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Pakistan Looking at Return to Democracy : Islamists planning to capture power by using Democracy as a tool like Hamas did in Gaza

Reader comment on item: Red Mosque in Rebellion

Submitted by BR (India), Aug 27, 2007 at 09:00

The Pakistan Supreme Court's verdict on August 23 allowing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shabaz Sharif to return to Pakistan was not unexpected. Though the Supreme Court decision was widely expected, to Musharraf's opponents it was a message that the Pakistani army, his main pillar of strength, was no longer willing to entertain his rule unquestioningly. This is the first time under military rule in Pakistan that the legal fraternity demonstrated spine.

Nawaz Sharif's home coming has some important implications. Importantly, it involves Islamabad's close friend Saudi Arabia on which it depends at times of financial and fuel crisis. The Saudi government has a $ one billion deposit in Pakistan's Central Bank which is rolled over almost in perpetuity. This helped Pakistan tide over import crunch.

The Saudi Arabia government stood a kind of surety for Nawaz Sharif's ten years exile from Pakistan in the year 2000 against his release from jail. Following Gen. Musharraf's bloodless coup in 1999 removing Sharif from Prime Ministership and sentencing him to life imprisonment for corruption, the Saudi came to the aid of their old friend.

The Saudi King is known for his commitment to his personal friends and stands by them. Another such friend is former Bangladesh President H.M. Ershad. Ershad has an open house in Saudi Arabia whenever he wishes to go there and also, reportedly, helped financially at times of personal crisis.

The tripartite agreement between the Pakistan government (read Musharraf), the Saudi authorities and Nawaz Sharif is not known in any detail. The Pakistan Attorney General was not able to furnish the original agreement to the Supreme Court. Nawaz claims he had no agreement with Musharraf or the ‘illegal Pakistan government' of President Musharraf. The Saudis are keeping quiet for the moment.

When the agreement was signed, reports coming out of Pakistan alleged that Nawaz Sharif would not be allowed to engage in politics, and would have to remain in Saudi Arabia. The Sharif brothers maintained a low profile for some time. Gradually, they began to stir, and then move. Now, they have taken the fight to Musharraf.

The Saudis, obviously, did not oppose either Sharif's international travels or prevent his political activities. Of course, most of his political activities were conducted in London. Riyadh did not want the Saudi soil be used in Pakistan's politics.

The Saudi position appears more than strictly neutral. Suspicion of a Saudi bias towards Musharraf must be kept in calculation. But the Saudis are shrewed enough that they are not pulled into the turbulent Pakistani politics.

Pakistan is very important for Saudi Arabia as a member of the Islamic world. In fact, it is a star with a powerful defence force and nuclear weapons. Saudi financial assistance has gone into the Pakistani ‘Islamic bomb' budget. At the same time, it is in Saudi Arabia's interest, especially after ‘9/11', that the country does not implode politically. Notwithstanding the fact that Saudi NGOs have for long spread the Wahabi movement abroad, and such financed used for procurement of arms, the bottom line is that such movements must be prevented from coming to Saudi Arabia. It has been happening periodically.

Musharraf has acted like the circus clown keeping all the balls in the air. But he went a step forward trying to pull the rabbit out of the hat at the same time and also swing from the trapeze. The multiple acts kept the USA and the west enthralled for sometime. But some of the balls will fall, the rabbit will run, and the clown will slip in the ‘middle of a swing without a catching net.

It is unfortunate that the Americans have failed to understand the subtle intricacies of the old civilizations of the Middle East, South Asia or China. In mid 1999, Washington warned the Pak military against a coup. But when Gen. Musharraf executed the coup later in the year, they decided to go with it.

Pakistan under Musharraf, with help from some of their friends in the USA were able to convince US policy makers, that the General was the only person standing between a moderate Pakistan and an Islamic radical take over of a country now nuclear armed. This was a cause of serious concern and Washington psyched itself into believing whatever Musharraf said.

There was a larger priority for the USA – Ossma Bin Laden. The US agencies, the State Department and the White House knew about the Musharraf government connection with the Taliban and its leader Mullah Omar, who accorded Osama and his Al Qaeda sanctuary. It was hoped that they could use Musharraf to force, cajole or bribe Mullah Omar to hand over Osama to the USA and, in return, earn US diplomatic recognition of Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The USA exposed its lack of education of the region and its tribal culture – ‘you do not betray your friend to your enemy for money or your life'. Saddam Hussein was betrayed by those who envied him. They were not his friends.

Although Musharraf could not deliver Osama to the US, he did periodically deliver Al Qaeda leaders when the US pressure on him to act became really hot. Thus, Musharraf maintained his credibility as a deliverer.

The initial post – ‘9/11' position of Musharraf on the Al Qaeda and Taliban should have alerted the US to Musharraf the clown. Either they did not see or chose to ignore. The President threatened Pakistan to become a non-NATO ally against terrorism.

