by Zainab Cheema (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 8, Shawwal, 1431)
A fresh development in this schizophrenic saga is the return of Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf to the political arena
At times, one may wonder at the seeming irrationality of US foreign policy toward Pakistan. When the floods struck, the US government was the most prolific donor, with USAID politicos expressing ready sympathy for the victims. American officials have declared that it is imperative to broadcast a beneficent image of the United States, worriedly citing polls that track the rise of anti-American sentiment in the Pakistani public. This is sandwiched by CIA bombing campaigns in Waziristan and hired mercenaries like Blackwater (now Xe) Corporation conducting terrorizations that alienate hearts and minds throughout Pakistan.
A fresh development in this schizophrenic saga is the return of Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf to the political arena. From his current perch in London, Musharraf announced on October 1 that he is creating a new political party — the All Pakistan Muslim League — to run for office in Pakistani elections. Proud collaborator of the War on Terror, his speechmaking shows that the destabilization and social terror he helped inflict hasn’t impaired his flair for the grandiose. “Today, God has given me the opportunity to set the tone for my political legacy,” he announced at his London press conference. “Come join me in changing Pakistan’s destiny. It is not an easy task but one we must work for, as Pakistan is ours.” Frederick Turner would be gratified — Manifest Destiny indeed.
But Musharraf’s return is hardly possible without international — or shall we abbreviate and say, American — support. As with Iraqi counterparts such as former spook Iyad Allawi, he belongs to the pool of collaborators who court funds and favor in order to return to their posts of glory in the Third World.
Let’s cue the rewind button here. Musharraf assumed power in October 1999 after a military coup deposing then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. However, his political fortunes changed only after 9/11. Prior to this, US officials had sneered at the architect of yet another military coup, admonishing Pakistan with the example of democratic India which was then on the fast-track to becoming America’s bosom-buddy. With 9/11, US representative in South Asia, Richard Armitage, offered Musharraf an elegantly simple choice — either join us or “we’ll bomb you back to the Stone Age.” Musharraf likes his cigars and whiskey, those macho pleasures of civilization, so he opted for the Faustian handshake.
But like the necromancer’s curse, the grizzly reality of Stone Age was not to be escaped. As Henry Kissinger once observed, while being America’s enemy is dangerous, America’s friendship is disastrous. A discarded Cold War ally, Pakistan’s coffers had been dry and creaky. With the handshake, military aid poured in to the tune of $7 billion. Besides graft and elaborate pay-offs for army officers, Musharraf was even able to reroute some of the funds earmarked for fighting the war on terror into F-16 fighter planes for Pakistan’s armed non-aggression against India, or as one independent observer put it, toys for his boys in uniform.
Pakistan’s politicos have always shown remarkable generosity in passing down the costs of their decision-making to the people. It is a self-evident truth, bordering on a truism, that Pakistan has been turned into a war on terror parking lot: 3000 American Special Forces units operate in Pakistan at the present. The cost? Aafia Siddiqui is only the most famous case of secret abductions and kidnappings run by the FBI and CIA throughout the country.
To elaborate, thousands of people simply disappear, after commando style raids on their homes during night-time or high-speed kidnappings in public. Human Rights Watch has flagged this unconstitutional disappearance, noting the pain and terror this spreads in families and neighborhoods. When Pakistani Special Forces and the FBI stormed Zain and Kashan Afzal’s home in Karachi, they broke through the concrete walls, tied up their ailing mother, and threatened to kill the family. The brothers’ 5-month sojourn in prison reaped a burst eardrum, lacerations on the back, and other souvenirs of US attempts to win the “hearts and minds” of the Pakistani public.
As it turns out, Guantanamo is a thriving industry in Pakistan and the foremost field of Pakistan-US collaboration. In fact, Pakistan’s police, army, and other law and order institutions have been subsumed in the American security apparatus. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan conservatively notes that 5,000 cases of police torture are connected with the war on terror. The methods used in these interrogations should be familiar as cinnamon-scented apple pie: beating, burning with cigarettes; whipping the soles of the feet; prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep; hanging victims upside down, and forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters. The Iraq and Afghanistan playbook is clearly not gathering dust-mites.
And while most of the dirty work is done by Pakistani policemen, American interrogators stamp the whole operation as “Made in the US of A” in the victim’s minds. When Zain Afzal asked to be formally charged and tried in court, the FBI interrogators threatened to ship him to Cuba and told him, “We are the court.”
