Musharraf the juggler

The Economist makes some very good points this week, and I’ve excerpted some parts of the long article.

Man in the middle - via Economist.com
© 2004. The Economist.

One of America’s most important partners in the war against terror, Pakistan is also one of its biggest worries

As an American ally, Pakistan is an embarrassment. Its ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. His efforts since then to legitimise himself have been marred by a farcical referendum, electoral manipulation, and concessions to Pakistan’s Islamist extremists. The country has been the launch-pad for terrorist attacks in India. Worse still, it has proved to be the headquarters of a global mail-order business in nuclear-bomb technology, with Libya, Iran and North Korea as its known customers. If not a member of George Bush’s “axis of evil”, Pakistan seems to have been doing its best to meet the eligibility criteria.

So when Colin Powell, America’s secretary of state, visits Pakistan on March 17th, he will have some harsh words for his hosts. But only in private.

Policy towards Pakistan lays America open to the charge of hypocrisy. On February 25th, America’s State Department issued its annual human-rights report. A damning section on Pakistan noted that the government was dominated by the army and the intelligence services, and its human-rights record remained poor. The next day, Mr Powell appeared before Congress to justify the department’s budget for the coming year, including $5.7 billion in assistance for countries “that have joined us in the war against terrorism”. Top of the list, with $700m, was Pakistan.

“Our generals have been wrong on everything,” says Pervez Hoodhbhoy, a peace activist and professor of physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam university. His charge-sheet is convincing. The army’s backing of the Taliban ruined Afghanistan, and has left those parts of Pakistan dominated, like the Taliban, by ethnic Pushtuns, deeply disillusioned by the decision to help America’s war. The generals’ acquiescence or active connivance in the proliferation of nuclear technology (or even, just conceivably, their ignorance of it) may have endangered the whole world. Their provision of money, training and cannon-fodder for the 14-year insurrection against Indian rule in Kashmir brought misery to that land, put Pakistan on the wrong side in the war against terror, and utterly failed in its objectives.

Indian officials are reserving judgment. Infiltration of armed militants from Pakistani- to Indian-administered Kashmir has abated. But in the winter months anyway, Himalayan snow slows it to a trickle. There is little sign yet that Pakistan is dismantling the dozens of militant training camps.

It is often argued that Pakistan’s room for negotiation is limited by popular opinion, formed by decades of indoctrination, starting in the schoolroom, about the injustice and cruelty of Indian rule in Kashmir. But some Pakistanis dispute this. Outside parts of Punjab province, home to many of the Pakistani soldiers and militants who have died in Kashmir, many people are weary of the whole conflict, realise it cannot be won and hanker after a lasting reconciliation with India.

The army’s failure to take on Islamic extremism means, in Ms Ahmed’s cruel summary, that “America is backing the military that is backing the mullahs that are backing the jihadis.” [The Economist]