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Old 02-20-2006, 06:15 AM   #1
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Pakistan's Tense Countdown To Bush Visit

An overview of Pakistan's current political climate from The Independent (UK). Bush is scheduled to visit Pakistan the first week of March.
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......[Musharraf] now faces his toughest 10 days in power as the countdown begins to a visit from George Bush. Unless Musharraf can quell, or at least contain, the dissent before then, the visit looks set to be engulfed by the "rolling campaign" of street protests that Pakistan's religious parties have warned they can deliver. This crisis is no longer just about cartoons. It has become entwined with the desire by Musharraf's Islamist enemies to destabilise him by fanning a much wider uprising against what they see as his traitorous alliance with America.

The Pakistani leader is also the army's chief and still, as far as we know, has the most powerful wings of the military firmly on his side. But Pakistan is also still a hotbed for al-Qa'ida-affiliated extremists and jihadi militants hiding out and training in the wild ungovernable provinces along the border with Afghanistan. Twice, they have tried to blow up the President.

The Taliban, who fled here after being driven from Kabul, have not gone away either. Musharraf's removal, by elements who believe he is not Islamic enough, could open the way for dramatic regional instability, the threat of jihadists getting hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, or provoking a nuclear war with and India, and what Bush himself once warned would be "the worst form of Islamist militancy" in South Asia.
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That the Danish cartoons are seen as evidence of an "orchestrated" attempt to humiliate Muslims might explain why protests have widened beyond Scandinavian targets. But senior Pakistani intelligence sources interviewed by The Independent in Islamabad are emphatic that a handful of extremist Islamist groups Musharraf proscribed after 9/11, and suspected of trying to assassinate him (perhaps with the complicity of sympathisers in the army) on at least two occasions, are manoeuvring behind the issue in Pakistan. Their aim is to bait the government into a clampdown that will radicalise opinion further.
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The struggle between Musharraf, a liberal whiskey-drinking Muslim, and the forces of radical Islam, has been simmering since he seized power in a coup in 1999 and began promoting a modernising agenda. According to this vision, which carries the Orwellian name "Enlightened Moderation", Pakistan, a society so religiously conservative that a mixed-sex marathon last month caused uproar, would be transformed into a tolerant progressive state. It would still be an Islamic republic--the government ministry currently trying to rein in the madrassas (religious schools), for example, is also in charge of organising pilgrimages to Mecca, and the national airline plays taped prayers alongside safety announcements before takeoff--but a moderate one.

But if nudging Pakistan into the 21st century while avoiding the fate of the Shah of Iran was already a challenge before 9/11, Musharraf's partnership with Bush's "war on terror" has made the balancing act almost impossible. The agenda to transform Pakistani society is now seen by Musharraf's critics as complicity in a greater American plot to extend secularism. Six years after Musharraf came to power Pakistan appears as fragile, radicalised, and unmodernised as ever.
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Last month's air strike by the US on a Pakistani border village, a failed attempt by the CIA to take out al-Qa'ida's top men, radicalised opinion against the Americans. Aimed at Osama Bin Laden's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the missile killed more than a dozen villagers. The country is now awash with the rumour that Musharraf had advance knowledge of the air strike.

A violent separatist struggle, meanwhile, is under way by tribal chiefs and their private armies in Baluchistan, which has been wracked by shootings and small-scale bombings, and suspicions hover that India is encouraging the separatists in revenge for the Pakistan's covert backing for jihadist militants in Kashmir.

Musharraf, meanwhile, has 70,000 troops hunting terrorists in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, a vast region where Pakistani law does not even apply, but the price, in terms of casualties and domestic opinion, is high. Intelligence sources say up to 50 Taliban members were recently captured, but Pakistan has been unable to take credit because the domestic political fallout would be so damaging. And despite a tentative "peace process," the spectre of war with India over Kashmir remains real. Officially Pakistan has ceased sponsoring militants to carry out attacks on India, but these groups have probably affiliated to al-Qa'ida.