Musharraf’s reign, which only ended after widespread civilian demonstrations for civil elections, also inaugurated the beginning of the Waziristan war. The infamous drone attacks, which Obama parodied when warning the Jonas Brothers to stay away from Malia and Sasha at a White House event, are no joke for the Pathans and other residents of the Pakhtunkhwa-Khyber (PK) — formerly the North West Frontier (NWFP) — province. Around 800,000 people have had to flee from their homes and are living in squalid, disease-infested camps with no water. Even the US media does not bother to cover up the fact that drone attacks are resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Media reports calculate that in 2009 alone, the drones killed 700 people. They have spread a palpable veil of terror over the area — the Pashtuns call the unmanned aircraft bangana, or thunder clap for the sound of laser-guided Hellfire missiles.
While the war on terror gave Musharraf his credentials, it was also the war on terror that pulled the curtain on his political career. The lawyers’ movement, students’ movement, and other anti-Musharraf mobilizations from Pakistan’s civil society, were rooted in the public perception that he had sold the country, from its Himalayan crown to the Indian Ocean waters, to George W. Bush.
But US fortunes in the area only improved after the general’s exit. Asif Ali Zardari has scrupulously taken up Musharraf’s duties after he “won” the 2009 elections on a sympathy vote following Benazir Bhutto’s murder. It is an open secret that Mr. Ten Percent treats Pakistan as his own personal Ponzi scheme, enriching himself at the expense of the 170 million people he pretends to rule. Meanwhile, the Black Ops, renditions, abductions, drone attacks, torture, and urban bomb blasts have only accelerated.
Even the most symbolic change, replacing military rule for a civilian one, is a fraud. As Patrick Cockburn writes in his recent article, Is Pakistan Falling Apart?, the army still commands the biggest slice of Pakistan’s shrinking economic pie. “Military bases all over the country look spruce and well cared-for, while just outside their razor-wire defenses are broken roads and slum housing,” he notes.
So, why would the US handlers dust off Musharraf and install fresh batteries in him, when Zardari has shown himself to be fairly reliable?
As it turns out, US policy toward Pakistan is not conflicted — it is rather simple, like the five year old’s plan of attack when his parents refuse to buy him the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers figurine. For all the souped-up rhetoric on the war on terror, the Pentagon recognizes that the danger of Islamic terrorism in Pakistan is hardly the harbinger of Armageddon.
Rather, the goal is Af-Pak balkanization, as it is rather inelegantly called. The strategic location of this Eurasian chessboard is tomorrow’s energy geography. In a world where energy has become the most scarce and precious resource, maintaining centralized states like Saudi Arabia in the region would be too expensive — they would demand too large a cut from the profits. And while Pakistan has indeed proved to be a loyal and tractable ally through the years, its secularized elite has not been able to purge the stigma of Islam inherent in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan before their imperial handlers. The reminder of this came with the bomb.
Pakistan’s death knell was rung by the sonic blasts and mushroom clouds of the 1998 nuclear tests. The nuclear tests followed India’s by three days. Pakistani politicians were forced by their rival’s display of atomic strength to reveal their own cards and maintain the uneasy deterrence that prevailed since 1971. Irony is a rough taskmaster; this perceived act of self-preservation turned its superpower ally against the Land of the Pure. The generals and politicians could hardly have guessed that at the height of its prosperous liberal secularism, the Judeo-Christian roots of US political culture would revolt at the thought of a Muslim country stepping out of its place and acquiring the symbol of great power éclat — the atomic bomb. Many independent observers have noted the fact that the US decision to end its hard-to-get games in South Asia, and definitively ally with India dates from the 1998 tests.
So, what does balkanization look like in this region? Pakistan is to be split into independent Baluchistan and Free Pashtunistan governed by co-opted tribal proxies a la the Anbar Awakening. As outlined by Colonel Ralph Peters in the June 2006 issue of The Armed Force Journal, these would be accompanied by an independent Sistaan, carved from a “Persianized” Iran, and a Kurdistan extracted out of Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Peters also ruminates on handing over Makkah and Madinah to a rotating Vatican style authority and reducing Saudi influence down to a “rump Saudi Homelands Independent Territory” around Riyadh, where “the House of Saud would be capable of far less mischief toward Islam and the world.” Clearly, there is more openness and deliberation on how to carve the Thanksgiving turkey than there is on distributing territory in the Muslim world.
Let us measure the dough being baked in this oven. The rewards of transforming PK (former NWFP) and Baluchis-tan into orbit states are fruitful indeed. India would be gratified by the destruction of its historic rival, securing a US-Israeli-Indian triumvirate that is already well on its way. Splintering Pashtunistan and Baluchistan would ensure US control over the current PK corridor to the Afghan battleground and offer a convenient Baluchi platform for invading and running black-op missions in Iran. Not to mention, it would guarantee a docile geography for gas pipelines being constructed from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Baluchistan itself possesses fabulous gas reserves, making it an important station in the emerging map of Pipelinistan.
