Dumping Musharraf

As Juan Cole of “Informed Comment” notes, an impeachment process has started against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he has decided he is going to fight it, and “[t]hus the stage is set for a major political crisis in the second most populous Muslim country in the world, the sixth largest country in the world, and the only Muslim nuclear power.” But one crucial aspect of this situation is the dog that isn’t barking: where at this stage is the American support for Musharraf, whom in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was suddenly embraced by the Bush administration and started having billions of dollars in military aid shoveled his way? Could it be that George W. Bush is simply too busy these days at the Olympics, blasting his Chinese hosts for their culinary abuses? (That last bit is but a joke, but I give you the link in the hope you’ll check it out – you’ll be amused!)

Philippe Grangereau, Washington correspondent for the French newspaper Libération, sheds some valuable light on this question in his article The White House Is No Longer Kissy-Kissy with Musharraf, although he relies primarily on analysis coming from Arif Jamal, “an expert on Pakistan at NYU,” who has written a book about Pakistani jihadists.

If you think about it (and/or pay attention to developments), this cooling-down of the Bush administration’s relationship with Musharraf isn’t really much of a surprise, in view of the close ties Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (abbreviated as ISI) enjoy with “Islamic militants” (to include the Taliban), that the American intelligence establishment has finally picked up on. In general, this turns out to mean substantial if covert Pakistani support for precisely those Islamist parties that NATO is fighting against to try to make a stable country out of Afghanistan; specifically, it means nasty incidents worked up by the ISI and its friends like the bomb-blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul of last 7 July, which killed 54 people including the Indian defense attaché.

Jamal – as conveyed into French by his scribe Grangereau – makes a number of cogent points about this situation. First of all, the number-one strategic priority of the Pakistani military is what it has been ever since partition in 1947: to recover the state of Kashmir, which it regards as justly belonging to Pakistan, in its entirety. To pursue this, Islamic militants are precisely who you want to have working on your side, even if they then expect your covert support for some of their other projects elsewhere. Secondly, Musharraf is not the most powerful Pakistani figure anyway. That is instead General Ashfaq Kiyani, Army Chief of Staff. Jamal speculates that, if Musharraf is heading towards impeachment, then that must be because General Kiyani supports the move, because it would not be allowed to happen without that support. In any case, he contends that the Americans wrote off Musharraf a year and a half ago, when Benazir Bhutto started preparations to return to her country and contest elections.

In this light, then, the complete lack of anyone in absence taking up Musharraf’s cause comes as no surprise. Rather, it is General Kiyani who is under Washington’s microscope as the US determines whether to support him or not. In view of the fact, as Jamal informs us, that he is even more supportive of Afghan jihadists/Taliban than even Musharraf was willing to be, the answer would seem to be obvious; but then again, the alternative to supporting the General may very well be political chaos in this vital Muslim nuclear power, in view of the demonstrated problems which the new governing coalition that arose after elections earlier this year has shown in trying to get its act together.

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