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    South Asia
     Nov 28, 2007
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'Our' dictator gets away with it
By Pepe Escobar

"[Musharraf] truly is somebody who believes in democracy."
- President George W Bush

Future historians will review the Pakistan of November 2007 as a classic of soap opera geopolitics. The main plot screams "revenge". Rattled by a know-all exiled elitist (Benazir Bhutto) imposed on him by a scheming Washington, the hapless "Mush" - as President [soon to be ex-]General Pervez Musharraf is

informally referred to by middle-class Pakistanis - decided not only to sing his own version of My Way but to follow his own timing.

In a little over three weeks, Musharraf proclaimed his own "surge" (aka emergency rule); sacked the Supreme Court; rounded up the usual suspects (journalists, lawyers, students, human-rights activists); kept at least 2,000 of them in custody (according to the Interior Ministry); got a puppet court to legitimize his way towards "re-election"; amended the constitution through executive order; hung up his uniform; and will become the next (civilian) president of Pakistan, with General Ashfaq Kiani replacing him as head of the army.

Meanwhile, Pakistani civil society - from lawyers to university students - has to be commended for showing former prime minister Bhutto the (new) writing on the wall. They exposed the utmost fallacy of Musharraf-Bhutto back-room deals forced on Pakistani public opinion for which Bhutto, the worldwide media darling (stylish, Oxford English-fluent, well-connected), would never qualify as a credible third-time-lucky prime minister. Chances are she would repeat her abysmal human-rights record and controversy - Bhutto's husband was known as "Mr 10%".

I'm ready for my close up, Mr Bush
A possible good alternative as Pakistani premier would be decent, non-corrupt opposition leader Aitzaz Ahsan, a former interior minister in the last Bhutto government and currently in jail.

But Washington instantly came up with other plans for fast-forwarding the plot - in the form of sinister John Negroponte, currently number two at the State Department and the designated George W Bush administration special envoy to Islamabad.

Negroponte's lush experience of deadly counter-insurgency in Honduras and Mexico in the early 1980s was not handy enough to make Musharraf see the writing on the wall himself: clean up your act (that is, cut a deal with Bhutto as soon as possible) or else. "Or else", with Musharraf out of the picture, would be Bhutto cutting a deal with the new top dog in boots, chain smoker and president of the Pakistan Golf Association General Kiani, the new Washington darling.

During early emergency days, there were widespread rumors Kiani - with US backing - had taken Musharraf into custody and assumed power. When Negroponte went to Islamabad in June to meddle in the crisis between Musharraf the Supreme Court, Ahsan told the Pakistani press, "The Americans have got their eggs in one basket and know only one phone number in Pakistan, and that is now a dud number because it does not communicate with any Pakistani citizens." Now the Americans have Kiani.

Negroponte met twice with Kiani. According to Urdu-language media, "he spent more time with General Kiani than with General Musharraf." Pakistani analysts are virtually unanimous. Beyond the Ahsan or Kiani "minor" issue, Negroponte's visit had nothing to do with democracy, but with guaranteeing the prosecution of the "war on terror" and the interests of US multinationals. The White House didn't bother to utter a single word about the fierce demands for democracy by Pakistani lawyers, journalists, students or human-rights activists.

Not a ladies' man
Many people accept that Musharraf seems to have a problem with women. To counteract what he defined as Bhutto's "negative vibrations" maybe he should play The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations. Musharraf has also defined Asma Jahangir - Pakistan's top human-rights advocate, as "quite an unbalanced character". In a statement released while she was under under house arrest, she wrote: "While the terrorists remain on the loose and continue to occupy more space in Pakistan, senior lawyers are being tortured." Asma - or for that matter any Pakistani working with non-governmental organizations providing health and education support to women in the tribal areas - would be a more credible premier than Bhutto.

Peripheral characters in this soap opera can be even tastier than Bhutto and Musharraf. Take former star cricketer and opposition leader Imran Khan, who was arrested by hardcore fundamentalist Jama'at-e-Islami (JI) students at the University of Punjab campus in Lahore and then handed over to Musharraf's police.

The JI was also against Musharraf's emergency - it wanted at least the restoration of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry plus free and fair elections. But the JI cannot stand a secularist like Khan, who among other sins had been gloriously married to British blonde glamour girl Jemima Goldsmith. Jemima, who knows one or two things about upper-class serial plotters, has coined the ultimate branding of Bhutto as "a kleptocrat in an Hermes scarf".

In a recent text, "The Battle for Pakistan", released before his arrest, Khan pointed out how during eight years under Musharraf, only 1.8% of the country's gross domestic product was spent on education, "the lowest ever in our history". Pakistan's state school education system is now in tatters. Khan also stressed how "Pakistan has the worst social indicators in South Asia", according to the United Nations Human Development Index. "Even Burma [Myanmar] is ahead. On the other hand in 2006, Pakistan spent US$ 5.1 billion on arms." Khan, now released, says he's in favor of boycotting the January elections. Other opposition parties are still debating. Khan insists if they all do boycott, "the credibility and value of the elections is lost".

As for JI's criticism of Musharraf, it doesn't focus on education or military spending. To the horror of secularists, the JI wants Islamic canon law applied in the whole of Pakistan. The JI cannot be easily dismissed. The JI's leader, Qazi Husain Ahmad who is also the leader of the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e Amal - the Islamic Action Council coalition of Islamic parties), was fiercely opposed to the US bombing of Afghanistan in 2001. The MMA holds 20% of Parliament, two key provinces of Pakistan's five (the ultra-tribal North-West Frontier Province, NWFP, and Balochistan) and has wanted to be part of Musharraf's feast since 2002.

The JI is not Salafi-jihadi as an organization, although some individual JI members are very cozy with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. What's extraordinary is that widespread abhorrence of Musharraf led the the JI to consider entering a "joint movement" with Bhutto's People's Party Pakistan (PPP). That's what Qazi himself revealed in an exclusive interview to the Urdu-language Khabrain daily.

But Qazi also stressed how "Bhutto started issuing statements such as allowing access to the Americans to [father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb] Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. The media continues to support her on her return. There has been no substantial increase in support for Bhutto. If you have money, you can gather 100,000 drumbeaters around you." Qazi's verdict on Pakistan under Musharraf is straight to the point: "The behavior of the government is leading to civil war."

Mrs Bhutto, you're no Aung Sang Suu Kyi
All this time the US corporate media conveniently shelved the fact it was Bhutto, in her first term as premier, who enshrined the

Continued 1 2 

Strings attached to Sharif's return (Nov 27, '07)

The general has no uniform (Nov 22, '07)

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