Musharraf's failed double game led to his undoing

Posted by Admin On Wednesday, 11 September 2013 0 comments
By Jane Perlez
A commando at heart, and a man of often impetuous decisions, Pervez Musharraf ended Pakistan's support of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and pledged to help the United States, becoming one of Washington's most crucial allies in its campaign against terrorism.
It was a bold stroke that bolstered the administration of President George W. Bush in the immediate war against Al Qaeda and allowed the United States to work with Pakistani intelligence to arrest senior Qaeda operatives inside Pakistan. Musharraf also gave Washington permission to strike at Qaeda targets in his nation's lawless tribal areas.
But the assurances turned out to be less than promised, and though Musharraf forged a personal bond with Bush, the general proved to be a tough, frustrating customer for the United States.
Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency never severed ties with the Taliban.
Nine years later, the Taliban are putting up a ferocious fight against the United States in Afghanistan and are providing shelter to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas. The rejuvenated Taliban now virtually control the tribal region bordering Afghanistan and are pressing into the rest of the country, threatening the stability of the nuclear-armed nation of 165 million people.
"Musharraf continued to provide cover to the Taliban but still managed to convince the Americans for many years that it was not a double game," said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani specialist on the Taliban and the author of "Descent Into Chaos," a book that details the relationship between Musharraf and Washington. "It was a remarkable feat of balancing on the tightrope."
The feat was so skillful that Musharraf won more than $10 billion in U.S. military assistance for his army, as well as an unannounced amount of covert aid. About half the military aid was supposed to be spent on bolstering the counterinsurgency skills of the Pakistani Army.
Much of that money never reached the military and was allocated instead to Pakistan's general budget, but the Bush administration was so anxious to keep Musharraf as an ally that it chose not to complain, according to a congressional investigation this year.
Washington finally lost patience last month. In a diplomatic showdown, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency confronted the new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, with evidence that the Pakistani intelligence service helped plan the July 7 terror attack against the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. But by then Musharraf's power was eclipsed and the Bush administration acknowledged that his usefulness was past.
Musharraf stepped down as chief of the army last November, handing the post to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has kept above the fray in the effort to impeach the president.
After taking power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999, Musharraf began his tenure as president with a wave of support from a public weary of a decade of weak and corrupt civilian government.
In the beginning, he attracted competent people to his cabinet and promised to tackle longstanding problems, including the spread of madrasas, the religious schools that had become breeding grounds of Islamic extremists.
But the madrasas remained untouched, mainly because Musharraf handed the task to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which was opposed to the plan, said Jehangir Tareen, a former minister of industries and special projects in the cabinet.
Musharraf did back some important changes in the news media and the rights of women, his supporters and critics agree. Now, dozens of private television stations exist, many of them with rambunctious political talk shows. He also moved to improve the status of women by pushing for the amendment of strict Islamic laws.
"Musharraf tried to construct a modern, enlightened state," Tareen said. "But he proved you cannot do this on the structure of a patronage-riven and police-oriented political machine."
One of Musharraf's greatest shortcomings, Tareen said, was his disdain for democratic methods and civilian politicians. In 2002, he ordered a referendum to be held, a yes or no vote on his legitimacy as president. No opposition candidates were permitted to run and rallies by opposition parties were banned.
After parliamentary elections six months later, Musharraf engineered political support from the Chaudhry clan, a powerful group of politicians in Punjab Province who were seen as anti-reformist. They created a political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, as a vehicle for Musharraf. When conservative religious parties swept those parliamentary elections in the North-West Frontier Province, Musharraf sought their support, too.
In March 2007, facing elections in a few months' time, Musharraf fired the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, apparently out of fear that the judiciary might undermine his re-election. A tidal wave of support for Chaudhry from lawyers across the country turned into a vibrant anti-Musharraf campaign.
In November, Musharraf declared a state of emergency and fired 60 judges. By the time he lifted the decree in December, he was seen as an unpopular dictator and his main political opponents, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, had returned to Pakistan to run in elections.
Bhutto was assassinated at the end of December, postponing elections that had been scheduled for the beginning of January. But Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, picked up the reins of the Pakistan People's Party and in February elections his and the Sharif parties swept into power. They formed an uneasy coalition that left Musharraf's party flailing for support.
In the end, his failure to manage his double game of keeping the Americans on his side and allowing the religious extremists to thrive may have proved his undoing and left Pakistan in a more precarious position, Rashid said.


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