Pervez Musharraf: Facing Reality?
Western leaders have thrown in their lot with Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, even while regarding him with a mixture of puzzlement and suspicion. So why is the man who holds the key to Afghanistan’s future, and those of Canadian and other NATO troops, one of the most poorly understood world figures today? The reasons are three-fold.
General Musharraf’s history is that of personal survival and of a person who projects a self-effacing image, but has always craved power, influence and prestige. He has sacrificed his military forces for personal goals. And most of all, through information operations/ warfare, he has skillfully manipulated the west into believing he is on our side.
Musharraf has played a successful double game, tactically supporting U.S. efforts to destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda, while at the same time strategically backing both organizations in the hope of a failure of the West’s engagement in Afghanistan.
He is, above all, a master of the art of “plausible deniability” – insisting on his innocence in situations that all too loudly scream of personal knowledge, if not direct involvement.
Consider the multi-billion dollar opium industry and the free passage of drugs across an unprotected border with Afghanistan. Intelligence has shown that Musharraf’s military and his intelligence service (the ISI) are involved in the lucrative trade, making a crackdown on the borderland unlikely.
Numerous testimonies have detailed ISI involvement in opium smuggling. Last March, Wendy Chamberlain, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan told the U.S. Congress’s International Relations Sub-Committee for the Asia-Pacific that between 2000 and 2006, it was “substantial.”
Congressional reports also document that the ISI, with the help of the CIA, created the Taliban and that all had been involved in drug trafficking for decades. This relationship supported the military leadership of Pakistan and funded their covert military and ISI operations.
Thus the ISI cannot function without tacit support from the military and the head of state in Pakistan.
As usual, “rogue” ISI elements are used as a smoke screen by Musharraf to justify his inability to act, and this allows for continued ISI support of the Taliban – a fact pointed out by NATO commanders in a 2006 report on Operation Medusa.
It is a bizarre twist of realpolitik that Pakistan aids and abets the Taliban, who in turn provide protection for drug egress routes in southern Afghanistan, which in turn supports the warlords. The flow of drug money from the warlords keeps everyone equipped with weapons and the respective leadership rich.
Musharraf, meanwhile, gains power, influence and prestige for the growing role of Pakistan in the “War on Terror.” This is further reinforced by positive accolades from vested western interests. Musharraf feeds into this to broaden his own power at home and enhance his influence in the West.
Musharraf makes much of the sacrifices of his military, even denigrating the danger of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. But he sacrificed his military in 1999 in Kargil to give him the excuse to seize power from the corrupt but democratically elected Government of Pakistan.
Incredibly, as Army Chief of Staff, he claimed to have no knowledge of the three-month military operations, in which Pakistani regular forces, paramilitaries and Kashmiri militants crossed into the Indian side of Kashmir’s Line of Control and took some peaks in Kargil. The resulting instability in Pakistan led to the military coup that put him in power three months later.
Musharraf has again denied being in control of “rogue elements” on the Afghan border. So his offer in early January 2007 to lay minefields to stop the Taliban crossing into Afghanistan is a contradiction. If he does not control the region, then how could he possibly lay massive minefields and monitor them?
His withdrawal from the tribal areas, and subsequent “peace” deal in 2006 with the tribal leaders, again provided deniability regarding cross-border activity. It also led to the elimination of tribal leaders who opposed drug trafficking and support for the Taliban.
Once again, military losses suffered in the border areas provided Musharraf with further “evidence” of his lack of control of the region. He cannot arrest known Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders living in Quetta – yet he can “win” the War on Terror when there is direct pressure from the West. Musharraf has carefully created a public image for the west by using phrases like “counter-coup” and “dictatorship to restore true democracy” to justify his takeover of Pakistan and his continued rule.
He has used the media to project himself as the ultimate powerbroker between ‘Islamists’ and ‘Modernists’ in Pakistan. His recent autobiography In the Line of Fire is a testament to this argument.
He has stifled democracy, but has not stopped corruption. His tendency toward absolute power means it is likely he holds the nuclear trigger with him at all times. Yet, in another exercise of deniability, he “unwittingly” allowed his scientists to transfer nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea, Libya, and radical Islamic groups. Given the centralized control of the military in Pakistan and his dictatorial style it is inconceivable that such activity could have occurred without his knowledge or tacit approval.
Time and again, the west accepts his excuses and, alarmed at the threat of an Islamist alternative to his presidency, and fearing a chaotic, nuclear-armed Pakistan, continues to support him.
Meanwhile, more NATO troops die from cross-border Taliban attacks. As long as Western countries continue to support Musharraf in his double game, the outlook for Afghanistan, and for Canadian troops there, will be grim. And NATO has no hope of saving Afghanistan.
An international defence and security expert, Sunil Ram is a Professor of Military History at American Military University and a former military advisor to the Saudi Royal Family.
© FrontLine Defence 2007