Musharraf Stirring the Pot in the Tribal Area—Why?

Karamatullah K. Ghori

Posted Nov 7, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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        Musharraf Stirring the Pot in the Tribal Area—Why?

                        Karamatullah K. Ghori

One could be excused for a minute if one thought that there were typo errors in the news report of the pre-dawn raid, last October 30, by Pakistani gun- ships at a madrasa in the remote Chingai village, outside the main Bajaur town of Khar, in Pakistan’s tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. The naïve would be entitled to believe that it was, actually, the Israeli gun- ships making one of their routine raids against emaciated Palestinian camps and shanty- towns to indulge in the favourite sport of trigger-happy Israeli armed forces.

But no: there was no typo error in the report, and the event unfolded exactly the way it was reported. A smug- faced ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) Chief, Major-General Shaukat Sultan, standing before a battery of flashing television cameras matter-of-factly boasted that the stealthy raid by Pakistani helicopters had destroyed the Madrasa Zia-ul-Quran and killed all the 80 or so “miscreants” (a typically Pakistani-friendly English terminology) who, he insisted, were training in the madrasa compound for terrorist activity inside Afghanistan. He also claimed that a good number of those killed were non-Pakistani ‘miscreants.’

Media-savvy observers of the Pakistani scene have long become accustomed to General Sultan—the nearest thing Pakistani Army has produced to match Hitler’s pampered factotum, Joseph Goebells. It was he who coined the phrase, and propagated it with gusto: ‘Tell a lie that is big enough, and repeat it often enough, and the whole world will believe it.’ General Sultan may not have many spurs about him to lend colour to his drab, though crisp, uniform but he has definitely developed a style of his own to throw his media interlocutors off course with a straight face by sticking on to his brief and adamantly refusing to digress from it.

But in his media briefing there was one missing link so conspicuous by its non-mention.

Sultan did admit, in a rare moment of lack of concentration, that there was ‘intelligence sharing’ with the Americans, breathing down heavily from across the border in Afghanistan. However he was categorical that there was no American military action involved in the blitz against the madrasa, which he took obvious pride in flaunting as a totally Pakistani operation that went with the efficiency of a clock- work.

However, his account of the mayhem bears no resemblance with the popular version of events making the rounds, not only in areas close to the venue of the incident but also through the length and breadth of Pakistan. Eye- witness accounts speak of American unmanned aircraft, the stealthy drone, raining down several of those dreadful ‘hell-fire’ missiles, that the Israeli allies of the Americans took so much delighted in using against their Lebanese targets, earlier in the summer, against the madrasa building, flattening it completely and leaving hardly any scope for anyone to survive. Of the three badly injured victims of the early-morning ‘visitation’ two later expired at the hospital.

Several eye-witnessed accounts also speak of the Pakistan army gun-ships arriving on the scene, at least a good 15 to 20 minutes after the American blast and firing a few rockets into the surrounding hills.

The question that obviously comes to mind is why should the Pakistan Army be so keen and uppity to own what could easily be described as a dastardly crime against humanity, especially if the popular version of the majority of those killed in the raid being young students in their teens, is true?

Pakistanis of many stripes and persuasions had taken pride in General Musharraf’s plain-talking, blunt and macho style of diplomacy during his visit to U.S. and Britain in September-October—not too long ago—this year. They were delighted that he was, at long last, being his own man and not a puppet-on-a-string, or a poodle-on-the-leash of George W. Bush, as is his perception with a Pakistani-on-the-street.

Even the hard-nosed Pakistani intellectuals and serious students of international relations were inclined to forgive his past omissions and commissions, swayed by their on-the-spur analyses and diagnoses that the general was, finally, getting rid of his great handicap, which had sullied his image with gurus and pundits.

What was applauded, in particular, was his agreement of September 5 with the elders of North Waziristan to give age-old and time-tested tribal system of settling knotted problems without resorting to force. He was hailed for belatedly arriving at the right conclusion that there was no military solution to a very tangled problem, straddling both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. That he stoutly and robustly defended his peace initiative in the west during his extended visit was credited to his account.

