Crisis in Pakistan

A former U.S. government official in the region addresses president Pervez Musharraf’s state of emergency and the country’s subsequent unrest.<br> <i>[A frequent traveler to the region, the interviewee asked to be identified only as a former U.S. official.]</i>

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Mother Jones: Are we witnessing with Musharraf a Shah of Iran-type situation?

Former U.S. Official: It is not a Shah of Iran-type situation. Not yet. Despite the circle jerk of journalists who say the crazies will take over the country and have nuclear weapons, they won’t do that yet. It is absolutely known within our government that Musharraf and the army have a very solid system of nuclear control.

When things were moving kind of okay, Musharraf did this big anticipated shuffle on the first of October of senior military positions. He appointed the intelligence chief to be vice chief of the Army staff, and then Musharraf was to take off his uniform on November 15. He expected the approval of the Supreme Court to be elected [Musharraf was reelected as president on October 6], and then the vice chief of the Army staff [Ashfaq Kiyani] was to take the job of chief of the Army staff.

What one has to watch for now is if there is enough conflict in the streets, and the Pakistan Army is asked to square off against people of Pakistan. The Pakistan army has historically been fed up with this. It is a real army–an army with a real adversary; it is not like some Third World banana republic militaries. The army [might] then say, we can’t do this, and that will be the end of Musharraf.

MJ: What do you think of the new head of the army [Ashfaq Kiyani]?

Official: He is probably one of the finer officers. He went to the Command and General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, [Kansas].

Don’t forget Pelosi and company [Congress] shut off military-to-military contact with Pakistan for 10 years. It just started again a few years ago. One of best thing American troops can do is have these guys [Pakistani soldiers] come over. It is better than having them sitting around madrassas. You want them to be doing their jump training at Ft. Benning [Georgia].

The guy who commands the 10 Corps of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi, Lieutenant General Tariq Majeed, is all important. Whenever anybody has to move, when the military has to move, you have to have that.

MJ: Who arranged that Musharraf would allow back Benazir Bhutto in a suggested future power-transfer arrangement?

Official: They started it and we jumped in. Musharraf and his party knew he was coming to the end of the line where he had to do something. Then we [the U.S.] got involved, and the media. We love Bhutto more than anything. She played Lacrosse at Harvard. She then went to Oxford and was on the debating team. She has [public relations firm] Burson-Marsteller representing her. [Burson-Marsteller partner] Mark Penn went to Harvard. He’s doing Hillary [Clinton]. We love her so much, she gets viewed back there as our Chalabi.

MJ: What do you think of Bhutto?

Official: She is the daughter of a feudal lord with a political party, the Pakistan People’s Party. She had with Musharraf this kind of agreement that she comes back to Pakistan not as the prime minister, but that she comes back with this American backing and media adoration. It makes it look like maybe her party could get a majority. She starts to believe her own press. Every exile I ever worked with is out of touch with his or her own country.

MJ: Who is her constituency?

Official: The people who like to fantasize that this change will take care of their needs. It looks like she was shoved down the throat of Pakistanis by the U.S. But that is not really the case. We overdid it at the worst possible moment: In the delicacy of the negotiations, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte came to Islamabad a month ago; Rice is on the phone. This was just before Bhutto came back. Probably it was coincidental, but that is not what it looks like in a country of 160 million people, more than half of who can’t read. So Bhutto is viewed as America’s person, as the new Chalabi.

MJ: Explain the recent events, and Musharraf declaring emergency rule.

Official: The reality is that America is so hated in Pakistan and by the Pashtun people, and this is the key thing. There are 15 million Pashtuns on the Pakistani side of the border drawn by the British, and 15 million on the other side. They hate us. They are either your best friend or your worst enemy. And we’ve gone to being their worst enemy, in part because we are whacking them in great numbers on the other side of the border–a border they don’t recognize.

You have a huge issue. A whole big piece of Pakistan is going to total, outright hatred of America, and the government of Pakistan is under serious threat now. Not just in the FATA [federally administered tribal areas], which have always been outside of government control, but moving into the Swat Valley, a beautiful tourist area, which is now under great stress. There is a lot of fighting going on there. Outside of the tribal areas, suicide bombers in Karachi are going after Benazir [Bhutto]; in one week, a suicide bomber also went off a quarter-mile from Musharraf’s headquarters. Then suicide bombers attacked a squadron of Pakistani military commanders and pilots at Sarghoda Air Force base in Punjab Pakistan. Sixteen fighters were killed. That’s like attacking Andrews Air Force base.

This is a huge deal, all of this stuff. Plus the Judiciary: Musharraf fired the Supreme Court chief justice; it had become a very activist court. The trouble was he was advised by a former attorney general whom he had to fire to sack the chief justice. That set something off. In a country where, among a very small percentage of elites, everything looks good and the economy is great there is still an amount of unrest. And the lawyers went out on the street, and the Supreme Court ruled to reinstate the chief justice.

We always insisted on everyone having democratic elections. They did that in two provinces, and the MMA party, an amalgam of two Islamist parties, won. Imagine what the Bush crowd would do. It has already put the constitution in abeyance.

You have to go back to, why do they hate us? Like it or not, we came into Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance and our enemies seem to be the Pashtuns, and when we go after an enemy we do it without regard. The British and Germans are getting very nervous to be around us. We lay waste. We create 10,000 more enemies every time we unleash air strikes. And we are doing more air strikes than we are ground stuff. It is causing great strain in NATO.

The point is we are turning the Pashtun people in Afghanistan and Pakistan into enemies. Congress says in all its legislation if it is to give any money to Pakistan, that Pakistan has to prove they are doing all they can to prevent infiltration of bad people. Pakistanis at a certain point say, “Stop. You have NATO and the U.S. army in Afghanistan. Why don’t you seal your side of the border? You know why? You fucking can’t.”

We have to make it simple. There are 30 million Pashtuns, 15 million of them in Pakistan. Just open a channel. Start talking to them. You will never be able to kill [the militants] fast enough.


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