The Army Versus the People of Pakistan?
ISLAMABAD: Background discussions with top cabinet members and key government players these days could be really juicy for journalists. Though publicly they remain calculated and composed, privately they are eager to open up their hearts.
One such desperate key federal minister shares with The News his secrets that vary from the Pak-US tensions to Musharraf-Benazir deal and from there to the General’s uniform and the looming dangers.
The highlights of the minister’s secrets include Washington’s unease with Pakistan and its growing distrust of Musharraf; existence of international guarantors facilitating the deal between the top general and the PPP chairperson; the lack of trust in shrewd Benazir Bhutto; the uniform issue and the image of the Army.
This background discussion between the minister and this correspondent was later joined in and witnessed by an “angel” from the media, who unlike other angels was quite talkative and too-much interested in politics of Pakistan.
To the shock of both the “angel” and this correspondent, the minister disclosed that Musharraf’s uniform was a must till the next general elections to keep a balance of political forces in the next Parliament.
“Firstly, Benazir Bhutto is not reliable. Secondly, if the uniform is removed before the elections, she might sweep the polls, leaving us in the lurch,” the minister said and explained that the uniform would be crucial to ensure that the ruling PML and the PPP stay in balance.
He was, however, confident that the top general would shed his uniform by the end of the year though the “angel” had his serious doubts. The minister believed that for the sake of Pakistan and to avert a serious damage to the institution of Army, it was imperative for Musharraf to doff his uniform.
When asked if the general had shown any intention to remove one hat, the minister said: “He is though not revealing his cards my ‘informed opinion’ is that he would be Mr President by the end of the year.” He laughed it off when asked if Washington was pressurising Musharraf to hang his uniform. He said that the uniform was in America’s interest, so why should they be asking for its removal.
The minister, however, said that some members of the cabinet and the ruling coalition parties had told the top general in closed-door meetings that the uniform was bringing a bad name to the institution of Pakistan Army. “This is really dangerous,” he said, adding that for the sake of Pakistan, it should be sincere efforts of all to ensure that the military goes back to barracks at the earliest.
The minister shuddered when asked whether the president would remove the uniform. He foresaw a confrontation between the Army and the civilian population, a situation that in his view must be avoided at all costs. “Let me tell you that if the Army is defeated, the country will be divided,” he said, insisting that as an institution, Army’s respect must be restored and for this, the military must return to barracks.
He revealed that Musharraf “hates Benazir with passion” but wants to get her and even Maulana Fazlur Rehman on board in the future government. When asked if the government does not have faith in Benazir, why should she believe the president that after being re-elected he would remove his uniform, the minister disclosed that there were more than one international guarantors, who would ensure that what was agreed was implemented in letter and spirit.
In the minister’s view, Musharraf is an idealist who wanted to remove his uniform even before December 31, 2004 but changed his mind after the MMA did not support his presidency.
About the Pak-US relations, the minister said that Islamabad was being made to walk on a tight rope. For the last one year, it is said that Islamabad is under tremendous pressure to go for a full-fledged military action against “militants” in the tribal belt of Pakistan without bothering about its causalities.
“It is clear that if we don’t act, they would attack such targets,” the minister said, adding that all the recent visits of the Americans, including that of the Vice President Dick Cheney, were aimed at exerting maximum pressure on Pakistan to go for the kill.
“They show us the training of militants on the laptops they carry and insist that the militants are planning yet another 9/11 for the US,” the minister said, divulging that Islamabad had been threatened with “incalculable” consequences if such a thing happened again.
President Musharraf, the minister said, was sincerely proceeding against the militants both militarily and through dialogue but Washington continued to suspect him and Pakistan. The Americans suspect, according to the minister, that Musharraf is playing a “double game” despite all his sincere efforts and Pakistan’s sacrifices. He said that Pakistan even took the responsibility on itself for the US attack on Bajaur that had killed dozens, including women and children, several months back.
He said in the present situation, the government was finding itself between the devil and the deep blue sea. The minister agreed that launching the military action against people within the country would cause a strong reaction and damage the reputation of Army. But, he said, the people also could not tolerate the American forces to target anyone in Pakistan.