It’s amazing how quickly and brusquely the general seems well poised to squander away all that goodwill and good press. Why?

It’s hard not to conclude that he’s succumbing to the immense pressure that has been mounted on him from Washington and, closer to home, from Kabul where a beleaguered and ostrich-like (General Musharraf’s description of his Afghan counterpart) Hamid Karzai—whose writ doesn’t run much beyond the perimeter of his presidential palace—has been parroting, ad nauseam, for long that his nemesis, the Taliban, are being sheltered in Pakistan.

That Musharraf is back to his favourite game of only asking ‘how high’ when commanded to jump by his mentor in Washington must disappoint every sensible Pakistani. George, Dubya, Bush is up to his eyeballs in trouble with the American electorate, come November 7, the mid-term election- day. His Republican Party is almost certain to get clubbed by the Democrats. His Iraqi adventure is the key to his party’s doom at the polls. He must crave for some success elsewhere, especially in the arena of his ‘long war’ against terrorism, in Afghanistan.

‘No sweat,’ says the Pakistani strongman brimming with confidence, or is it over-confidence? He’s ready to oblige to get some succour across to his mentor in his hour of need, if not peril.

Musharraf obviously doesn’t feel obligated to think of how he would justify this Israel-like raid against a sitting duck target. He’s not answerable to the people of Pakistan, who didn’t elect him, in the first place, let’s be honest. His constituency is the army in Pakistan. Any wonder, therefore, that within 48 hours of the deadly run against the tribals of Pakistan, Musharraf summons his minions-in-uniform, that insipid and imbecile clutch of barons who owe their power and pelf to him, to a pep-talk session at the GHQ in Rawalpindi. He knows, for sure, that those duds would sign on whatever dotted lines were put up to them.

Musharraf’s mind-boggling resort to raw military power to make a statement flies in the face of his earlier preference for peace over gung-ho militarism. The raid in Bajaur was carried out on the date the government was expected, according to a prior schedule, to sign a North Waziristan-like peace accord with the elders of Bajaur. All that apparently sacrificed to inane macho bravado.

Musharraf must have known, before the gun ships were dispatched to provide cover, and an alibi, to the drones sent by his western mentors that the west would only applaud his ‘decisive action’ because anything carrying an anti-Taliban o anti-Al-Qaeda label sells like hot cakes in the chancelleries of Europe and America. So Musharraf couldn’t go wrong on the international front, where all such ‘resolution’ is lapped up like kosher food.

But doesn’t he have any concern about the blowback at home of his brazenly commando actions? He apparently doesn’t, or cares two hoots about what the Pakistani politicians say and how the people influenced by them would react.

Which is the surest sign of a dictator swayed, and corrupted, by the heady wine of absolute power. In his seventh year in power Musharraf is showing that fabled 7-year itch syndrome that breaks up a marriage. His marriage of convenience with Dubya would be in serious jeopardy if the Democrats got total control of Congress in a week’s time. Or he might think that his pre-eminence and ineluctability in the war against terror wouldn’t be affected by the results of the American mid-term election.

There is a subtle footnote of irony in the gory spectacle of Bajaur. It coincided with the much-anticipated arrival of Prince Charles and his consort, Camilla, in Pakistan. The poor royals were also made to pay a price for Musharraf’s hubris when their planned visit to Peshawar had to be postponed for security fears.

One wonders what Charles may have inferred from macho Musharraf blatantly upping the political ante in the most sensitive region of Pakistan to mesh with the royal visit? Charles’ imperialist forebears, once bitten in the area they dubbed as the ‘prickly hedge’ of their Indian Empire, never bothered to go into the forbidden zone again and get licked. Weren’t they more circumspect than our Quixotic President?

What a shame that our gung-ho autocrat can’t, somehow, shake off his commando mentality and upbringing. Who was the sage who said, centuries ago, that those whom God wishes to destroy, He makes them blind first?