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    South Asia
     Jan 12, 2006
US turns against Musharraf
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999 and, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, still in effect rules as a military dictator.

Musharraf's firm grip on the affairs of state has until now served Washington's interests well, as he has been able to steer the country into the US camp as an ally in the "war on terror".

However, with the Taliban nowhere near defeated in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda still unbroken (the two major reasons that the US solicited Pakistan's assistance in the first place), the US is looking at its allies in Islamabad in a new light:

Musharraf may be more the problem than the solution.

An indication of how things have slipped in the region is news that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has openly called for a truce with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. This was not how events were supposed to play out.

According to sources close to the power corridors in Washington who spoke to Asia Times Online, the administration of US President George W Bush is now convinced that a weaker Pakistani army is as necessary now as a powerful one was when Islamabad did a U-turn on its support for the Taliban soon after September 11, 2001.

This realization has taken root over the past few months, and developments since last November have been enough to set alarm bells ringing among the military leadership of Pakistan.

Goings-on in Balochistan
Rebellious tribesmen in the restive but resource-rich province of Balochistan have for decades challenged the writ of the central government in Islamabad. The Baloch insurgents have traditionally received weapons via Kandahar in Afghanistan, and via sea smuggling routes.

The Pakistani army has engaged in a number of operations in Balochistan over the years, and the most recent is continuing. The involvement of the military is highly unpopular not only among Balochis, but also among many segments of Pakistani society.

What is new in Balochistan, and which is causing concern in Islamabad, is the emergence of two sons of insurgent tribal chief Nawab Khair Bux Muri as organizers of a strong financial network to fund the insurgency.

"The whole operation of financing the Baloch insurgency is directed from Qatar, although this is a very unlikely place. One of the sons of Khair Bux Muri - Gazn Muri - has been shuttling between Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and is the main financial link between the insurgents in Balochistan, where command is in the hands of a brother, Balaach Muri," a top Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online.

"The real question, though, is not the transmission of money, but from where Gazn Muri is getting this kind of huge money. The answer lies in the activities of another brother, Harbayar Muri, who is based in London."

Although the official would not spell it out in as many words, he was questioning how Harbayar Muri could raise funds in Britain, where there is a negligible Balochi expatriate community. It was a clear hint at the involvement of Western intelligence agencies, which have strong centers of operations in Qatar-UAE and London.

Political maneuvering
The US is also making some backroom political moves in relation to Pakistan's interests in the region.

According to a contact who spoke to Asia Times Online, a person close to the US Central Intelligence Agency paid a low-profile visit to New Delhi in the third week of December and briefed strategic planners on Washington's plan to try to curtail the role of the Pakistani army, while at the same time renewing support for democratic forces in Pakistan.

India's cold shoulder on the diplomatic front toward Pakistan and a policy statement against the military operation in Balochistan was an immediate outcome. Islamabad promptly responded by accusing India of meddling in Balochistan, charges that Delhi strenuously denied.

The same person then visited Islamabad and held high-level meetings with political personalities. On his return to the US he stopped over in Dubai in the UAE and held detailed meetings with former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto, who lives there.

A sudden upsurge in the activities in Pakistan of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy - which Bhutto supports - followed.

Musharraf's mystique
The US first made contact with Musharraf in a meaningful way when he was still Corps Commander Mangla and he approached the Americans through a Pakistani mediator. Musharraf had no particular request, but the move was seen as "unusual and meaningful".

The US concluded first that he was ambitious and only wanted power, and that he had a flawed, "split" vision.

US officials noted that to build a constituency in the Pakistani Army, Musharraf embraced the Kashmir issue and enthusiastically supported the liberation movement there.

Last year's earthquake in Kashmir, in which the extensive jihadi influence in Pakistan-administered Kashmir was made clear (they played a significant part in relief operations), convinced the Americans that the Pakistani army would never back out from its strategic activities in Kashmir through supporting the armed struggle in the Indian-administered part of the Valley.

Musharraf, who derives much of his legitimacy from the army, simply cannot afford to abandon this cause. The militancy will continue.

In this regard, the US noted the ill-fated Pakistani army venture into Kargil in Kashmir in 1999, which was conceived by Musharraf shortly before he took power. Pakistan believed that India would respond to the aggression by going to the peace table, but instead it launched its troops in a full-out assault, quite ready to go to all-out war. Pakistan pulled back its troops from the ill-conceived operation.

On the domestic front, the Musharraf administration in essence facilitated the formation of the the six-party alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which made impressive political gains in the general elections of 2002.

The aim was to scare the Americans by pointing to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in order to garner US support for Musharraf's uniform.

Similarly, the sweeping defeat of the MMA in local elections late last year amid widespread claims of fraud was to show the Americans that Musharraf had the ability to outwit fundamentalism. In this game, Musharraf's split vision does not allow him to visualize what kind of a message he is really passing on to Washington.

According to Asia Times Online information, Washington has now decided that the best outcome would be for a new man to replace Musharraf, 64, as chief of army staff, and at the same time to encourage liberal democratic forces to take over parliament.

As for Musharraf, the ideal way out for him is to become a civilian constitutional head of the country.

Syed Saleem Shahzadis Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com 

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)

Pakistan comes out fighting
(Dec 21, '05)

Taken for a ride in the 'war on terror'
(Dec 9, '05)

Pulling strings in Pakistan
(Dec 1, '05)


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