Think Ch. Shujaat Becoming Musharraf's Biggest Challenger
August 20: Senior US diplomats in Pakistan and in the State Department
are genuinely intrigued about the display of an almost unbelievable
confrontationist posture against General Pervez Musharraf, adopted
by the most unlikely of politicians in today’s Pakistani
spectrum --- the always obedient servant of the military establishment,
Choudhry Shujaat Hussain.
diplomats say on all key issues on which Musharraf wanted to curb
the jihadis, or their political supporters, Choudhry Shujaat Hussain
took a diametrically opposed line. What they cannot believe is
that the Choudhry always won. The major issues they cite as examples
are the handling of Madrassas, expulsion of foreign Islamic students,
inclusion of religion column in passports, getting close to the
liberal political parties like PPP, soft peddling the Hasba Bill
of the MMA and rejecting any changes in the Islamic Hudood laws
as proposed by Musharraf.
Balochistan crisis was another such issue as Musharraf had vowed
to sort out the insurgents saying they would not know what hit
them, but Shujaat forced the political path on Musharraf.
It is natural for the head of
the ruling political party anywhere to take up these issues of
national import, but what the diplomats are confused about is
that on every occasion Shujaat has embarrassed Musharraf, has
succeeded in reversing what Musharraf may have claimed publicly
with full military confidence and has gotten away with it.
important than that, the US diplomats cannot understand where
Shujaat was deriving his strength from, because the very nature
of the man, and his entire politics, has always been subservient
to the whims and desires of the Establishment. He has always been
on the correct side of the powers ruling the country, thus cleverly
avoiding any accountability or worse, political persecution.
Shujaat’s politics has been
so crafty that despite being the main accused for the corruption
of the Nawaz Sharif era and despite the fact that he was in the
center of the Cooperatives scandal in which billions were looted
from the innocent public, he not only escaped unscathed but was
preferred by Musharraf to be made the most important political
ally after the 1999 coup.
So what and who is now pushing
Shujaat to take positions which embarrass Musharraf, the most
powerful man in the country? This is the key question US diplomats
are wondering about.
recent meetings with US diplomats in Washington I had the genuine
feeling that it was not Shujaat who was bothering them. It were
his secret supporters and the strength they have given him to
confront Musharraf which is of prime concern.
I tried to probe one diplomat on this issue, he was evasive but
certainly agreed with me in the undertones that the only people
who enjoy such status and power are some of the Punjabi Corps
Commanders of General Musharraf’s Army.
If Shujaat was speaking or acting
on their behalf, it was a matter of grave concern for the Washington
Establishment which has committed, whether anyone admits it or
not, the mistake of putting all its eggs in the Musharraf basket.
In fact our discussion at one
point took a very interesting turn when the diplomat asked me
a point blank question: “Would you like to support a liberal
and enlightened Musharraf or would you prefer a conservative Jihadi
General who is supported politically by Shujaat and company. Keep
in mind the consequences for the Press and politicians in that
latter scenario,” he asked.
was confused. I told him I would support an enlightened and liberal
leader but not a General who says something in the morning and
goes back on it in the evening or who does not know what is going
on after 9 pm any way. But my counter question was: “Why
are you asking me this question. Is there a threat to Musharraf?”
diplomat would not say anything but his thrust of argument was
that since everyone knows Shujaat Hussain and his politics, the
way he has been acting in recent months confronting Musharraf,
it can only mean that Musharraf is either helpless in stopping
Shujaat or he knows where he is coming from and prefers to eat
the humble pie and backtracks on his public declarations about
critical national policy issues, whenever Shujaat opposes him.
was sort of surprised at the logic and force of these arguments
as having known Choudhry Shujaat Hussain for years, it was incomprehensible
for me to imagine that a man like him, with all the dirty political
baggage that he carries, he would become the man calling the shots
and that too to embarrass a military dictator in full form who
has support of all the key international power centers.
for the US diplomats, Shujaat represents the changing face of
the Pakistan polity and probably he has assumed the role of the
political wing of the Jihadi forces, included among them the Jihadi
about differences between Shujaat and Musharraf have been appearing
in Pakistani media off and on and it is well known that when Musharraf
wanted to replace Zafarullah Jamali, he had the Lahore whizzkid
Humayun Akhtar Khan in mind as the next Prime Minister but it
was Shujaat who stopped him.
Musharraf's tryst with Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and PPP in
recent months was also sabotaged very effectively by Shujaat who
declared publicly that he would not let Musharraf and Benazir
get together. The handling of Asif Zardari’s return to Lahore
from Dubai and the thrashing PPP workers got from Punjab police
when Zardari was first released from prison testify to this hard
line stance, directly defying Musharraf.
So I asked the US diplomat why
was it that they were not pressing Musharraf to make alliances
with genuine liberal and enlightened political forces in the country
if he was feeling so threatened by Shujaat Hussain, the new front
man for Jihadis.
million dollar question was never answered but what left me wondering
was whether Musharraf was really so weak now that he cannot control
a politician like Shujaat Hussain.
that be so, then it is not hard to imagine what his position would
be if he were to seek alliances with the genuinely popular political
leadership, mainly represented by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
Any popular leader would not allow him concessions that would
seem to be a betrayal of the public trust and demands of democratic
is thus caught between the rock and the hard place as on the one
hand he has to keep on conceding and making colossal political
concessions to the likes of Choudhry Shujaat Hussain and his supporters,
even to his deep public embarrassment, and on the other he has
to talk and negotiate a political deal with politicians who would
not be ready to concede much in such a situation.
the US diplomats and other experts do believe that the better
option for Musharraf is to immediately start talking to the enlightened
political leadership in and outside the country, give them some
meaningful concessions, get for himself a dignified exit, get
them on board in a way that they can jointly confront the hidden
jihadis within the Establishment and the political front man of
these jihadis, Choudhry Shujaat and his clan. The alternative
would be a loss for not only Musharraf but his Enlightened Moderation