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Nov 9, 11:11 AM

General Musharraf – Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Musharraf is considered a strategic keystone in the American war against terror. The Silk Route is open again for business after years of neglect. It is now an American conduit to procure and destroy Islamic extremists. Musharraf has no choice but to fight alongside the Americans. Reeling from sanctions for its nuclear tests in Chagai, Pakistan needed serious financial restructuring. With Pakistan throwing its support behind the U.S. coalition it managed to secure additional aid and beneficial debt-restructuring packages. Total liquid reserves in the central bank have now pushed its GDP up by 2.9 percent from last year. But Musharraf has had to tread carefully resulting in the Western media questioning the “moral” make-up of Pakistan with such headlines as Time Magazine’s recent, “Is Pakistan a Friend or Foe” or whether Musharraf should be replaced with a democratically elected leader.

In the days following September 11 Uncle Sam flashed a carte blanche and Musharraf strategically grabbed it. Saying “yes” to the Americans, however, has brought on the wrath of not only the fundamentalists but of the average Pakistani citizen suspicious of American hegemony. The reality is that Musharraf is a leader of a country charged with social inequalities and sectarian violence; there is a porous border that has not only brought in over two million Afghan refugees but enough opium to supply eighty percent of our world’s users. It has also waged two wars with India ensuing 4.6 percent of its GDP being spent exclusively on the military.

What does one do? Musharraf, theoretically, could have told George W. Bush, “No. Absolutely not. Pakistan categorically states that it will not help the United States in it’s War against Terror. This is not our war”. A resulting scenario? Pakistan becomes a pariah nation, a cog in the Axis of Evil, shunned by the developed world, suffocated by sanctions. The American coalition reciprocates by conducting airstrikes on key Pakistani cities in an effort to snuff Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and stamp out terrorist cells. India masses troops on their shared border. Musharraf falls and a General with fundamentalist leanings pushes ‘the’ button. India reacts. Karachi, Lahore, Delhi, and Bombay have a combined population of one million people.

On the flip side Musharraf could have said, “Yes. Our country is your country. Pakistan needs to purge itself from these extremist parasites. Use our country as you see fit to root out terrorism.” A possible outcome? Americans set up military bases along the Afghan-Pakistan border in their hunt for bin Laden. Ignorant US strategists fail to realize that Baluchis and Pathans in these semi-autonomous areas have stronger ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties with Afghanistan than that with the rest of Pakistan. Alexander of Macedonia had failed, as did the British and Soviets, in this region. In 1973 six Pakistan Army divisions were deployed to subdue a Baluchi uprising. Five years later, and three-thousand dead Pakistani soldiers, the area was secured. Tribal clans would most likely side with local Warlords and wage proxy battles with American and Pakistan troops. Musharraf would pay for this allegiance with his life. Hundreds of American servicemen would return to Washington in bodybags. Pakistan spirals into becoming another Lebanon.

What the American policy makers fail to understand is the situation in Pakistan. Recent comments such as, “Pakistan’s behavior has fallen well short of what Americans expect from an ally…” in the New York Times reflect a childish and hypocritical attitude. At a recent Conference on Terrorism at the United Nations in New York City Musharraf responded to Western criticisms by saying: “Such aspersions display either deliberate discrimination or insufficient understanding of the ground realities.” The ground realities are complex and need to be understood. How do Pakistanis – the ordinary public and the conservatives in the government – react to developments in Afghanistan? The general population by most accounts is moderate and progressive. They consider the remuneration Pakistan received for their partnership in the campaign against the Taliban to be inadequate – considering it is not their war. They are also critical of American hegemony. The religious right are not only vehemently against American expansionism but are extremely unhappy about the plight of Pakistani combatants trapped in Afghanistan. President Musharraf is under severe domestic pressure to address these issues.

To appease these two segments of society President Musharraf has insisted that the country will reap economic and geopolitical advantages from his resolve to collaborate with the United States. Musharraf’s decision was never favored, but the difficult environment in which he was forced to make this decision, coupled with promises of international financial assistance, diluted public contention. President Musharraf is also pursuing the prospect of contracts for Pakistani companies once reconstruction in Afghanistan gets under way. Public opinion remains unimpressed and the consensus is emerging that Pakistan has lost out as it did when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in the late eighties. American foreign policy can take the blame for yet again using Pakistan as a condom for its own selfish operations. As for the combatants two thousand of them remain unaccounted for, trapped in places like Kunduz, Kandahar or in confinement. Northern Alliance leaders, bolstered with a wink and nod from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have announced that their surrender is unacceptable and will be executed.

Emerging from Greek city-states, democracy has had over two-thousand years to refine itself in the West. Pakistan has had just over fifty years of precarious experimentation. History has also shown that Pakistan cannot remain immune to what happens in Afghanistan – it inevitably has to deal with the problematic spillovers from its neighbor. Pakistan is also jockeying amongst its competitors Iran, Russia, the Central Asian Republics and India for geopolitical influence in Afghanistan. Economic leverage is equated in strategic duplicity and military might. India is attempting to acquire the Phalcon, an airborne early warning system, and the anti-ballistic Arrow missile from Israel. Sharon’s recent visit will likely result in the purchase of three Phalcon systems. Should there be a deal Musharraf will find himself juggling yet another imbalance. As long as education and basic human needs are at loggerheads with outrageous military budgets true democracy will never take root.

Musharraf, like the troubled Greek general Odysseus, is navigating his countrymen between Scylla and Charybdis. The dilemma – avoiding Charybdis, a terrible whirlpool, will only bring him closer to Scylla, the six headed hydra. In Greek mythology Scylla devoured six of Odysseus’ men from his ship between the narrow straits. There was nothing Odysseus could do to save them. Musharraf might very well make it through these dire straits but at what cost? The ending will invariably befit a Greek tragedy. What this means for Pakistan is anyone’s guess. What is certain, however, is that the previous democratically elected governments of Bhutto and Shariff would have lost their ship in its entirety to the monsters Scylla and Charybdis had they been in power.

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