Pakistan’s balkanization is just as much about keeping rivals out as it is about securing the best perch in the playground. The Iran-Pakistan Friend-ship pipeline (IP) in the works (formerly the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline before the US weaned away India with its nuclear fuel deal) is planning its route through Baluchistan. While Pakis-tan can occasionally make such inconvenient deals with a neighbor that Israel and the US are determined to exterminate, the groomed Baluchi tribes would follow more the acceptable Karzai pattern of subservient obedience. Mean-while, terrorizing the PK is laying the ground for the US’s own pipeline project snaking its way through Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI).
After all, why pay people to leave their homes for the greater good of American prosperity, when you can scare them away? As Colonel Peters helpfully declares in his article: “one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: ethnic cleansing works.”
Baluchistan also boasts the warm water port of Gwadar, constructed by the Chinese in the hopes of acquiring a maritime base near the Straits of Hormuz — the most important commercial highway for the world transit of Persian Gulf oil. Heavy Chinese investment in Gwadar, encouraged by Musharraf, sparked widespread panic in US and Indian political halls. India accused China of nursing covert imperialism in the Indian Ocean, while the US response manifested itself in bomb attacks and assassinations of Chinese engineers and workers. The reprimand had its effect: China announced that for now, it is scrapping the Gwadar project.
As it happens, the patterns of terror in the Pakistani front of the war on terror closely match the planned outlines of a balkanized Pakistan. While abductions and kidnappings in major city centers like Karachi and Lahore garner the most media attention, most abductions actually take place in the rural provinces of PK and Baluchistan, exponentially increasing the despair of peoples that have no access to resources or venues to publicize their stories. Meanwhile, the US is co-opting select tribes and religious groups from these regions into the Pakistani version of Latin American militias. The CIA and ISI are mobilizing remnants of Taliban and Taliban-like groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba to run black-ops in the province and in neighboring Sistaan-Baluchistan located in southeastern Iran.
This is accompanied by efforts to train the PK’s Frontier Corps, a ceremonial tribal police left over from the British Empire, into a formidable armed militia that will orchestrate Iraq-style bomb blasts and terrorize civilians. A report entitled Plan for Training the Frontier Corps is being circulated at the US Central Command headquarters, and the Pentagon’s current budget has earmarked $75 million for training the Corps in counter-insurgency techniques.
And while the war on terror perfected the Pakistan army’s control over the country, it is actually a shortcut to its impending demise. Visibly involving the Pakistan army in their apparatus of terror, the US has successfully dissolved the political capital held by the military from the past three wars with India. As a matter of fact the Pakistani military’s proxy role is perhaps the canniest move in US program of balkanization. Once viewed by the Pakistan public as the stabilizing force holding the country together, the post-Musharraf military is now exposed as little more than a self-serving US tool. And while the US certainly does covet hearts and minds in the war on terror, it doesn’t need all the hearts and minds. As long as a corrupt cadre can be seduced in their quest to gain natural resources gratis, the fury of a few hundred million people is chump change.
“Within an Orwellian framework, Pakistan and NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan are deliberately being destabilized while there is talk about stabilizing them,” notes Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya of Global Research. He is also right on the draw in pointing out that many of Pakistan’s elites are party to this agenda — consciously.
This is clearly spelled out in our would-be Napolean’s campaign trail. If Musharraf has learned a lesson from his 2008 exile, it is that his sole duty is to be a loyal of employee of US War Inc. Plunging Pakistan into chaos and fear is hardly a source of regret — it is that he didn’t do enough for the Pentagon while in office. He promises to immediately redress this in his second reign over the hapless country. In a speech given last year at Trinity College, he made headlines with his statements that Pakistanis will simply have to buckle up and accept casualties from the war on terror.
“We need to inject more forces. And may I say we have to defeat [the enemy], whatever it costs,” he told the crowd. “So therefore, may I suggest to this august gathering, we have to accept casualties, ladies and gentlemen.” He received a standing ovation.
We’ll have to wait to see what Musharraf’s return to Pakistani politics really signifies. It may be the posturing of Le General anxious to show that he is still in touch with the country that afforded him fame and fortune at the expense of political enslavement. It may be that the US is determined to give him another run just for the sake of hammering in another nail in the coffin of the Pakistani army en route to securing the nukes. However, the other options aren’t appetizing. In the swing dance of Pakistani politics, nearly all of the politicos who promise to replace Zardari stink of the same graft and greed. As a Dawn Newspaper columnist aptly put it, Pakistanis are “up to their necks” in the nets of war and horror.