WASHINGTON DC, Aug 6, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf's Survival is Linked to Continuation of War on Terror

By Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, August 6: Last week General Musharraf (GM) held two back to back news conferences. One was for the benefit of Desi (native) media and the other for their privileged kin - foreign Press.

On July 25, he took the plane to Lahore, where a packed court of Pakistani news-writers and opinion-makers was cooling heels for him at the Governor’s House. When he swaggered into the waiting throng, they honored him with customary deference. There was, however, something amiss that struck quite a few of them.

Gen. Musharraf showed up at the conference in military uniform, all bemedalled, starred, crowned, and cross-sworded, to remind dissident media that he does not give a damn to their rant about his trespass on the constitution. I wish there were one daring soul in his audience who would have risked an entry into his “blacklist,” which he keeps like Nixon’s “enemy list,” and walked out on him in protest. Or at least one of them would have used his military attire as a godsend prod to ask him a simple question: “Is Article 6 of the constitution still enforced, MR WHATEVER YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

Sensing the disquieting hush hung over the air, GM took upon himself to answer the unasked quiz: “Contrary to my past practice, I came here dressed in (military) uniform to deliver a stern message to those who are preaching and practicing extremism!”

So the starch of Khaki was meant to terrify the extremists. Was he telling the truth? You don’t have to go too far to find the answer. Within days, on July 29, he held another news conference for the foreign media to deliver the same stern message to extremists. This time around, he, however, changed his military clothes for civvies!

Why? Because, “he has two faces,” as the country’s truth-teller Asma Jehangir once famously said of him. “He has a soft face for the West and a harsh one for Pakistan.” Above all, he treats Pakistan as his occupied territory and its people as his subjects, who he thinks are no better than a beast in need of “a strong hand, a full belly, and an occasional kick in the shin.”

His two-facedness is nowhere evident than his phony war on terror. He is the world’s largest beneficiary of global terror and yet the frontline soldier in the war being waged against it.

He washed the sins of his dictatorship with the blood of three thousand Americans who died in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Since then, his pariah status as a military strongman has changed into a world statesman. Is it the triumph of terror or its trounce?

It is the same Musharraf who was keeping the gates of Taliban’s Afghanistan, which was the ultimate sanctuary of terror, to the last day of their fall. Even today he is busy sifting ‘good’ Taliban from ‘bad’ ones for prospective buyers in the halls of world power. But how soon we put all that behind us, because he is now, as the London Economist politely put it, “our son of a bitch.” We want to fight terror with the help of those who are its breeders. If dictators could terminate terror, the Middle East would have been a heaven on earth.

But this lesson was “lost in translation” or in what Christopher Hitchens describes as Americans’ characteristic aversion to history. Even if you apply exchange theory to international relations, Gen. Musharraf is far from having lived up to his end of the bargain.

Yet he is paraded around the earth as the last savior of the western world? What did he do to earn this title? He switched sides. But he did this switching out of convenience, not conviction. He left the powerless – Taliban – for the powerful – the US? Is it conviction? Or is it what deserves his weight in $20 billion greenbacks? But this is exactly what happened. He spun the war on terror into a goldmine of profit that, by 2003, left him $20 billion richer than he was on or before September 11. Now we are expecting him to help win this war! Translation: Turn off the spigot of money, and commit suicide.

Deep down he knows that his survival is linked with the specter of terror. When the world bleeds, he leads. Just look at the July 7 London bombing that brought him the world full of face time. Media the world over was beaming his face in every living room with a television set. His mumbo-jumbo about the war on terror was the stuff of prime time television. The print media was not behind in front-paging his face.

He then had the gluttony of “ear time” with world leaders ranging from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US Secretary of State to President Bush. On July 14, Prime Minister Blair spoke with him about forging common cause against extremism. Days after, on July 19, he returned the courtesy with a faux crackdown on “extremists” in Islamabad, which scored him high visibility around the world, as Islamabad hosts a number of international news organizations and above all members of the diplomatic corps.

With Falstaffian absurdity, the crackdown began with a raid into a women’s religious school –Jamia Hafsa – in the heart of Islamabad. As soon as the police force charged into the Jamia, around 200 women students, armed with sticks, spilled over onto the street, chasing the police all over the place.

Despite a rain of free-swinging batons on the students, the police found it hard to hold the ground. Soon they took to their heels, with sticks-wielding women on their tail. Yet this opening salvo against extremists was warmly received in the world shaken by the forces of extremism.

Yet, next day, Gen. Musharraf woke up with “morning-after regrets” writ large on him. As a “morning-after pill,” he had the entire police force of Islamabad – right from Inspector General to the Senior Superintendent of Police -- fired. Raid was, thus, a sop to the outside world to show that he is at it, while the firing was a pretend regret to the natives that he had to do it. Two faces?

It is too hard to escape the fakeness of his war on terror. You may ask why thousands of Americans had to die before he cracked down on violent extremists in January 2002. Or why scores of Britons had to perish before he resumed the crackdown that he began in 2002. His rationale for “sleeping on work” verges on tragicomedy.

The world has to adjust itself to the needs of his survival into power. When a foreign journalist asked him, at his July 29 news conference, why he did not do anything about militancy since 2002, he replied: “You have to be realistic and mindful of ground realities. If I had pushed against extremists then, I would have a million Taliban marching on me.”

Three years ago, he reminded the questioner, he was struggling with a weak economy, the world’s reluctance to accept him as military ruler, and a live conflict with India. “Today, it is a totally different environment.” Indeed!! Today, he is $20 billion richer; world leaders are just a telephone call away; and India has come a long way to do business with him.

Who did benefit from all that? War on terror or Musharraf? The answer is obvious. Today, Musharraf’s enemies are chained, while terrorists are on the loose. Mukhtaran Mai, Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Editor Shaheen Sehbai cannot leave Pakistan as they are placed on his infamous Exit Control List (ECL), while Osama Bin Laden leave or enter Pakistan at will.

Similarly, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain cannot enter Pakistan, but every “third man” of Al-Qaeda keeps popping up in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Mardan to surprise those of us who want to surprise. You don’t have to be cynical to believe that Musharraf sleeps with Osama by night and dates with President Bush by day. There is an expression to describe such a two faced cad, but I am too polite to use it.

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