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October 29, 2001
T V R Shenoy
What if Musharraf falls?
Two weeks ago, I expressed my skepticism on the Pentagon's claims about 'smart' bombing, laser-guided accuracy, and other jargon of modern war. While pleased to be vindicated, I wish it hadn't been at the expense of mosques and old-age shelters, of Red Cross emergency stations and United Nations warehouses. In a supreme irony, even the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance has been blitzed!
One of the chief victims of the bombing hasn't been within a hundred miles of the stench of bomb-smoke and human flesh. Yet chancelleries across the world are expressing their concern for him. The Russians speak publicly about his "safety" in Islamabad. And an Israeli leader says he prays for this leader every night.
The man in question is Pervez Musharraf, the beleaguered leader of Pakistan. He is not a particular favourite of Russia or Israel. But both are worried about Pakistan's nuclear technology -- perhaps the country itself -- falling into the hands of the Taleban. So much so that the Russians have started a conversation with the United States about a lightning strike to take out Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if the Musharraf regime falters.
Some say the Russians are worried enough they are deliberating some strikes of their own against the Taleban if there is enough reason to believe they have nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Last Friday, October 26, the Russians put up a new satellite without much fanfare. This satellite, Molniya, is intended to provide military communications and surveillance over central and southern Asia. Just coincidence?
Pakistan was a reluctant entrant into the United States' "war against terrorism." Musharraf's hand was forced by India's prompt announcement that it would back any war on militancy. The general gamely tried to put a good face on it, announcing that he was backed by about 85 per cent of Pakistanis. A Gallup poll gives him the lie; it found that 83 per cent of Pakistanis in urban areas supported the Taleban!
Empirical evidence supports the professional pollsters rather than the self-proclaimed president. Consider what has happened just in the past seven days:
The Americans have reported their helicopters were fired upon inside Pakistan. At least two thousand men -- that is the most conservative estimate -- have left upon the Taleban's call to join the war on the United States. Pushtun tribesmen in Pakistan expressed their resentment against Islamabad's policies by blocking the Karakoram highway, the major route connecting China and Pakistan.
Most recently, there was resentment about the Government of Pakistan's embarrassed refusal to accept the bodies of Pakistani citizens who had been killed in the American bombings. One can, of course, understand why Musharraf's henchmen were forced to take this stance. They were members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, an outfit noted for its operations in Kashmir. Given Islamabad's official stand that the militancy in Jammu & Kashmir is completely homegrown, the authorities could scarcely make an exception.
(This, by the way, is nothing new; during the Kargil conflict in 1999, Pakistan originally refused to take back the bodies of its own soldiers.)
It says much of the widening gap between Islamabad and the men on the ground that the bodies of the men were ultimately allowed back, and given an honourable burial. It was a fait accompli, and Islamabad gave in quietly enough.
Musharraf is, in fact, being pushed from all sides. He announced that the American bombing campaign would end soon -- and was promptly corrected by President Bush. (Compare that with Israel's response when Washington said its incursion into Palestinian territory must end; the Israelis promptly stayed put for another week.) The frustration in the Pakistani president is apparent at every press conference; he can do nothing but fall back on the old tactic of blaming India.
This is just plain silly. The Pakistani president must know that the last thing that India wants is another coup in Pakistan, for precisely the same reasons as the Russians and the Israelis. India wants a buffer state between itself and the lunatics in Afghanistan. Delhi's chief fear is that Musharraf is losing the battle to keep control of Pakistan.
Some of my friends in Indian intelligence point to the capture and execution of Abdul Haq. The former Mujahideen hero was supposedly on a secret mission. (Great care had been taken to publicise the fact that he was marshalling support in Peshawar, false stories that continued to the day he crossed the border.) Yet the Taleban were tracking his presence almost as soon as he entered their territory.
This suggests one of two possibilities: that the Taleban have agents among the Afghan refugee community in Pakistan, or that Pakistani intelligence agencies continue to maintain their links with their old friends. And I think we can take it for granted that the Taleban have managed to plant agents behind the Northern Alliance lines.
Let me sum it up: the Taleban are far from being pushed out of power by the American bombing campaign; if anything, they are preparing to strike back at the United States and its allies. The first targets, if only because they are closest at hand, will be the American military personnel. (There are up to 20,000 American soldiers in Pakistan.)
Actually, forget the Taleban. The question facing Pakistan is this: should they follow Jinnah or Maudoodi? The founder of Pakistan said he wanted to establish a secular state; once he was dead, the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami persuaded his fellow politicians to take another route. Today, Pakistan stands at the same crossroads.
What if Musharraf falls? Well, the Taleban leader has given us the answer. His chief foes, he has officially proclaimed, are the United States, Russia, Israel, and India. Guess which one is closest, more so if Pakistan falls to a Taleban-spawned anarchy? Perhaps Indians too should begin praying for Musharraf!
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