General Musharraf sat on a Wall

Indian Express , November 21, 2007

After imposing martial law disguised as a state of emergency, General Pervez Musharraf has cracked down on Pakistan’s judiciary, media, moderate political opposition and nascent civil society. His actions have been universally condemned by the international community. But instead of recognising the error of his ways, he feels “let down by the West” and “betrayed by the media.”

Musharraf is following in the footsteps of the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, and Manuel Noriega of Panama. In their final days, each one of these US-backed authoritarian rulers blamed the United States for failing to understand their compulsions and for creating the circumstances eventually leading to their downfall.

In the days to come, Musharraf and his remaining loyalists can be expected to whip up anti-Americanism in an effort to deflect blame for their predicament. Things were going well until the US demonstrated its legendary fickleness and showed a soft spot for Benazir Bhutto, Musharraf’s apologists will argue vehemently.

Musharraf recently spoke of Bhutto as “the darling of the West,” completely forgetting that he, and not Bhutto, was the recipient of billions of dollars in aid and personal praise from a long list of luminaries ranging from President Bush to Donald Rumsfeld. If, as Samuel Jackson asserted, “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, then anti-Americanism is the last refuge of US-backed dictators.

The Shah’s problems were of his own making, as were those of Marcos. Manuel Noriega mistakenly believed that his status as US ally would allow him to get away with anything, including drug smuggling. Given the general misgivings about US foreign policy in third world countries, these rulers thought that all they had to do to retain US support was to raise the spectre of joining the ranks of America haters within their societies against whom they were originally supposed to help Washington. But the crash of dictatorships comes from mistaken domestic policies; it is not always a function of foreign policy.

Even now, the uproar against General Musharraf has been caused by his disregard for Pakistan’s Constitution and his disrespect for rule of law. After all, of the UN’s 191 member states, why is it that Pakistan is the only country where the chief of the army staff has got rid of the country’s Supreme Court to thwart a judicial verdict against his person?

But, accustomed as he is to turning to America for support, Musharraf is trying to persuade the international community that he is indispensable for the US-led war against terrorism and given his services for the West, his coup against Pakistan’s constitution should be treated as a minor matter. Soon after the 1999 coup d’etat that brought him to power, Musharraf telephoned General Anthony Zinni, Commander of the US Central Command (CentCom). Both Generals Musharraf and Zinni have publicly confirmed their conversation. In his book Battle Ready, written with Tom Clancy and published in 2004, General Zinni says that Musharraf told him “what had led to the coup and why he and the other military leaders had no choice other than the one they took.” Zinni also mentions Musharraf’s help, two months later, in arresting some terrorists sought by the US, which led Zinni to tell Washington, “now do something for Musharraf.”

In the aftermath of a military coup that entailed toppling an elected government, General Musharraf found it expedient, possibly necessary, to seek advice and support from the top American general dealing with the Middle East and Central Asia. Musharraf has been proud of his American connections, citing on more than one occasion US support since 9/11 as somehow conferring legitimacy on his military regime. But now it is useful for him to pretend that the West has turned its back on him.

For almost seven years, Musharraf has had a free ride with international public opinion by pretending to be a reformer without delivering much by way of internal reform. Now that he has exposed himself in the aftermath of martial law/emergency, Musharraf should be prepared to lose the international support he assiduously cultivated.

The US is being nice to Musharraf by giving him time to rectify his mistake instead of putting its full weight behind Pakistan’s political opposition and civil society. So, if someone should be complaining right now, it should be the thousands of civilians jailed without cause, not Musharraf. The US has already done more than its fair share for Pakistan’s ruler and all that largesse has still not prevented Musharraf from turning against America. It is time for America to do something for the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan.