Pakistan prepares for the worst

  • From: "" <muslim_affairs@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 20:32:10 +0100

Whatever the pros and cons of the US-led war on Iraq, the signal being sent
to other "rogue dictatorships" is unmistakable, and in the power corridors
of Pakistan, where the message is being received loud and clear, the face of
politics is being reshaped as a preemptive measure. 

Highly-placed sources in the country's military regime report that contact
has been made with exiled former Pakistani premier and leader of the
Pakistan Peoples' Party-Parliamentarian (PPP-P), Benazir Bhutto, offering
her a new deal. This would include giving her a safe return to the country
and a new role in politics subject to her abandoning some of her political
designs, which include the formation of a powerful united opposition group
within and outside parliament to force President General Pervez Musharraf to
step down. 

This development took place after Musharraf's intelligence apparatus learned
of a possible future meeting between another former Pakistani premier, Nawaz
Sharif, who is exile in Saudi Arabia, and Bhutto, in the United States. In
the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bhutto and Sharif each served two terms in
government, and both have since been in exile under a cloud of corruption

It is surmised that in ordinary circumstances, Musharraf would not have felt
threatened by such a move on the part of the former premiers, but in the
present circumstances, feeling threatened on the external front, he does not
want to risk unnecessary internal opposition. 

Musharraf has already admitted publicly that Pakistan may be the next US
target, even though it has been a part of the US-led "war on terrorism"
since September 11, 2001. Just over a month ago, US ambassador to Pakistan
Nancy Powell alleged that Pakistan has failed to honor its promise of
curtailing cross-border infiltration into Indian-occupied Kashmir and
continues to be a "platform for terrorism". Her forthright remarks caused an
uproar, fueling demands for her to be declared persona non grata. 

In recent months, Pakistan has also been accused of having nuclear links
with North Korea, which in October admitted that it had a secret uranium
enrichment program, and also Iran. Much has been written about Western fears
that Pakistan's nuclear weapons may fall into the wrong hands. And earlier
this week, the US imposed sanctions on Pakistan's Kahuta Research
Laboratories for allegedly helping North Korea to develop weapons of mass

And the emergence of the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a grouping of six
religious political parties that secured 53 seats in the national
parliamentary elections last October and which now dominates in the troubled
North West Frontier and Balochistan provinces, has alarmed many in the West.

The overtures to Bhutto, then, who is not only popular in her own country
but also abroad, would help Musharraf to introduce an acceptable "face" into
the political establishment. However, it is unclear at this stage how Bhutto
will respond - but her prolonged exile and the detention of her husband,
Asif Ali Zardari, in Pakistan for many years on corruption charges may
influence her decision. 

And all Musharraf's al-Qaeda cards appear to have been played with the
arrest of a number of members of the network in Pakistan, including some
senior ones, meaning that his use to the US on this issue is diminishing by
the day. And this even includes possibly Osama bin Laden, as speculation is
intensifying that he is either dead or captured. 

Internally, Musharraf has problems, a key one of which is resentment among
Pashtun officers in the Punjabi-dominated armed forces. In the latest round
of promotions for major-generals, Pashtun officers were largely ignored. And
the Musharraf regime's siding with the US on its invasion of both
Afghanistan and Iraq is still bitterly resented by many within the armed
forces and the intelligence apparatus. 

This has resulted in abrupt reshuffles, including the corps commanders of
Bahawalpur and Quetta. The most surprising was the immediate removal of the
corps commander of Gujranwala, Lieutenant-General Faiz Ali, who was
transferred to the general headquarters as adjutant-general, and a
major-general, Muneer Mushtaq, was unexpectedly given promotion in his

The sideling of Faiz, who also served as director-general (Borders) in the
Inter-Services Intelligence responsible for Pakistani operations relating to
India, shocked many in the army, although further reshuffles can be
expected, including a new Corps Commander Karachi. And an inquiry into
alleged bad planning and negligence on the part of officers stationed in the
disputed (with India) Siachen glacier area in the Karakoram mountains has
caused conflict among the top brass. 

Given these developments, the overture to Benazir Bhutto is one response.
Another could be an escalation of tension with India. 

Source:  Asia Times

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