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Musharraf’s Star Turn

November 2006
Musharraf’s Star Turn

Has the Pakistani dictator hoodwinked India and America?

Yes, the "peace process" is bunkum


I was impressed by the bravura performance: Gen. Musharraf deserves an Oscar. The gushing interviews, the uniform and the salutes, the preening: this was classic caudillo-as-thespian. Musharraf has become America's favorite dictator du jour, a position, it is useful to remember, once held by Manuel Noriega of Panama and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

The performance was meant to sell a few copies of Musharraf's new autobiography. It's not money, though, since he has socked away billions (just from his nuclear Wal-mart); it is fame that the dictator is after. And he ordered up a nice little "Osama is dead" rumor right on schedule to get the juices flowing.

Musharraf is living proof of the old bromide about fooling some of the people all the time. In particular, those who willingly suspend their disbelief, namely the strategically inept "leaders" of India.

After years of Musharraf's perfidy, his game plan should be clear. Run with the "hares," that is, Mohammedan fundamentalists, gaining massive petro-dollar funding from the Saudis. And hunt with the "hounds," that is, the American State Department, gaining huge amounts of weapons and other privileges.

Like a good general, Musharraf has made his strategic goal—that of hobbling, and if possible, dismembering, India—quite acceptable to his partners, both Arab and American. He has demonstrated that the so-called peace process he waves about periodically is something that the Indian leadership has no idea how to deal with.

The peace process consists of the following: Musharraf takes money from Saudi Arabia, trains and arms Mohammedan fundamentalists, who then slip into India and kill Indians. Whenever Indians threaten to take action, Musharraf mollifies them with an offer of talks, and sets the rules of the game as follows: "Kashmir is the problem. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is inalienably Pakistan's; Indian Kashmir is to be discussed."

Having no sense of strategic intent, India's leaders are railroaded into accepting the Musharraf Doctrine. And whenever the peace process is not quite going his way, Musharraf arranges for yet another atrocity in India, which always plays well to his domestic audience; and he is certain there will be no retaliation or damage to him or his causes, including genocide against Baluchis.

Indian leaders look like bumbling rustics when they appear on American television. Musharraf, in his khaki or his Armanis, comes across like "one of us." Well, there is a potential downside. As Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani, once said, Pakistan is America's "international condom": used and then flushed down the toilet. This may well be the end result again. You cannot really fool all the people all the time: NATO's generals, for instance, have just said loudly that the ISI is the root of all terrorism in Afghanistan. n

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Hyderabad, India.

No, the Americans find him quite useful


Ever hear of the tail that wags the dog? Take President Musharraf— a very successful survivor of this species.

Musharraf's successes stem from a unique ability to warm and charm the boss while surreptitiously harming him. As Pakistan's Army Chief, he convinced Nawaz Sharif to undertake the misadventure in Kargil before dumping him. Along came 9/11, catapulting Musharraf into revisiting his recent relationship—wrapping the Americans around his little finger. Indeed, Musharraf has leveraged all he could out of America's decision to use Pakistan as the base for attacking Afghanistan.

However the leader soon turned pleader, as Islamists shrieking against Musharraf in Pakistan's streets made him clutch the American hand tightly, his helplessness and haplessness reinforced through various (staged?) assassination attempts. Musharraf had no friends and many foes—his legitimacy and survival depended on Washington.

While many would resent the role reversal, Musharraf jumped headlong into his new part with an enthusiasm that would put to shame the floor-crossing skills of the most seasoned Indian politicians. Indeed, the best proof of Musharraf's volte-face that landed him in the American camp was his constant tirade against India: the target should logically have been the United States, long the Great Satan of the Islamic world. Even Israel (a country that is verbally bashed when not slashed in any Islamic country) hasn't earned Musharraf's wrath as much as India has, for reasons a little too obvious to state—"big brother" would never tolerate the taunting of "little brother."

The Bush administration obviously likes Musharraf. He is shrewd enough to see the writing on the wall and do their bidding. When they wanted Omar Sheikh for masterminding the murder of Daniel Pearl, Musharraf promptly delivered. (In contrast, he ignored India's clamoring for Sheikh's capture.) Just when the Americans seemed to be bogged down, Abu-Faraj Al-Libbi (Al Qaeda's Number 3) was conveniently found near Faisalabad. Musharraf seems to have the uncanny ability to produce a high-profile terrorist just when American enthusiasm is flagging. And which manager wouldn't want an executive assistant who not only executes orders, but anticipates them?

And of course, little trinkets are sent Musharraf's way in gratitude—aid, arms, and a Nelson's eye to adventures in Kashmir.

But then Washington makes no secret of who is boss. Musharraf's sworn enemy Hamid Karzai made an appearance in town exactly when Musharraf was busy proving that he handles the pen as dexterously as he does commando operations. The point that there isn't much separating the toast of the town from being turned into toast was made bluntly—there is always the next, substitute star waiting in the wings.

And so, the Mush-and-Bush show continues—scripted in Washington, enacted in Pakistan. n

Toronto-based S.Gopikrishna writes on issues pertinent to India and Indians.

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