US faces up to life without Musharraf
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Sixty-five-year-old Pervez Musharraf's biggest problem now is to
decide where to spend his retirement years; in Pakistan, which he has dominated
politically for nearly nine years, or in exile, far from the madding crowd he
would leave behind him.
For Musharraf's erstwhile supporters in Washington, the search has already
begun to find a replacement for the man who in 2001 dramatically reversed his
country's alignment to make it a key player in the "war on terror" and made
himself an indispensable component of the US's policies in the region.
That usefulness ran its course and, bowing to the inevitable, Musharraf on
Monday resigned as president: "I eventually decided
to quit without creating a fuss, in the supreme national interest." Indeed,
Musharraf had become a part of the problem, rather than the solution, and he
had to go: this was the clear message from the US and his political foes in
Pakistan, who had begun proceedings this week to have him impeached.
Musharraf seized power in
October 1999 in a bloodless coup, and ruled with
an iron fist through tumultuous years that saw
Pakistan first abandon its traditional Taliban
allies in Afghanistan, paving
the way for their ouster from
power in the US-led invasion of 2001, and then itself become a hotbed of
Taliban and al-Qaeda militancy in the tribal areas and beyond.
The seeds for Musharraf's demise were sown in March last year when he suspended
Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Chaudhry's defiance mobilized a
lawyers' movement to defend the judiciary and also emboldened Musharraf's
In November, Musharraf, as chief of army staff, imposed a state of emergency
and sacked the judiciary before the Supreme Court could rule on the legality of
his re-election as president.
He then shed his uniform, and under a Washington-brokered deal tried to put the
country back on a democratic path by holding general elections in February. His
party (Pakistan Muslim League - Qaid) was trounced, leading to the
establishment of a coalition government headed by the Pakistan People's Party
(PPP) of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan
Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by another former prime minister, Nawaz
"Musharraf had lost his
utility as a useful asset for the 'war on
terror'," retired general Hamid Gul, a security
analyst and former director general of Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), told Asia Times
"The Americans had been putting pressure on Islamabad since February for him to
get its act together against the Taliban and al-Qaeda and Pakistan's foreign
minister [Shah Mahmood Qureshi] and Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain
Haqqani, always told Washington that the government could not move forward
independently because of Musharraf," Gul said.
"Hence, Musharraf was politely told by Washington through various channels to
gracefully resign, but he remained defiant and ultimately Washington pulled its
support of him and the ruling coalition moved for his impeachment, which forced
him to resign," Gul said.
Pakistan's constitution does not provide for a vice president, rather, the
chairman of the upper house of parliament, the senate, currently Mohammad Mian
Somo, becomes caretaker president until a new one is chosen by an electoral
college, a process that could take up to three months.
Steadfast until a few days before his emotional resignation speech, Musharraf
was believed to be planning to dismiss the provincial assemblies and dissolve
parliament, something he was empowered to do under the constitution.
But Asia Times Online has learned that he was clearly informed by his former
subordinate and now army chief of staff, General Asfaq Parvez Kiani, that the
military would stay neutral and not intervene in the political process; that
is, Musharraf would be hung out to dry by his former constituency.
"The army will play the same role it played from 1996 to 1998," Gul said,
without elaborating. What he meant was that the military will maintain an
independent and strong policy on Afghanistan in which the political government
has no role or its role is restricted to giving political support to the
military's operational policies.
"The American role has always been paramount in Pakistan's politics. The late
General Zia ul-Haq was defiant of Washington's interests and he faced an
accidental death [in a mysterious plane accident in 1988]. Had Musharraf tried
to exercise [his constitutional powers to dissolve the assemblies], he would
also have been obstructing American interests in the region and would have
faced a Zia-like fate," said retired spy master Gul, who was in charge of the
ISI at the time of Haq's demise.
"Now the Americans will have to use the two remaining national assets for their
interests - the political parties and the army chief [Kiani]. Washington abhors
Nawaz Sharif, so they will distance themselves from him and focus on Asif
Zardari [the widower of Benazir Bhutto and head of the PPP].
"Zardari, because of corruption cases [that have been leveled against him] can
be easily manipulated and therefore he will act obediently on their advice,"
Gul maintained, adding that the crucial role is that of the army chief, so the
Americans will focus on him. "I suspect that Kiani is already part of their
Who's for president?
The jockeying for president has begun in earnest. Bilawal Zardari, the son of
Benazir Bhutto and PPP chairman, said in the southern port city of Karachi that
Musharraf's replacement should come from the PPP.
The PML-N counters that the person will be chosen through mutual consultation,
while independent observers say that Asfandyar Wali Khan, the chief of the
Awami National Party (ANP), which governs North-West Frontier Province, is the
man for the job.
If Musharraf's exit was a part of the American game, the US needs to make sure
that its third asset in the country, along with the political parties and the
military, is close to Washington.
Asfandyar fulfills this criterion. He is a grandson of "Frontier" Gandhi Khan
Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whose family has always been close to Delhi and Kabul and
he would be the best connection in helping shut down the war theater in
Afghanistan. As a Pashtun nationalist, he and his party are opposed to the
Asfandyar was a flagbearer of the red revolution in Afghanistan and Pakistan,
but he switched sides soon after September 11, 2001, after he visited the US
under an international visitors' leadership program.
In 2006, he was again invited to the US for talks on the US's anti-terrorism
policy and he visited Central Command headquarters for briefings. But the most
significant visit was in May this year, after the important February polls that
ushered in a civilian government, when Asfandyar spent time with officials at
Central Command in Tampa, Florida, as well as a week in Washington meeting top
State Department officials.
This is believed to have been in preparation for his new role in the Pashtun
lands that span Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Pashtun areas controlled by
the Taliban-led insurgency in these countries.
Gul comments, "Yes, he could be the one, but Asfandyar failed to uphold his
promised role to control militancy in the tribal areas without [resort to]
military operations. During the period his party [ANP] has governed North-West
Frontier Province, military operations have been conducted in Khyber Agency,
Bajaur [Agency] and South Waziristan.
"In my opinion, Nawab Attaullah Mengal, a Baloch politician, should be the
president of the country, given the recent mistreatments done in Balochistan
province in the name of military operations," Gul said.
A taste of things to come
The few weeks before Musharraf's exit witnessed a major military operation in
Bajaur Agency on the border with Afghanistan's Kunar province to root out
al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Such operations are not new in the troubled tribal areas, but this one was
characterized by heavy aerial bombardment, eventually forcing the Taliban to
pull back. They had targeted the agency to disrupt the flow of supplies into
Afghanistan to support the Western coalition there.
"There was no reason to use such brute force in a tribal area like Bajaur,"
said Gul. Compared to North and South Waziristan, where militancy is
deep-rooted, the terrain is much more hospitable in Bajaur.
"The only reason for such military action was to destroy the Taliban's
approaches to Kunar, where American forces are all-out to get the Taliban.
Kunar province lies in the northeast [and connects to Kabul]. Previously, the
Taliban were focused only on southeastern provinces," Gul said.
"This is the role Washington wants the Pakistani army to play. The cost is paid
by Pakistanis and 250,000 people were displaced during the Bajaur operation,"
Gul added, pointing to the fact that in terms of security issues, especially
those relating to Afghanistan, Pakistan is still joined at the hip with the US,
for which it has since 2001 received over US$10 billion in aid and military
As Musharraf heads in the next few days to Saudi Arabia to perform umra (pilgrimage),
and a possible life in exile - he is, after all, a prime al-Qaeda target - he
can only contemplate whether his successor will be any better in balancing
these US needs with Pakistan's own interests.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]