Musharraf Spilling the Beans—Why Now?

Karamatullah K. Ghori

Posted Oct 2, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Musharraf Spilling the Beans—Why Now?

                          Karamatullah K. Ghori

To a casual observer monitoring the global political landscape, it looks odd that, of all the people, it should be General Musharraf—Pakistan’s strongman and America’s most steadfast front-line soldier in the war against terror—to call a spade a spade to the face of his mentor, George W. Bush, on a very sensitive affair.

Answering questions from the anchorman of CBS Television’s celebrated 60 Minutes, a day before he was to meet Dubya at the White House, Musharraf, in a very somber mood, took the wraps off the minutiae of what preceded his historic about-turn on Pakistan’s relations with the much-maligned Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. What he said, though not in so many words, amounted to saying that Washington virtually put a gun to his head to plunge Pakistan, hook, line and sinker, into Bush’s ‘crusade’ against terrorism.

But Musharraf said it, in so many words, that the then Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, in a one-on-one meeting with the head of Pakistan’s notorious ISI—who happened to be in Washington by chance when the cataclysm of 9/11 happened—that Pakistan must join America’s war against the Taliban or be prepared ‘ to be bombed, back to the stone-age.’

It was a very serious accusation of America’s high-handedness, its blatant arm-twisting, which sounded all the more sanguine coming from a trusted and loyal ally like Musharraf, with apparently no reason or motive to grind an axe with his mentors whose patronage has been so much handy to keeping him in total control of Pakistan.

Obviously everyone in Washington—from Dubya down to an ordinary factotum—was taken by complete surprise at Musharraf’s frontal assault on the out-rightly gangster method deployed by the Bush juggernaut to line up crucial countries behind the open-ended war on terror. Bush pleaded total ignorance—nothing unusual for him—of the affair, so did Armitage, the man accused. Armitage went on American television to deny that he ever used the language ascribed to him.

Those who know the garrulous Armitage and his combative style of diplomacy have no reason to doubt that he must’ve threatened his Pakistani interlocutor the way he has been described to. Even a non-combative person feeling the heat of the moment, virtually on-the-day-after that epochal event in American history, could well have tried to knock the fear of God in the heart of the man whose outfit, Pakistan’s meddlesome ISI, was known to be a key player, vis-à-vis the Taliban.

Students of recent American history would know that American whizkids, like James Baker—Secretary of State to Bush Sr. at the time of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait—used exactly the same words to bamboozle their adversaries. In his last diplomatic encounter with Iraq’s Tariq Aziz, in Geneva, in Janauary 1991, virtually hours before the American aircraft started raining down hell on Iraq that triggered the Gulf War, Baker threatened to bomb Iraq ‘back into the stone age’ if Saddam didn’t surrender to American diktat. Tariq Aziz, himself, narrated to me the details of that historic confrontation at a meeting in his office in Baghdad, when I was Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iraq in the late 90s.

Of course Tariq Aziz proved Baker’s equal and refused to flinch. As recorded by American sources, themselves, Aziz asked Baker, in his repartee, how old was American history? When Baker said it was about 200 years old, Aziz dourly shot back, ‘But Mr. Secretary, ours goes back 6000 years. We shall withstand this assault as we did countless others in our history.’ One wonders what, if anything, did the ISI Chief, Lt. General Mehmood Ahmed, tell Armitage in response to his bald threat.

But General Musharraf is on a weak wicket, indeed, in leveling his charge against his mentors, in the way he did, obviously 5 years too late.

He’s quoting, as his source, a man whose credibility was zero in the American eyes because they suspected him of being thick with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, too. Musharraf fired Mehmood from his post within weeks of the American assault against Afghanistan. The conventional wisdom in Pakistan, in those days, held that Mehmood had been axed because of American pressure on Musharraf to fire him. That, if true, doesn’t portray Musharraf in flattering colours. Instead, he comes out as weak and woobly, and too beholden to Bush & co to stand up to them and defend a crony whose support was decisive in Musharraf’s rise to political power in Pakistan. It paints the picture of a power-hungry, self-centred Bonaparte who, typical for one coming to power through the back-door, got rid of those responsible for catapulting him to the top at the earliest opportunity. Musharraf got rid of Generals Mehmood, Usmani and Aziz—the three musketeers who brought him to power in that macabre drama of October 12, 1999—in quick succession, and without much grace or decency.

But that still doesn’t explain, or provide a clue to, the rationale for turning the tables on his mentors and friends, in the fashion he did?

