Friday, August 24, 2007 at 11:42 AM

Day of reckoning for America’s most-favored dictator – Gen Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

The only thing most Americans (if not Westerners in general) know about Pakistan’s self-appointed president, General Pervez Musharraf, is that he is the vanguard member of President George W. Bush’s coalition of those still willing to fight his “war on terror”. Therefore, it’s no wonder why Westerners regard Musharraf as such an indispensable ally.

Never mind the glaring contradiction he personifies: an unreformed military dictator fighting with Bush in a neo-Christian crusade to spread “western-style” democracy throughout the Muslim world.

Meanwhile, it seems disillusionment amongst Pakistanis with Musharraf’s dictatorship has reached a tipping point. After all, he pledged in May 2000 that he would “abide by a Supreme Court ruling to hand over power to civilian rule within three years.”

(No doubt he felt compelled to make this pledge after deposing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999 in a military coup, which he justified by citing rampant political and financial corruption. Although Sharif’s feckless and harebrained attempt to fire Musharraf as army chief and force him into exile – by refusing to allow his plane to land on Pakistani soil after a brief trip abroad – probably sealed his fate….)

Yet not only has Musharraf reneged on this pledge, but he has done everything possible to consolidate his dictatorial powers, including his own feckless and harebrained attempt to sack the chief justice of the Supreme Court earlier this year. Therefore, it’s no wonder why Pakistanis regard Musharraf as such an unsavory leader.

But a day of reckoning looms that will test Bush’s commitment to democracy as much as it will challenge Musharraf’s grip on power. Because even Bush was compelled to voice unconditional support for national elections (due later this year) – after Pakistanis protested for days upon learning that Musharraf was preparing to impose emergency rule, which would enable him to neutralize the courts and extend his dictatorship, indefinitely.

Of course, both Bush and Musharraf know full well that Musharraf does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a democratic election in Pakistan. Moreover, nothing assured them of his ignominious defeat quite like yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to allow the man he deposed, the exiled Sharif, to return home, without prejudice.

And, sensing rose-colored nostalgia amongst many Pakistanis for his rule, Sharif – who even in exile retained leadership of the biggest party in the six-party religious opposition alliance, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party – has vowed not only to return, but also to launch a campaign to oust Musharraf.

This is a victory for democratic struggle. Dictatorship has lost, democracy has won and the constitution of Pakistan has won. It is the beginning of the end of Musharraf. [Sharif in a London news conference after the court ruling]

But Musharraf must have anticipated this ruling. Because two weeks ago he went on an extraordinary mission to Abu Dhabi to seek accommodation, if not to propose a shotgun marriage, with Pakistan’s other former prime minister in exile, Benazir Bhutto.

After all, no matter Sharif’s assumptions about regaining power, odds are that Bhutto – who, like Sharif, retained her position as Chairperson of the country’s most progressive political party, Pakistan’s Political Party (PPP) – will be the queen bee when it comes to determining mates in the power-sharing government that is bound to emerge from forthcoming general elections.

(Incidentally, to get a sense of the political intrigue afoot in Pakistan, it might help to know that Bhutto herself was forced into exile in 1999. And, ironically, that she flew the coop to avoid trial on corruption charges – brought against her by then Prime Minister Sharif – that were very similar to the corruption charges Musharraf proffered as the just cause for his coup d’etat against Sharif….Got that?!)

At any rate, despite reports that Musharraf offered Bhutto a de facto pardon, in exchange for her support in his election showdown against Sharif, it seems far more likely that he will fall back on his role as army chief and support Bhutto in a battle of the exiles.

And, it was not lost on Bush, who blessed this proposed marriage, that such a deal, consummated by a Bhutto victory, would enable Musharraf to remain an indispensable ally to America. (Although no one can deny that, despite his apparent reluctance, Musharraf is best suited to pursue the phantom Osama and his al-Qaeda terrorists in the frontier region of Waziristan, Pakistan.) In addition, it would allow him to finally honor his pledge to cede political power.

Whereas, if Sharif and the PML were to win, they might well brand Musharraf a traitor and Bush himself a terrorist. In which case it would behoove Musharraf to follow the trail other weakened strongmen have blazed into exile.

And, frankly, given the numerous assassination attempts on his life, it would be understandable if Musharraf decided that he’d be better off enjoying time in London or Dubai, spending the millions he skimmed from US military aid, than wasting time in Pakistan chasing Islamic terrorists….

(Incidentally, in a truly Machiavellian marriage of strange bedfellows, Bhutto could reject Musharraf and hook-up with Sharif. But this “enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” scenario seems least likely.)

Meanwhile, despite all of the political permutations in the offing, nothing terrifies world leaders more than the nightmare scenario of the keys to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons being democratically-snatched from Musharraf’s secure and trustworthy hands by a Muslim zealot; i.e. like a Pakistani version of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad….

So, stay tuned….

Related Articles:
Musharraf: a friend indeed who’s a friend in need
Clear and present danger Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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