Machiavellian Musharraf leaves British troops in the lurch

Sun 1 Oct 2006

Machiavellian Musharraf leaves British troops in the lurch


IN THE Line of Fire: that is the title President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has given his memoirs, which he is currently promoting, and its aptness is beyond dispute. Few political leaders today find themselves beleaguered by so many different factions and issues, the potentially tedious routine of government punctuated by serial assassination attempts.

He is a difficult subject to interpret. He has at various times been a declared supporter of the Taliban, a committed enthusiast for the war on terror, a militarist, a peacemaker, a defender of liberty and a dictator. If that sounds an incoherent career, just look at the chaotic situation in which he operates and much of it becomes self-explanatory.

Like all military rulers, Musharraf has, first and foremost, to placate the armed forces on which his power depends. He has also had to make (unkept) promises to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of Muslim, pro-Taliban parties. Then, in the broader perspective, he needs to keep the United States and its allies happy, playing the role of a zealous warrior against terror and jihad. It is a challenge at which an Italian Renaissance prince of the Machiavelli school might have balked.

Musharraf's background equips him for this chameleon career. He has good western cultural credentials, educated at St Patrick's High School, Karachi, which does not sound like a madrassah, and with a brother a Rhodes scholar. At the end of his military training his classmates rated him in their student yearbook: "Quite a guy to be with, especially when in a fix." Musharraf has seldom been out of a fix in recent years; but, as his contemporaries predicted, he has shown an extraordinary aptitude for coping.

Since he seized power in the coup d'état of October 12, 1999, Musharraf has executed a dramatic U-turn, away from the Taliban, which his government formerly cultivated, to support the United States after September 11, 2001. The turning point came in a keynote speech in January 2002, denouncing terrorism. Yet relations between the West and Pakistan are far from satisfactory. Some responsibility lies with western narcissism - our inability to see other people's problems and priorities.

In the first place, Musharraf is more interested in Kashmir than in Afghanistan. It is Kashmir that chronically threatens war with India. Then there is the question of Musharraf's status as a dictator, albeit with a post-facto fig-leaf of electoral endorsement. Western griping about restoring democracy is kamikaze behaviour, like Jimmy Carter's grandstanding destabilisation of the Shah in Iran, with consequences we are enduring to this day. If Musharraf goes, he could be succeeded by Islamic hardliners and, let us recall, Pakistan is a nuclear power. This is surely a case of "Hold very tightly on to Nurse...".

The Pakistani president's visits to Washington and London last week were a setback to co-operation rather than a consolidation of relations. The first distraction was his hyping of his memoirs, which confirmed what American intelligence analysts must already have known, but not the general public, about Pakistan's role in facilitating North Korea's nuclear programme.

Musharraf has revealed he believes the technology exported to North Korea by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the maverick Pakistani nuclear engineer, included the P-2 centrifuge which would enable the régime of Kim Jong-Il to enrich more uranium at a faster rate than the more primitive first-generation P-1 centrifuge that was assumed to have been supplied. That puts further pressure on Washington in its confrontation with Pyongyang.

When Musharraf moved on to Britain, his visit was overshadowed by the row over a leaked document from an agency sponsored by the Ministry of Defence, which alleged that Pakistan's intelligence service, at least indirectly, "has been supporting terrorism and extremism, whether in London on 7/7 or in Afghanistan or Iraq". Musharraf was reportedly furious at this claim and the British government duly grovelled.

Musharraf's outrage should impress no one. How does he know whether the analysis is accurate or not? Dictators notoriously do not know what their labyrinthine intelligence apparatuses are doing (cf Stalin/Beria, Hitler/Canaris). Only in early 2002 did Pakistan even nominally detach itself from its Islamist allies. Is it credible that there would not be significant pockets of sympathisers with the Taliban and al-Qaeda remaining within its intelligence agencies?

The real damage done by this leaked document was to put Britain on the defensive during the president's visit, when our priority should have been to ask him, in the most uncompromising manner, what exactly he thinks he is playing at in Waziristan.

Earlier this month he signed a peace accord, supposedly with the Utmanzai tribesmen of the North Waziristan Agency, bordering on Afghanistan, but in reality with the Taliban. The Pakistani army has had more than 500 troops killed in fighting with the Taliban and this treaty was an acknowledgement of defeat.

Pakistani troops are withdrawing; 165 militants have been released; foreign fighters are permitted to remain in Waziristan, on the flimsy pretence they will refrain from incursions into Afghanistan; and attacks on allied forces inside Afghanistan have increased threefold since this de facto surrender. Some of those troops are British - committed to a lost cause and much more endangered due to Musharraf's deal. The Taliban and al-Qaeda now effectively have an independent client state from which to operate: welcome to Talibanistan.

President Musharraf needs to be told he is a valued ally, so long as he pulls his weight, within reason and taking account of the domestic difficulties he faces; but to increase significantly the pressure on our forces, in order to return his own troops to barracks, is a capitulation too far.
Gerald Warner is right to be concerned about Pakistan.

The initial impact of Pakistan’s capitulation to the Taliban in Waziristan has indeed increased the number of attacks in Afghanistan and this at some point or the other will adversely impact British forces there :

Afghan attacks up threefold since Pakistani truce with tribesmen, USA says

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