Aijaz Ahmad: Musharraf has cornered himself
ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: Pakistan continues to spiral out of control. Benazir Bhutto has demanded that General Pervez Musharraf step down. Opposition parties are calling for a boycott of the upcoming elections and are reportedly forming a coalition to remove Musharraf from power. The European Union, the U.S., and the Commonwealth have all denounced Musharraf’s emergency rule. And Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is due to meet with officials in Islamabad. For the comment on the ongoing crisis in Pakistan, we go to the Real News Network’s Senior News Analyst, Aijaz Ahmad. So, Aijaz, John Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, is flying to Islamabad on Friday. What do you think he’s seeking to achieve in that meeting with Musharraf?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Well, since Dick Cheney went to Pakistan a few months ago it has been quite clear that the United States has been unhappy with Musharraf’s performance. And their solution to it was to put in place a deal in which Musharraf would remain as president, Benazir Bhutto would become prime minister, and Lieutenant General Kayani, who has now become the second man in command of the Pakistan Armed Forces, would basically rule Pakistan. And the demand is that Pakistan take a much stronger role both in Waziristan and Afghanistan. What happened is that particular deal between Benazir and Musharraf fell through for domestic reasons. After that, now the question is where do you go from there now that that deal is off? Secondly, in the meanwhile, by declaration of emergency, by firing the judiciary, by arrogating all kinds of powers to himself, Musharraf has cornered himself. And there is a perception now that neither inside Pakistan nor outside does he have enough support. He’s weakened. He’s isolated. So Negroponte’s going there, and I think he’s going to read the riot act. In public, the United States has been saying, especially the Pentagon has been saying that aid to Pakistan cannot be cut. This is public relations. In real life, when they sit down, that’s not how Americans talk to their clients. Negroponte is going to say to General Kayani and others, if you don’t resolve this problem, we are going to cut aid down to only those things that you need to fight the Islamic extremists, and we are going to take away all the rest of the money that you guys in the Pakistan military receive. So now are what you going to do with it? He is going to try and find a solution. On the other hand, he’s going to talk to Benazir and so on and try to see if that deal can be revived. So there’s going to be very tough talk, and there’s going to be a last-ditch attempt to salvage the situation with Musharraf.
NKWETA: Now, once Musharraf steps down as the army chief of staff, Kayani comes to the fore. What are the implications of that?
AHMAD: Several things. Once Musharraf steps down, he no longer has real command responsibilities of the armed forces. Lt. Gen. Kayani is a very interesting person, because we just absolutely do not know anything about him, and we do not know anything about him because he has been one of the top intelligence services people and has been heading the ISI, one of the most nefarious military intelligence operations anywhere in the world. From there he has gone to the position that he will become the chief of the army staff. He is the man who is conducting the negotiations between Musharraf and Benazir, the go-between man between the two of them, to put together the deal that the United States was pushing through. He is also a man who for many years has been working very, very closely not only with the CIA but the whole of the American military establishment and intelligence establishment. In that sense he can be an American man. But two things. One, he’s personally loyal to Musharraf because Musharraf is the man who’s appointed him to this position. Secondly, Pakistan army is very reluctant to actually step up against their own chief, even after he takes off the uniform.
NKWETA: Opposition parties have called for an election boycott and at the same time are talking about forming a coalition between themselves to get rid of Musharraf. What are the implications of that?
AHMAD: Well, it’s not at all clear that that goal will be achieved, because I think half of Negroponte’s effort would be to salvage the situation with Musharraf and arrive at accommodation with the others, precisely because it is very difficult to get the Pakistani generals to move against one of their own. Now, the opposition is also cornered. Musharraf has called for the elections. According to the Pakistani constitution, parliament has to be dissolved and a caretaker government put in place once the elections have been announced. The opposition is saying that under conditions of emergency, we may boycott the elections altogether. Musharraf can then turn around and say, “I held the elections. It is their choice. They don’t want to do it. It’s their choice. Now an elected parliament is again in place.” Therefore Benazir has come up with the idea that all of these various political parties who are in opposition, who have very little in common with each other, who have been at loggerheads with each other all these years, come together on the single objective of getting rid of Musharraf. And what she is proposing is that we should now create a provisional government of Pakistan, that Musharraf be set aside by the United States and forced to transfer power to this provisional government. Whether or not that will happen we do not know. What Musharraf is trying to do is to hold elections under his own leadership. A third possibility, I think, is that the generals do agree that Musharraf has just become a liability all around. Musharraf leaves. General Kayani takes over, but with the explicit purpose of just holding the elections on January 9th and then stepping aside and going back to the barracks.
NKWETA: So Musharraf has put himself in a position of isolation. Who are the forces surrounding him, briefly, and what are the implications of what may take place?
AHMAD: Musharraf had a number of things going for him. There is a major Islamicist party, that of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, which is the big party in the two areas where the extremism is the greatest. And Musharraf was in very serious, close conversations with them. And the idea was that he would make an alliance with them as well as Benazir Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto will come in and so on and so forth. The actions that he has taken are so extreme that he has isolated himself entirely, except within the army. You know, Imran Khan, who is one of Pakistani middle class’ heroes, has been not only arrested but charged under Terrorism Act, because Imran Khan went to the university to address 200 students. The urban middle class is enraged by this kind of activity. So I believe that Musharraf has overstepped so far out that he has no friends left. Therefore the army may feel that they really need to dump him.
NKWETA: That being said, what does Pakistan need to do to get this right, outside, divorced of U.S. foreign policy? Because U.S. foreign policy is playing a hand in this.
AHMAD: Everything is being enacted from Washington. Musharraf was being supported by Washington. The deal was being made from Washington. The deal has fallen through. Whatever new dispensation comes will come under Washington pressure. Benazir Bhutto brought in the Taliban when she was prime minister. Painting her as some kind of a secular, liberal, moderate, Westernized leader—she’s no more that than Musharraf is. Now, the point here that I’m making is that all the major choices of elite politics in Pakistan, whether military or civilian, are so deeply aligned with the United States that it is very difficult for the Pakistani state, any branch of it, to step out of it. Unfortunately, at the moment in Pakistan there isn’t much of a popular movement, even in support of Bhutto, who’s generally discredited. So what you are witnessing actually is a very high degree of conflict within elite politics, and that has now come to a head. And the next three days shall be decisive. By Monday or Tuesday, I think something will emerge and we shall know where it is going.