The Iraq war shifted US priority from Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. Al Qaeda, anti-American terrorism, and seeking Musharraf's accountability is beginning to become more vocal in the US Congress and mainstream media. Musharraf had denied only a couple of months ago that there was no Al Qaeda in Pakistan even in the northern tribal area. Now he says they are there and the Pak army will tackle them. He just cannot afford a US strike inside Pakistan against Al Qaeda. That will be his immediate demise.

While the main administration in the USA has not pulled back Musharraf's life line yet, he must understand that beyond a point the Americans get impatient. Hence, a US sponsored regime change in Pakistan is a reality, and Musharraf knows that.

What the USA is looking for in Pakistan is not very clear yet. But some indicators are unmistakable. It is well known that former Pakistani Prime Minister, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, on self-exile from her country, is backed by the USA. Her proposal to return and share power with Musharraf should be a headache for both Pakistan and the region. If Washington is promoting this line, it is making another mistake. This type of military-civilian coalition may work for a reasonable time. At the end of it, it will leave Pakistan politics in shambles.

Musharraf made two major mistakes this year. First was the Lal Masjid take over in January. He thought he would show it as an Islamic threat to the west and then take credit for resolving the problem. The plan went horribly wrong.

The other was trying to remove the Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Justice Iftekar Ahmed Choudhury, on very specious and concocted grounds. The action galvanised almost the entire legal community against Musharraf with Iftekar Choudhury leading from the front. Two questions arise here, the answer to which may clarify a lot of the present predicament of Musharraf:-

(a) From where did the legal community get so much strength to dare Musharraf and the Army, and then win, and

(b) Why did not the armed forces and the government more against the protesting legal fraternity with all the instruments of power they have?

From the early stage of his self-presented presidency along with his position as the Army Chief, Musharraf had strategised to get the Islamists and jehadis under his control. It was under his regime the Islamist political parties formed the Muqtahida Majlish-e-Aman (MMA) and increased their vote bank from two per cent to 11 per cent in the country's electorate. He forgot to take into calculations that the Islamists have their clear agenda, and the USA was certainly not their inspiration. Musharraf kept them engaged with his anti-terrorist fudging in the Washington and FATA area. Now, he is caught between the Islamists and the USA.

Pakistan and China have been close friends from the 1950s with anti-India strategic commonality, and China's bridge to the Islamic world. This relationship only grew stronger over the years and decades. The only blemish came first when the Muslim Uighur separatists of Chine started receiving Islamic indoctrination and arms training from radical Islamic terrorists in Pakistan who were backed by the ISI.

The Chinese were rather unhappy that they were misled by Pakistan on the Taliban and the Al Qaeda as peaceful religious parties and groups. It may seen strange that the Beijing leaders could be so misled. The truth is the Chinese had never studied Islam seriously, being too engaged with Marxism, Leninism.

Perhaps the worst experience for China was when some seven Chinese workers in Islamabad were abducted by the Lal Masjid Islamists last June. When the efforts of the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad could not get their people released, President Hu Jintao had to speak to President Musharraf over the hot line. Hot lines are not used by presidents of country over small issues. The incident only illustrated the importance the Chinese attached to the abductions. For the Chinese it was not an action of barbarity, but a growing terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan under Musharraf's circus acts. The largest number of foreign citizens killed in Pakistan over the last five years have been Chinese.

Till very recently, Beijing supported Musharraf. But it appears that view is changing. In China's readings the Pakistani army commanders would also like Musharraf to go or, at least, give up his uniform. In their reading, if Musharraf continues to play his game this way, the US forces were likely to act inside Pakistan. This is not acceptable to Beijing. The presence of US forces close to Chinese borders is considered a serious threat.

During his visit to Pakistan late last November, President Hu Jintao was expected to announce a new nuclear energy cooperation agreed to before the NSG cut-off time. The Pakistan media was most certain of this agreement. But this did not happen, alarming some sections in Pakistan. This was a very serious matter in bilateral relations.

China was a great supporter of Musharraf as it was of President Zia-ul-Haq. It began to cool off with Zia when he tried to take Pakistan too close to the USA. After Zia's death in an air accident the Chinese through their official media made its preference for a civilian government very clear.

Musharraf appears to have lost China's trust. But Beijing is unlikely to show its hands openly. A Benazir-Musharraff combine may not be China's preferred choice.

Some Pakistan analysts are writing off Nawaz Sharif. The PML has split. He may be taken into custody on his arrival in Pakistan. The USA is still not supporting him- given all this, one should not forget the change in this minds of the people.

The clown may drop a ball, pull the rabbit's tail, or fall from the trapeze. Logically, Musharraf has to come out with something new if he wants to survive.


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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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