One possible logic for his ‘intemperate’ outburst could be his Himalayan ego, which has been bruised much too often, lately, in America, if not exactly by the Bush administration then certainly by the establishment media, at its beck-and-call. This slavish media has constantly been berating Musharraf for ‘not doing enough’ in what was expected of him in the war against terror. Some less circumspect commentators and media savvy gurus have accused Musharraf of playing on both sides of the street and being ‘cozy’ with the fundamentalists in Pakistan.

Musharraf has come in for a bad press, most recently, in the context of the deal he cut, on the eve of his current US visit, with the tribals in Waziristan, where the Pakistan Army has suffered major casualties in the war waged against the tribes at the explicit behest of the Americans. Instead of being grateful to him for making the best of a bad situation, which was becoming increasingly costly and embarrassing for him, the Americans have made little effort to disguise their unhappiness at the truce with the tribals in Waziristan. That must have piqued Musharraf who isn’t known to suffer insults lying down.

So Musharraf may’ve decided it was time to settle some overdue scores with Washington. He acted, to the point, to his training as a commando: hitting back when pushed against the wall.

Or was it that he was inspired and smitten by the likes of Iran’s Ahmedinijad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who gave it all to Bush in their electrifying performances at the UN General Assembly?

Musharraf and his spin- doctors—he’s traveling with a burgeoning 70-plus carnival (or barat, in the Pakistani lexicon) of ministers, advisers and just plain hangers-on, all of them getting a free ride in an all-expenses-paid, state-sponsored junket—may have decided that this kind of bravado would go down well with the masses in Pakistan. Isn’t a leader’s macho image a sure ticket to stardom in Pakistan? Wouldn’t the Pakistani man-on-the-street cheer Musharraf on for bearding the lion in its den?

Wouldn’t his standing up to his American critics enhance his credentials as a ‘civilian president’ eventually? After all, isn’t it an open secret in Pakistan that Washington may not endorse another term for Musharraf-in-uniform? So, why not tell the Americans as well as Pakistanis that even out-of-uniform, the soldier-president wouldn’t be without his combative skills.

But that could be a dicey undertaking, given Musharraf’s low credibility with the masses and his general perception of being a toady of George W. Bush.

The fact that Musharraf has taken 5 long years to level with the people of Pakistan on the exact backdrop to his crass ‘capitulation’ to American arm-twisting isn’t guaranteed to atone his ‘sins’ in the eyes of the Pakistanis.

In fact, he’s in imminent danger of being seen as a colossus with feet of clay who buckled under pressure, that too from a relatively low-level bully of the Bush administration.

And his claim of being forced to sign on the dotted lines for the sake of Pakistan, as its defender, comes out second-best. If he claimed to be the well-wisher of the Pakistanis—and bit the bullet for their sake—why didn’t he take the nation into confidence, right then, and tell the people what kind of blackmail he was being subjected to?

It then leaves us with only one tenable reason for his spilling the beans at this particular stage in time. He wants to sell his autobiography, In the Line of Fire, which has just rolled off the press. He belongs to that genre of Pakistani generals who have honed the business of money-making, by means fair or foul, into an art form.

Bush, of all the people, sensed the General’s uncanny sales pitch when he made light of his protégé’s grouse against his administration, by telling the press conference, in jest, that the General wanted them to buy his book.

General Musharraf’s obviously-ghost-written ‘autobiography’ is the second such book by a Pakistani Bonaparte; the first was Ayub’s ‘Friends, not Masters.’ He’s believed to have done some plain-talking in it, just as one would expect of a soldier-politician. Besides, according to inspired leaks made to the media in advance of the book release, he has also stoutly defended his catalytic role in the Kargil episode, which was, on more than one count, a complete fiasco. Nawaz Sharif, from his hide-out in London, is demanding that a national commission be constituted to investigate Musharraf’s colossal blunder.

But the piece de resistance in the book is what led to Pakistan jettisoning its Taliban protégés and donning the mantle of a partisan in Bush’s crusade against terror. His advisers may have tutored him to do exactly what’s normal in America: kick up a little controversy before the release of the book, in order to guarantee a sale blitz when the book actually comes out. That strategy seems to have worked, if the news of Barnes & Noble and flooded with advance orders is correct.

It would be interesting to see if the General shares any of his rumoured million-dollar fee from the publishers of the book, Simon & Schuster, with the people of Pakistan. But even if he did, which is unlikely, it would be little recompense, considering that his three-week-long junket has already cost the Pakistani exchequer several million dollars. What a way to sell a ghost-written biography!