The Pakistanis are angry.
Washington Times in it’s May 6 issue has a cartoon which shows a US soldier patting a dog that holds Abu Faraj al-Libbi, and saying: “Good boy…. Now let’s go find Bin Laden.”
Normally as a true-blue Indian, I should be pleased at this negative portrayal of Pakistan. But I am not. I am not pleased because the US media (of which the crazy right-wing WT is acceptedly not a representative) is wholly misunderstanding the role of Pakistan in the War of Terror. It is , by no means, the dog at the end of the leash. It is the puppetmaster on whose strings USA and the Islamic terrorists are dancing—-a country for whom the War on Terror is a financial bonanza. No matter which side wins.
General Musharaff is a smart man. So smart I dare to say he may well be the greatest politician on the planet. And unlike our desi politicians who use their intelligence to lace their pockets, the General is a true patriot. At Agra, he used the Indian press against itself—launching a diplomatic broadside that caught the incompetent Indian foreign honchos offguard.
Musharraf is the master of the win-win situation. He carried on a proxy war against India behind the back of the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif—if Kargil had succeeded he would have been a national hero. It failed. Even then the General emerged the victor by pinning the blame of the entire debacle on Nawaz Sharif and undermining his authority. A master of opinion manipulation, he presented himself as the hero of Kargil who could have won Kashmir back to Pakistan had it not been for the weakling Nawaz Sharif. Buoyed by popular support, he got rid of the Sharif government and got himself anointed as the President of Pakistan.
It is no secret that the Taliban was the brainchild of the Pakistani army and the ISI. It was started to establish Pakistani power in Afghanistan and in the process, control the drug smuggling routes which are the primary cash cows for the establishment there. The man who was the prime facilitator for this initiative was Pervez Musharaff as the Army Chief. However the international fallout of Pakistan’s support to the Taliban fell at Nawaz Sharif’s door (the cold shoulder from Bill Clinton on his subcontinental visit) while the General collected brownie points among Pakistanis for his support for a popular, extremist Islamic movement.
911 came. Under any other leader, Pakistan would have been royally screwed. The US wanted blood—-and the Taliban would be first on the list. Logic dictated that after dealing with the Taliban, US would go after the people who armed and trained them . Pakistan were in harm’s way. In addition, Musharaff’s old pals in the Army, his co-conspirators ,wanted Pakistan to take a hard stance against the US because the support on the streets was for the Taliban.
But the General was made of different stuff. He knew of one thing present in the US justice system that would get Pakistan off the hot seat.
Cut a deal with the prosecution and turn in your pals.
He sold the USA the spin of all spins. That he was the only one who stood between USA and total Islamic anarchy. A nuclear (or newkiller) device in the hands of the Mullahs—-if there is one image that scares the US (and indeed much of the free world) it is this.
So the General agreed to turn on his cronies—the Taliban and stand beside the US as a front-line ally in the war on terror. It would be an understatement to say that the decision to side with the US against the Taliban was unpopular in Pakistan. Musharraf’s old friends in the Army and the ISI were pissed off—-many of them were planning to revolt against their ex-confidante. They played right into his hands.
Musharaff said to Bush—“Look here if we had real democracy in Pakistan, then the people will vote the radical elements back to power and you will have no chance of ever dismantling the Al Qaeda and Taliban. On the other hand, if you support my tinpot dictatorship I shall do my best to bring these people to justice. And oh just forget the fact that a week before I was speaking in their support for the international acceptance of Taliban dominion over Afghanistan. ”
The US like people who walk the talk. Musharaff needed to portray himself as an enlightened liberal Islamist who wanted to modernize Pakistan. He also needed to get rid of his pesky friends who were turning against him. He killed both birds with one stone by restructuring the Army/ISI administration and in the process squeezing out his old pals as well as convincing the US that he meant business.
Applause brought money. Tons of it. Billions of dollars in aid and sophisticated military equipment poured in from US to help Pakistan in the “war of terror”. A nation that had come this close to being branded a “state sponsor of terrorism” a few years ago was now no longer a pariah.
A succession of democratic governments could not secure the sale of F-16s to Pakistan—-the General did it with consummate ease. North Korea, because of its policy of nuclear proliferation found itself on the Axis of Evil. Pakistan basically doing the same thing were proud crusaders in the “Coalition of the Willing.” The only difference between the two was that North Korea did not have Musharaff. In a master stroke, he made AQ Khan the “fall guy” for the Pakistani establishment’s long-standing nuclear proliferation activities and followed it with a little charade of guilt and redemption for the father of the Pakistani bomb. Magically, all Pakistan’s past sins were expiated as only a dip in the Ganga can do.
Within a year, the collapsing Pakistan economy was flush with US cash flow, Pakistan’s military was getting modernized at US cost and the international community was turning a blind eye to the eye wash elections in Pakistan. Musharaff was firmly in control.
When India’s parliament was attacked by Pakistan-backed militants in December 2002, India wanted to strike back. However at Musharaff’s insistence, US armtwisted India not to do anything in retaliation as otherwise “the war on terror” would be compromised. It was a humiliating climb down for India and sweet revenge for the General for Kargil when India had diplomatically outmanuovered Pakistan.
There was another thing that the General knew. That the name of the game was to be seen doing something good. A number of mysterious assassination attempts took place on the General—each unsuccessful, each of them conveying to the US that the General was “really” doing something to worry the Taliban/Al Qaeda. Cheques continued to get written.
Once in a while however, the General does need to produce big fish. Someone moderately important so that the US thinks they have someone substantial and not so important that it compromises the terror network. If the General dismantles the terrorists too quickly, the bucks will stop rolling in—-as a result it is in Pakistan’s best interests to prolong the hunt as much as possible. In addition popular opinion would turn on him if he actually handed over someone substantial to the US not to speak of the fact that the Afghani madmen who are his real butchers in Kashmir would not be complaisant any longer.
The capture of al-Libbi should be seen in this context. It is not the US in control here but the crafty General who is playing the game his way. And winning big.
In “Usual Suspects” Kevin Spacey says:” The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince people he did not exist.”
Similarly Musharaff’s greatest trick is to make the US believe that they have him by the dog collar.
I wish we had a politician and a patriot like the General on our side.