After years of observing the deft General Musharraf, I must admit a sneaking feeling of admiration for the way he has navigated the minefields of, to mix metaphors wildly, dancing with three elephants: Saudi Arabia, the United States, and China. He is simply peerless in his ability to put on diplomatic theater, and he has an unerring instinct for how to induce the willing suspension of disbelief that is the centrepiece of all theatre.
Musharraf has assiduously cultivated the fiction that he is Louis XIV of France, who said in all seriousness, 'After me, the deluge'. That is, the story goes, if Musharraf were to be toppled, horrors, a Mohammedan fundamentalist terrorist would control Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Terrifying prospect indeed, except a strong case could be made that this is precisely the case already today.
What Musharraf has done so well is the following:
- Convince the Americans that he is their best and only hope
- Nevertheless, do nothing to capture the Al Qaeda leaders living in Pakistan
- Do whatever possible to help the Taliban in Afghanistan
- Turn a blind eye to, if not actively encourage, the antics of fundamentalists
- Periodically, when American pressure to do something gets to be too high, produce a low-level, low-value Al Qaeda person as a display object
- Periodically stage an 'assassination attempt' on himself
This has paid handsome dividends, indeed. For reasons best known to themselves, the Americans have played along in this charade, and have lavished goodies to the tune of several billion on Musharraf and the Inter-Services Intelligence, the spy agency that has been the recipient of American largesse for a very long time. The ISI is practically synonymous with the Taliban, which the casual observer finds hard to reconcile with declared American goals.
During the rout of the Taliban a few years ago, almost its entire leadership was trapped by Northern Alliance forces in the Afghan fortress of Kunduz. Bowing to Pakistani pressure, the Americans allowed them to airlift a large number of these people. I wrote about this baffling act then in my column 'What happened in Kunduz'?
The conclusion then was that all these 'Taliban' in Kunduz were in fact Pakistani army regulars, including senior brass, who had exchanged their khakhis for loose baggy pants and beards: no 'madrassa students', these. A small clue: It is hard to believe that 'madrassa students' would suddenly be driving tanks and flying fighter jets.
Whatever possessed the Americans to let these dangerous people go? It was a desire to protect some 'assets' in Pakistan, one could postulate. What might these 'assets' be? Experts have conjectured that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal might be under de facto American control, and that is a plausible scenario. It is not clear that there are any other 'assets' worth protecting in Pakistan: surely Musharraf himself is not worth that much.
There was another incident that has just come to light that shows the astonishing American penchant for doing things that are not evidently in their interest, but that would help Musharraf. The neutral observer cannot help wondering what hold Musharraf has over the Pentagon and the State Department. The International Herald Tribune had a report on July 7, 2007 titled 'US aborted raid on Qaeda chiefs in Pakistan in 2005.'
Startlingly, the Americans let senior Al Qaeda people go, when they had a chance to neutralise some of them, including possible Number 2, Ayman Al-Zawahri. The reason: to avoid embarrassing the Pakistani government! I quote: '[Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] was also concerned that it could cause a rift with Pakistan, an often reluctant ally that has barred the American military from operating in its tribal areas, the officials said.' This is absolutely amazing -- does tenderness for Pakistan dictate US policy, or does the pursuit of American interests?
The most recent incident involving Musharraf's make-believe is the current standoff at a terrorist stronghold in Islamabad. The same, mythical 'madrassa students' (aka armed terrorists) have made a comeback in Islamabad's Lal Masjid incident, which is the core of the current Act IX, Scene 23 in Musharraf's screenplay. After having winked at their antics for quite some time, Musharraf has now made an elaborate play of disarming them.
The reaction in the Atlanticist media has been ecstatic. The BBC is delighted that 'Mosque raid boosts Musharraf image' and The Economist believes it is an 'effort to show the country's moderate credentials' and waxes eloquent about 'General Musharraf's image as a bastion of 'enlightened moderation' in Islam.' This desire to polish Musharraf's image is very touching.
Steve Jobs of Apple has a reputation in certain circles that he is the possessor of a 'reality-distortion field' and that anyone who comes within five feet of him falls prey to its influence. Thereafter they believe in all sorts of fantasies. Musharraf clearly has the same effect: just ask the Indian editors who were practically eating out of his hand after his strutting and posing at the Agra summit a few years ago.
In addition, there is the conveniently-trotted-out 'assassination attempt'. Those who keep track of these will note that there is always one when there is pressure on Musharraf. Furthermore, the would-be assassins are always incompetent, for instance setting off a bomb after Musharraf's cavalcade has just passed by. A light anti-aircraft-gun 'fired upon Musharraf's plane' but of course our hero escaped, no doubt by the grace of God.
There is a good question as to why, after tolerating the ISI-linked Lal Masjid's antics for quite some time, Musharraf actually moved against them now. There are elaborate explanations attempted by the media, but the simple fact is: the Chinese ordered him to. And when the Chinese say jump, Musharraf, without demur, asks 'How high?'
There is clearly an 'understanding' between the Chinese and Musharraf/the ISI (which, for all practical purposes, are the same). The Chinese will give Musharraf military, economic and diplomatic help, and in return, Musharraf will keep the lid on Mohammedan insurgency in China's restive Xinjiang.
Why are there no Mohammedan terrorist incidents in China despite the brutal oppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang? China executed, in 2006, for instance, three times the number of people as the rest of the world put together. Most of these were Uighurs and Tibetans. Yet, there is no trouble in Xinjiang. This is because of the 'special relationship' between Pakistan and China much like that between the UK and the US: one is a client and the other is a sponsor.
China is Pakistan's principal patron, and the US needs to understand this clearly. The US tends to treat Pakistan as the 'international condom': use and then discard. But China is the 'all-weather friend', and in effect Pakistan is a Chinese colony. There are also thousands of Chinese living in Pakistan. The burqa-clad and stave-wielding woman warriors of the Lal Masjid kidnapped five Chinese women accusing them of prostitution. This led to a Chinese demarche to Musharraf, which he accepted with alacrity.
Pakistanis clearly understand that Musharraf/ISI are clients of China: hence, as revenge for the Lal Masjid siege, terrorists shot dead three other Chinese elsewhere.
Look at the difference: when the Americans get upset, Musharraf 'arrests' a low-level flunkey in their trove of terrorists, just to appease them. Then it's back to business as usual which means quietly supporting the Al Qaeda and Taliban. But when the Chinese get upset, Musharraf swings into action. He is obviously singing for his supper, knowing where his bread is buttered.
The Americans are being hoodwinked by the ever-resilient Musharraf, who has the legendary nine lives of a feline. Pakistan is the centre of Mohammedan terrorism in the world, and it is a Chinese proxy. It is high time that the Americans internalised the idea that the true axis of evil is China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.The alternative is that the Americans can continue to be duped by General Musharraf's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Theater of the Absurd. Or pretend to be duped.
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