Musharraf the Con Man
A week back, I sat in an Upper East Side bistro with two well known Pakistani intellectuals discussing the developments in their homeland. Both it seemed had no shortage of family friends and connections on the various political camps in Pakistan: with the Army, Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto (“Beebee” as they called her) and Nawaz Sharif. There was a great sense of frustration and a clear accord on what the near future held. It was a gloomy, depressing vision. Musharraf, being now ensconced as president, would return to the same system of alliances he had made the basis for his government since the first coup that brought him to power. He would rig the elections to insure himself a working majority.
The result? Musharraf would be still more unpopular than before, and notwithstanding the aura of elections, less legitimate. His basis for governing would be still narrower. And the educated, professional elites who would form the core of any effort to move the country out of its current morass would be more alienated, and more angry than ever. The Musharraf period has been a relentless spiral downwards for Pakistan. And Pakistan continues to be the real center stage in what the Bush Administration likes to call the war on terror—safe harbor and breeding grounds for a plethora of violent organizations.
American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has delivered up year-end remarks in which she congratulates herself on her foreign policy successes in 2007. Rice, of course, hopes that no one examines that claim too closely. In fact the year has marked a series of stunning reversals for her foreign policy stewardship. Nowhere are those set-backs more dramatic than in Pakistan—one country where Rice urged, and the White House rather belatedly adopted, a shift designed finally to try to nudge the country’s leadership out of the grave they’ve been digging themselves. It was, however, a classic case of too little, too late.
In sum, the Bush Administration’s Neoconservative team met their match for confidence artistry in a military man named Pervez Musharraf. He presented himself as the only game in town, the man they had to come to love—or else. And in this way, Musharraf was able to get his way on just about everything—picking their pockets as he went along.
Four reporters from the New York Times give us an impressive look at how he did it in an important survey published today. They put the impressive bill right up front:
After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needs to be completely revamped.
In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.
“I personally believe there is exaggeration and inflation,” said a senior American military official who has reviewed the program, referring to Pakistani requests for reimbursement. “Then, I point back to the United States and say we didn’t have to give them money this way.”
Musharraf’s agenda is clear: he relies on the support of key generals to maintain his hold on power. Having given up his uniform and his position as chief of staff, he is particularly eager to keep in the good graces of the generals. And nothing works quite so effectively as impressive and costly military baubles. For the Pakistani military, it’s all about prestige. But this does nothing to address Pakistan’s fractured foundations. And indeed, there can be no doubt that the tentacles of religious fanaticism reach deep into the Pakistani military itself. It gave us the Taliban. And even today, it’s hard to imagine the resurgence of the Taliban and the successful evasions of the al Qaeda leadership without close cooperation and protection from the Pakistani general staff.
Osama bin Forgotten
Indeed, Osama bin Laden is very important to leaders in the Pakistani military. He’s used as a lure for American money. Again, the Times study:
This spring, American intelligence officials said the Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas had reconstituted their command structure and become increasingly active. Backed by Al Qaeda, pro-Taliban militants have expanded their influence from the remote border regions into the more populated parts of Pakistan this year and mounted a record number of suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Coalition Support Funds program was intended to prevent that from happening. Under the program, Pakistani military officials submit bills and are paid for supplies, wear and tear on equipment and other costs, as well as for the American use of three Pakistani air bases, according to American officials.
Five billion down, and the situation’s getting progressively worse. It makes you wonder if some of that money isn’t finding it way into the hands of the enemy, doesn’t it?
U.S. policy towards Pakistan is in desperate need of an overhaul. The Bush Administration has fallen into a classic pattern of throwing massive amounts of money at a problem, without having first thought through a strategy with achievable objectives. It’s typical for the lack of professionalism they show in approaching issues. No one has put the outlines of a new strategy on the table. It’s time to get to work on one.
Comedian of the Year
Barney Rubin reports on some of the details of the “relaxation” of military rule by General President Musharraf. Actually, I’ve spoken with a number of observers just back from Islamabad or Karachi, and no one seems to be able to find any signs of the promised “relaxation.” But this case makes the point very effectively. Here’s Rubin:
The Pakistani journalist Ahmad Faruqui circulated the column below to a group of friends after his newspaper, The Daily Times, refused to publish it. In his cover note, Faruqui wrote:
”I have been writing for Daily Times since it began publication in April 2002. Attached is the first column of mine which they have rejected because it is too personal.”
I expected that the column would be a personal reflection by Faruqui on some taboo social subject…. But it turns out that the “person” in question is none other than “President” Pervez Musharraf.
Follow this link to read Faruqui’s column, which is worth the time to examine. Here’s his conclusion:
One has to conclude that there is no democracy in Pakistan because the army does not want it. It wants to be the prima donna. Chronic military rule has crippled Pakistan’s development, leaving it in a state of permanent adolescence. Musharraf concluded a recent interview with the Washington Post by saying that Pakistan was neither “small” nor “a banana republic,” probably leaving the interviewer speechless. The laugh is on him for reacting so defensively.