, Zia-ul-Haq and Benazir Bhutto. Those started with the tankhaiya [offender] system and then the Fridays that were made compulsory holidays countrywide in Pakistan. Then followed the sprouting of a number of madrasas that became training grounds for the mujahadeen. These developments have gradually made the ordinary Pakistani hate the entire system and have proved to be a huge factor in pressuring Musharraf into acting against the infiltrators and Muslim fundamentalists.
When he began his crackdown on the Pakistan madrasas to calm India, the militants who used them as training grounds for young soldiers started seeing him as a threat. He is now caught in the middle of keeping the international community satisfied and his own country under his control while looking westward towards Iran, where Ayatollah Khomeni once shook the world. Musharraf knows the high cost of failure; whether he knows any path to success is the more significant question. This is Aman Singh's first article for The American Reporter. She is based in New Delhi.