These pressures have left Musharraf little space, or willingness, to address a fundamental contradiction about his position. He seized power illegally vowing to restore "true democracy", but six years on is still reneging on his promise to "doff the uniform"--return Pakistan to civilian rule at least before elections in 2007....Musharraf's failure to grow a democratic political culture means more turbulence is guaranteed if he were to be swept from power. As one Islamabad insider put it: "There is no Plan B."
It will be interesting to see if Bush--who recently praised Musharraf as a "good fellow" exemplifying the sort of "moderate" Muslim government he wants to support--will dare to raise the issue of free and democratic elections for Pakistan. Doubtless, the Afghan and Indian governments--both seething at Musharraf's failure to control border-zone militants, despite some encouraging peace process developments--will be following Bush's visit with great interest as well.
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Old 02-20-2006, 06:21 AM   #2
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A genuine question, while there are elements in the country that aspire to depose Musharraf how much danger is there of a coup orchestrated internally - would the military step in and fill the breach if such an attempt was mounted, especially if by Islamic radicals?
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Old 02-20-2006, 07:50 AM   #3
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That's a question scholars of Pakistan spend a lot of time gloomily hypothesizing about. The problem is, as the article says, "as far as we know" Musharraf retains the support of the Army's most senior generals, at least. But the Pakistani Army is a highly secretive organization, and we really know very little about what the various tensions and potential for factionalization within it might (or might not) be. We do know that there was an attempted coup against Musharraf from within the ranks in 1999 (ultimately put down by a group of high-ranking generals, with a real cliffhanger ending where Musharraf's plane--he was returning from abroad--was finally allowed to land with minutes of fuel to spare: the orchestrators had ordered the Karachi airport not to let him land). And it is almost certain, too, that his pardoning of AQ Khan (of spilled nuclear secrets fame) in 2004 was motivated in part by a need to stay in the good graces of Khan's many supporters within the army (who were outraged enough that Khan had been sacked). Many other, less clearly understood incidents suggesting a delicate balancing act on Musharraf's part vis-a-vis the Army, have also occurred--there are even hints that there may have been Army involvement in some of the assassination plots.

An even less well understood question is the degree of sympathy for Islamist radicals within the Army. For sure most of the rank-and-file are not cut from the same urbane, highly educated, cosmopolitan cloth that Musharraf is (incidentally, his brother and son live in the US). On the other hand, the Pakistani Army, like the Indian Army, is in many ways a commendably professional organization with a long tradition of inculcating respect for order, official authority, and ethno/socioeconomic/religious integration and tolerance among its members, despite their being drawn from a society which often appears to embody anything but. That is not to say that the corruption characteristic of so many Pakistani institutions is not present in the Army too--it is. But there is a strong commitment to maintaining stability as well. I guess the most conclusive thing I can say about this--and I realize it's not very conclusive--is that the degree to which mutiny along ethnoreligious lines is likely depends on the continued skill of Musharraf (or whoever is lined up to replace him, should he be assassinated) in playing this dangerous and delicate balancing game of perceived-value-of-stability vs. pushing-the-envelope-of-reform. He has had to make some ugly ethical compromises, and turn a blind eye to all kinds of theoretically illegal practices, in order to make it work so far. The economy is growing, literacy is increasing, foreign relations with India and the West are ever-so-slowly improving...but all this has come at a very high price.
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Old 02-20-2006, 11:00 AM   #4
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Pakistan scares the hell out of me. It's a bomb waiting to go off.
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Old 02-20-2006, 01:10 PM   #5
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Very scary when you need one militant leader in place to prevent take-over by other militan regimes.
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Old 02-20-2006, 02:26 PM   #6
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There are Taliban-style elements in Pakistan. The school of Islam followed by the Taliban is the Deobandi school from India. It's all over there. We could get a real problem if these people took over Pakistan.
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Old 02-20-2006, 02:54 PM   #7
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Originally posted by yolland
We do know that there was an attempted coup against Musharraf from within the ranks in 1999 (ultimately put down by a group of high-ranking generals, with a real cliffhanger ending where Musharraf's plane--he was returning from abroad--was finally allowed to land with minutes of fuel to spare: the orchestrators had ordered the Karachi airport not to let him land). And it is almost certain, too, that his pardoning of AQ Khan (of spilled nuclear secrets fame) in 2004 was motivated in part by a need to stay in the good graces of Khan's many supporters within the army (who were outraged enough that Khan had been sacked). Many other, less clearly understood incidents suggesting a delicate balancing act on Musharraf's part vis-a-vis the Army, have also occurred--there are even hints that there may have been Army involvement in some of the assassination plots.
Good points, Yolland. [Btw, my first cousin, Sarwat, was the pilot of that plane. He had to testify at the trial. He had called Musharaf into the cockpit, said the airport police were trying to crash the plane by rerouting it somewhere where it couldn't reach. Musharaf had to call his generals from the cockpit and get the army to the airport...real 24 kinda stuff!]

I think if someone were to do some polling, they may find that mainstream Pakistanis actually prefer military rule (and Musharraf) rather than the kind of corrupt "democratic" rule that Benazir Bhutto and Shariff were offering. And most Pakistanis don't want an Islamist state and would prefer military rule if that's what it takes to keep the fundamentalists at bay.

