Pakistan: Dilemmas for U.S. policy
PAUL JAY, SENIOR NEWS EDITOR: One of the men from the supreme court that was removed and placed under house arrest said the beginning of this martial law is the end of Musharraf’s government and predicted the end of Musharraf in thirty days. Is this bravado or is Musharraf really going to be in such trouble?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: I think it will depend essentially on one thing and one only, which is the Pakistan strategic military command. If he continues to have the loyalty of his main commanders, he’s very safe. He knows that his confrontation right now is with a section, a very large section of the Pakistani intelligentsia. There is no popular movement in Pakistan. He has cornered Benazir Bhutto. And she has been safe: she has held press conferences; she’s free to move about; she says she’s going to Islamabad and talk to other people; and so on and so forth. She’s not under house arrest. Human rights activists are. But today, by arresting hundreds of members of her political party, Musharraf has also served a notice on her that she will get the deal only if she behaves. The deal is there. Very significant part of his proclamation is all the ordinances that have been passed in the past, he has issued in the past, are in place. Now, one very significant ordinance there is the one which promised that corruption cases will be dropped against all the political leaders. So on the one hand he’s holding out the carrot, that the one thing that she really wants, that the corruption cases be dropped against her, he’s willing to give her that, but only if she behaves.
JAY: And he adds another piece: if constitutionally she isn’t allowed to be prime minister again, well, he just suspended the Constitution.
AHMAD: He has just suspended the Constitution. He has not suspended the parliament. He has not dismissed the government. The prime minister is already saying that elections are now about a year away. The parliament under this kind of dispensation can extend its own life by a year. And that parliament itself can amend the Constitution to allow someone to be prime minister a third time.
JAY: So, then, in fact this martial law, which looked like it might have been the unraveling of the deal, might actually be the mechanism to make the deal.
AHMAD: To save the deal, because the deal was getting into trouble in too many respects. Now, the problem, I think, will still be that Musharraf and Benazir hate each other’s guts. So this is not going to be an easy relationship at any time.
JAY: Well, does he still need Bhutto if he’s willing to work so brutally?
AHMAD: Well, he’ll say to the Americans, if you really need a democratic façade, I’ll give it to you under such and such terms. Since September 11, 2001, Pakistani army has received $10 billion openly. How much they have received covertly we do not know.
JAY: So they say to the U.S., we’ll work with you, but we’ll do it our way.
AHMAD: We’ll do it our way, at our price, the way we want to do it. Musharraf in the Pakistan army is also facing a very grave problem, which is that the Pakistani soldiers by and large cannot be mobilized to kill and strafe and bomb and do all that in northwest Afghanistan—they are their cousins. And I believe and I think this is something that the American progressive movement has to understand, that the war, the fight against Islamicists in Pakistan, is extremely important one. Otherwise, Pakistan as a country will just collapse, as a society it will collapse. That is an extremely important fight. But the only way you can fight that fight, that is to say the Pakistanis can fight by that fight, is also by radically dissociating themselves from the Americans. The problem with the Musharraf regime– the enduring problem is that the people of Pakistan look at these people as agents of the United States. And they look at the United States under the Bush administration as a country that has devastated Muslim societies. There’s a lot of secular power in Pakistan. If you’re going to mobilize that secular power in Pakistan against Islamicist extremists, you have to be seen as not fighting America’s war.