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FREELY The plan to topple Pakistan's
military By Ahmed Quraishi
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times
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ISLAMABAD - On the
evening of September 26, 2006, Pakistani strongman
Pervez Musharraf walked into the studio of Comedy
Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the
first sitting president
anywhere to dare do this
political satire show.
Stewart offered his
guest some tea and cookies and played the perfect
host by asking, "Is it good?" before springing a
surprise: "Where's Osama bin Laden?"
don't know," Musharraf replied, as the audience
enjoyed the rare sight of a strong leader
apparently cornered. "You know where he is?"
Musharraf snapped back, "You lead on, we'll follow
What General Musharraf didn't know
then is that he really was being cornered. Some of
the smiles that greeted him in Washington and back
home gave no hint of the betrayal that awaited
As he completed the remaining part of
his US visit, his allies in Washington and
elsewhere, as all evidence suggests now, were
plotting his downfall. They had decided to take a
page from the book of successful "color
revolutions" where Western governments covertly
used money, private media, student unions, NGOs
and international pressure to stage coups,
basically overthrowing individuals not fitting
well with Washington's agenda.
proved its success in former Yugoslavia, and more
recently in Georgia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
In Pakistan, the target is a president who
refuses to play ball with the US on Afghanistan,
China and Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.
To get rid
of him, an impressive operation is underway:
A carefully crafted media blitzkrieg launched
early this year assailing the Pakistani president
from all sides, questioning his power, his role in
Washington's "war on terror" and predicting his
Money pumped into the country to pay for
Willing activists assigned to mobilize and
organize accessible social groups.
A campaign waged on the Internet where tens of
mailing lists and "news agencies" have sprung up
from nowhere, all demonizing Musharraf and the
European- and American-funded Pakistani NGOs
taking a temporary leave from their real work to
serve as a makeshift anti-government mobilization
US government agencies directly funding some
private Pakistani television networks; the
channels go into an open anti-government mode,
cashing in on some manufactured and other real
public grievances regarding inflation and
Some of Musharraf's shady and
corrupt political allies feed this campaign,
hoping to stay in power under a weakened
All this groundwork completed
and chips were in place when the judicial crisis
broke out in March. Even Pakistani politicians
were surprised at a well-greased and
well-organized lawyers' campaign, complete with
flyers, rented cars and buses, excellent
event-management and media outreach.
Currently, students are being recruited
and organized into a street movement. The work is
ongoing and urban Pakistani students are being
cultivated, especially using popular Internet Web
sites and "online hangouts". The people behind
this effort are mostly unknown and faceless,
limiting themselves to organizing sporadic, small
student gatherings in Lahore and Islamabad,
complete with banners, placards and little babies
with arm bands for maximum media effect. No major
student association has announced yet that it is
behind these student protests, which is a very
interesting fact glossed over by most journalists
covering the story.
Only a few students
from affluent schools have responded so far, and
it's not because the Pakistani government's
countermeasures are effective. They're not. The
reason is that social activism attracts people
from affluent backgrounds, closely reflecting a
uniquely Pakistani phenomenon where local
non-governmental organizations are mostly founded
and run by rich, Westernized Pakistanis.
All of this may appear to be
spur-of-the-moment and Musharraf-specific. But it
all really began almost three years ago, when, out
of the blue and recycling old political arguments,
Akbar Bugti launched an armed rebellion against
the Pakistani state, surprising security analysts
by using rockets and other military equipment that
shouldn't normally be available to a smalltime
village thug. Since then, Islamabad has sat on a
pile of evidence that links Bugti's campaign to
money and ammunition and logistical support from
Afghanistan, directly aided by the Karzai
administration and India, with the US turning a
For reasons not clear to our
analysts yet, Islamabad has kept quiet on
Washington's involvement with anti-Pakistan
elements in Afghanistan. But Pakistan did send an
indirect public message to America recently.
"We have indications of Indian involvement
with anti-state elements in Pakistan," declared
the spokesman of the Pakistan Foreign Office in a
regular briefing in October. The statement was
terse and direct, and the spokesman, Tasnim Aslam,
quickly moved on to other issues.
how a Pakistani official explained Aslam's
statement: "What she was really saying is this: We
know what the Indians are doing. They've sold the
Americans on the idea that [the Indians] are an
authority on Pakistan and can be helpful in
Afghanistan. The Americans have bought the idea
and are in on the plan, giving the Indians a free
hand in Afghanistan. What the Americans don't know
is that we, too, know the Indians very well.
Better still, we know Afghanistan very well. You
can't beat us at our own game."
armed rebellion coincided with the Gwadar project
entering its final stages. No coincidence here.
Bugti's real job was to scare the Chinese away and
scuttle Chinese President Hu Jintao's planned
visit to Gwadar a few months later to formally
launch the port city.
Gwadar is the
pinnacle of Sino-Pakistani strategic cooperation.
It's a modern city that is supposed to link
Pakistan, Central Asia, western China with markets
in Mideast and Africa. It's supposed to have roads
stretching all the way to China. It's no
coincidence that that country has also earmarked
millions of dollars to renovate the Karakoram
Highway linking northern Pakistan to western
Some reports in the US media,
however, have accused Pakistan and China of
building a naval base in the guise of a commercial
seaport directly overlooking international
oil-shipping lanes. The Indians and some other
regional actors are also not comfortable with this
project because they see it as commercial
What Bugti's regional and
international supporters never expected is
Pakistan moving firmly and strongly to nip his
rebellion in the bud. Even Bugti himself probably
never expected the Pakistani state to react in the
way it did to his betrayal of the homeland. He was
killed in a military operation where scores of his
mercenaries surrendered to Pakistan army soldiers.
United States intelligence and their
Indian advisors could not cultivate an immediate
replacement for Bugti. So they moved to Plan B.
They supported Abdullah Mehsud, a Pakistani
Taliban fighter held for five years in Guantanamo
Bay, and then handed him over back to the Afghan
government, only to return to his homeland,
Pakistan, to kidnap two Chinese engineers working
in Balochistan, one of whom was eventually killed
during a rescue operation by the Pakistani
Islamabad could not tolerate
this shadowy figure, who was creating a following
among ordinary Pakistanis masquerading as a
Taliban while in reality towing a vague agenda. He
was eliminated earlier this year by Pakistani
security forces while secretly returning from
Afghanistan after meeting his handlers there.
Again, no surprises here.
rat This is where Pakistani political and
military officials finally started smelling a rat.
All of this was an indication of a bigger problem.
There were growing indications that, ever since