But, yeah, when it comes to being afraid of a wayward nuke getting into the wrong hands...forget North Korea, forget Iran...Pakistan's the biggest problem the world has.
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Old 02-20-2006, 03:36 PM   #8
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Wow, what a story!

From what I've read about Bhutto and Sharif, I think I might well have preferred Musharraf myself. How strongly would you guess support for him has eroded as a consequence of the War on Terror? Certainly it seems like the number of negative quotes on him from (supposedly random) angry Pakistanis reported in the press seems to have gone up. Then again, that may just be a reflection of the general global fatalism these days. I read a couple of the Pakistani English papers online everyday, but lately so many foreign papers, at least their online editions, have taken to just recycling AP stories... I hate that. Do you read any of them?
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Old 02-20-2006, 03:54 PM   #9
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Originally posted by yolland
Wow, what a story!

From what I've read about Bhutto and Sharif, I think I might well have preferred Musharraf myself. How strongly would you guess support for him has eroded as a consequence of the War on Terror? Certainly it seems like the number of negative quotes on him from (supposedly random) angry Pakistanis reported in the press seems to have gone up. Then again, that may just be a reflection of the general global fatalism these days. I read a couple of the Pakistani English papers online everyday, but lately so many foreign papers, at least their online editions, have taken to just recycling AP stories... I hate that. Do you read any of them?
I just read Dawn (the Karachi paper) online (and the columnist Cowasgee...i like him). And then follow various discussions (i.e. chowk.com). Also what my relatives e-mail me.

Pakistanis have a love-hate relationship with the U.S. Hate them when you need a scapegoat for the world's ills, love them when you need help in opposing India, or modernizing the military/airforce, or looking for increased U.S. investments or backing for more World Bank and IMF funds. I would think, over the past couple years, the anti-Bush sentiments around the world, and especially in Moslem countries, have killed Musharaf's standing. Plus, the fact that he has to walk a fine political line probably results in him taking various inconsistent positions on all these issues: how to be perceived as being autonomous and having a Pakistan-first position, while being linked to the U.S. on the fight against terrorism. He probably knows he'll be assasinated by someone on the inside, but only if Islamists can convince the military insiders that he's giving way too many b***jobs to Bush.

Still, you are right that Pakistanis have high confidence in their military in general. They may increasingly dislike Musharraf, but trust the military way more than any specific political party. I think Musharaf is probably seen as more and more a politician (therefore the increased mistrust) than a military commander bent on preserving Pakistan's ideals.

Oh, and hey, did you read the excellent article(s) in the last couple issues of the Atlantic Monthly on that Pakistani nuclear scientist (Khan) who sold the nuke secrets to Libya and Iran? Excellent reading. (My father used to work for the Pakistani Atomic Energy Commission in the '60s and '70s...was project director on the first couple nuclear reactors in Pakistan...little did he know they would end up helping Pakistan make a bomb...we left the country in '75).
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Old 02-20-2006, 04:37 PM   #10
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Originally posted by Judah
chowk.com
Ooo, thanks for this! I've never seen this one before, it looks great. Yes, Dawn is one of my favorites too.
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I think Musharaf is probably seen as more and more a politician (therefore the increased mistrust) than a military commander bent on preserving Pakistan's ideals.
That's a great point...I guess he doesn't have much choice if he wants to woo foreign investors and cut a good figure with Westerners, though, huh?

I have to laugh bleakly at the idea that either Pakistan or India looks to us to improve relations with each other...haven't they noticed that we don't have an effing clue yet? I guess to the extent that we mean $$ ...sigh. As a South Asianist I'm biased, granted, and I *am* delighted to see the Administration encouraging more study of China and the Middle East...but...hello? 1.4+ billion people, nuclearized borders, internal tensions galore...and still it's considered more or less an extravagance at most universities to have any South Asianists on staff. I cringe with embarrassment at how clueless our politicians sound when they talk Indian or Pakistani politics in the media. I think I will remember forever watching Colin Powell stumblingly explain to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a few years back why we were going to "take no position" on the "purely internal affairs" over in Gujarat...ugh. I actually had to turn it off, not just because I was aghast at the stance, but because it was so pitifully obvious that no one in the room really understood, or much cared to, what was happening. Oh well, at least Advani's not the man on the other side of the negotiations table anymore...not that he would have considered his counterparts much better I suppose.
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Oh, and hey, did you read the excellent article(s) in the last couple issues of the Atlantic Monthly on that Pakistani nuclear scientist (Khan) who sold the nuke secrets to Libya and Iran? Excellent reading.
It's on my desk, I swear! One of these evenings, I'm gonna bite the bullet, switch off the blue crack and read that instead...
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