Belligerent Benazir inadvertently helped Musharraf
Three weeks after emergency, the general is back on his feet
By Kamran Khan: The News, November 23, 2007
KARACHI: Just three weeks after pushing Pakistan into the second emergency rule of his eight-year reign, President Gen Pervez Musharraf appears to have survived the strongest challenge yet to his hold on power. The Pakistan Army is still standing solidly behind him, the United States is ‘’pretty comfortable’’ with the situation and his fractious political supporters are busy in getting their act together for the elections.
Based on this recovered confidence, anchored in American and Army support, President Musharraf is now getting ready to step down as Chief of Army Staff within the next few days, say his associates.
According to an important aide, President Musharraf’s articulation of views and candour were at their best when he spoke to President Bush in an unpublicised telephone conversation early last week. During this dialogue, he convinced Bush that the emergency was imposed for “only a few weeks” in the best interests of democracy. This landmark telephone conversation between President Bush and President Musharraf, kept secret from the media in both countries, was also used by Musharraf to provide a timetable for the complete restoration of democracy in Pakistan to the person who is perhaps his best international friend.
Musharraf followed up the promise made to Bush during this conversation when he gave the date for the general elections and ordered the release of thousands of political detainees. President Bush was clearly happy and he couldn’t resist expressing his satisfaction publicly on Wednesday by declaring one more time: “I think he (Musharraf) truly is somebody who believes in democracy.”
In an interview with this correspondent in February last year, President Bush had said that he shared Musharraf’s “vision for democracy.” Now 21 months later, Bush said last Wednesday, “I do believe that he’s going to end up getting Pakistan back on the road to democracy, I certainly hope so.”
Opposition politicians, particularly Benazir Bhutto, are discouraged. But what she is probably unaware of is that her belligerent political posturing since her return to Pakistan last month, reinforced the perception among the country’s military commanders that it was the worst time to lift support from Musharraf. More ominously, Bhutto’s combative statements dealt a severe blow to her desire of finally making peace with the Pakistani military establishment.
“What does Ms Bhutto expect from the Army or the people when she starts her day by demanding that the US cut off aid to the Pakistani military,” asked a general not authorised to speak on the record with the media . “I know Gen Musharraf and Gen Kiyani (Vice Chief of Army Staff) had a hard time selling the NRO (National Reconcliation Ordinance) to senior commanders,” the same general claimed. He said General Musharraf’s decision to grant amnesty to Benazir was considered a highly unpopular decision within the institution.
“Her statements on AQ Khan and the Army’s role in curbing militancy had already complicated the situation before she launched the aid cut-off campaign in the western media,” another Army general explained during a private conversation last week. “The notion that she is playing to the gallery in western capitals is gaining ground in the Army in particular and the country in general,” he said.
This became evident when the visiting United States Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was informed by the government during his visit to Islamabad last week that his desire to arrange a personal meeting with Ms Bhutto would carry negative consequences.
Negroponte got a detailed sense of this perception during his meetings with President Musharraf and two meetings with Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, an informed official said.
During several private conversations with senior military and intelligence officials over the last several days, a consensus view seemed emerging. In this view, international forces were using discontent against President Musharraf to undermine the institution of the Army in Pakistan.
This perception within the Army emanated from the campaign to reinstate the chief justice when the angry lawyers allegedly failed to distinguish between President Musharraf and the largely apolitical Pakistan Army. Their slogans, even in the presence of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, allegedly targeted the rank and file of the Army and the media ran the campaign unedited, several Army officials claimed.
An element of mystery was added in the military minds when Ms. Bhutto, backed by huge support from the western media, suddenly opted to increase pressure on General Musharraf by demanding the US to cut military aid to “nuclear-armed” Pakistan.
Hence the final decision was taken in informal and formal discussions between the corps commanders and Gen Musharraf just before and after the imposition of emergency to completely detach the Army from civil governance under the new Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani and to maintain strategic support to President Musharraf’s vision for democracy which the GHQ is most happy to share with President George Bush.
This was the period when the military commanders also turned down President Musharraf’s offer to quit both as the Army chief and president if that would help restore the much desired civil- military balance of power in Pakistan. According to a reliable official’s account of the meetings and conversations that took place between President Musharraf and several corps commanders and principal staff officers in the last week of October and the first week of this month.
Barring an unprecedented development, the Army seems ready to vanish from the public eye, even to the extent that senior Army officers may be asked to restrict their contacts with civilians only to close relatives and old friends.