The Great Game Continues – ExclusiveOctober 21, 2011
(Dr Sachithanandam Sathananthan)
The widely expected victory for Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential election brought to a high point the tortuous process of regime change in Pakistan. Anyone who has followed the “colour revolutions” that installed pro-American rulers in Georgia (Rose Revolution, 2003), Ukraine (Orange
Revolution, 2004) and Kyrgystan (Tulip Revolution, 2005) could surely not have missed the tell tale signs.
The earliest foreboding surfaced in the backroom manoeuvres by United States (US) and British intelligence services to engineer panic about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. It was a repeat of the duplicitous hysteria they generated over non-existent weapons of mass destruction that Iraq allegedly possessed. A carefully worded article, co-authored by former State Department officials Richard L. Armitage and Kara L. Bue, signalled the shift in US policy. After formally acknowledging then President Pervez Musharraf’s many achievements, the authors continued: “much remains to be accomplished, particularly in terms of democratization. Pakistan must…eliminate the home-grown jihadists…And…it must prove itself a reliable partner on technology transfer and nuclear non-proliferation.” And the denouement: “We believe General Musharraf…deserves our attention and support, no matter how frustrated we become at the pace of political change and the failure to eliminate Taliban fighters on the Afghan border.” Translation: Musharraf has to go.
Almost simultaneously a 2006 country survey in The Economist, titled “Too much for one man to do”, began on a jingoistic overkill: “Think about Pakistan, and you might get terrified. Few countries have so much potential to cause trouble, regionally and worldwide”. The following year a Carnegie Endowment report faulted western governments that “contribute to regional instability by allowing Pakistan to trade democratisation for its cooperation on terrorism”. Senior US State Department officials repeatedly accused Musharraf of “not doing enough” to combat Islamists within Pakistan and prevent their infiltration across the Durand Line into southern Afghanistan.
Sensing the way wind was blowing, then PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto redoubled efforts to convince Washington and London that, if she were to become Prime Minister, she would gladly do their bidding. She underscored her enthusiasm to serve and ensured her party was fully responsive to America’s Late Neo-colonialism. She summoned senior party members to Dubai on 9 June 2007 for a “briefing” by a team from the US Democratic Party’s National Democratic Institute (NDI), ostensibly on the subject of elections in Pakistan. The ruling Republican Party’s International Republican Institute (IRI) had conducted the previous four “briefings” in June and September 2006 and March and April 2007.
Benazir leaned towards the Democratic Party in the last one no doubt as a hedge against the party’s possible victory at the forthcoming US Presidential Election.
Even a cursory knowledge of US Imperialism’s standard operating procedure is sufficient to surmise at least some among the IRI and NDI officers were covert intelligence operatives; and that their “briefings” went beyond “tutelage of natives”. Rather they have been grooming the PPP as America’s satrap.
Benazir’s predilection to collaborate with the West has its roots in the Bhutto family’s micro political culture. Her grandfather, Shah Nawaz Bhutto was a minor comprador official in the British colonial regime. The British rewarded his “loyal” services with the title Khan Bahadur and later appointed him President of a District Board and still later elevated him to knighthood. Her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s populist programmes did not dilute that legacy, which left a lasting impression on Benazir; she firmly believed the path to political power in Pakistan meanders through the Embassy of the United States, the current neo-colonialist.
She promised to offer the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan to “satisfy the international community”, an euphemism for the major powers; and to allow the US-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to operate inside north-western Pakistan. By the time Benazir visited the Senate in September 2007, she had convinced the Bush Administration of her unswerving loyalty; for “she received a standing ovation from a select gathering of US lawmakers, diplomats, academics and media representatives. This contrasted sharply with her previous visits to the US capital when she received little attention.” To deepen “Washington’s renewed interest in her” Benazir cautioned that supporting Musharraf was “a strategic miscalculation” and pleaded “the US should support the forces of democracy”, which, of course, refers to her PPP.
So, President George W Bush enabled Benazir’s return from exile by arm-twisting Musharraf to promulgate the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). The NRO of 5 October granted amnesty to politicians active in Pakistan between 1988 and 1999 and effectively wiped the slate clean of corruption charges for Benazir and her husband Asif Zardari. Three weeks later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made it appear the Bush Administration wished to bring together “moderate” forces, implying a scenario in which Musharraf and Benazir would join forces as President and Prime Minister respectively; and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte corroborated Rice: “Our message”, he intoned, “is that we want to work with the government and people of Pakistan”.
However, Musharraf saw through the US Administration’s transparent ploy to lull him into believing it would not remove him and install Benazir in his place. So, he swiftly invited Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), back from exile in Saudi Arabia to counter Benazir. But he could not consolidate his position, especially because he mishandled the judiciary, and was compelled to resign on 18 August 2008.
In a nutshell, the reason for “Washington’s renewed interest” in Benazir is Musharraf’s firm opposition to US Late Neo-colonialism, to its manoeuvres to occupy, pacify and ravage Pakistan. In the 19th century British colonialism waged the “war on piracy” on the high seas ostensibly to bring “the light of Christian civilization”. But the British were the most successful pirates, as Spanish and Portuguese historians would gladly confirm. The “war on piracy” was the duplicitous justification trotted out to dominate lucrative maritime trade routes that were in the hands of Chinese, Arab and Tamil maritime empires and to invade kingdoms and/or countries essential to control trade and plunder resources. During most of the 20th century heroic anti-colonial movements and anti-imperialist wars rolled back much of colonial rule, which in some instances however morphed into neo-colonialism. Indonesia after Sukarno, Iran after Mosaddeq and Chile after Allende are well known examples.
The “war on terror” and “promoting democracy” are the 21st century equivalents of the 19th century British gobbledygook. American Late Neo-colonialism purveys them as moral justification and uses as political cover for intervening and, where necessary, invading resource-rich and strategic countries to overthrow nationalist leaders, install puppet regimes and savage the countries’ wealth. And of course the US is by far the most powerful terrorist force. It succeeded in Iraq (for now); but the CIA-organised regime change could not dislodge Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who rejected the neo-colonialist 1989 Washington Consensus and supported alternative nationalist economic models.
Politically challenged Pakistani liberals — a motley crowd that includes members of human rights and civil liberties organisations, journalists, analysts, lawyers and assorted professionals — are utterly incapable of comprehending the geo-strategic context in which Musharraf manoeuvred to defend Pakistan’s interest. So they slandered him an “American puppet”, alleging he caved in to US pressure and withdrew support to the Afghan Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11 although in fact he removed one excuse for the Bush Administration to “bomb Pakistan into stone age”, as a senior State Department official had threatened.
Nevertheless American discomfort with Musharraf’s government was palpable by late 2003, after he dodged committing Pakistani troops to prop up the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. When he offered to cooperate under the auspices of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), naïve Pakistani media and analysts lunged for his jugular, condemning him once again for succumbing to US demands. But in fact he nimbly sidestepped American demands: he calculated that diverse ideological stances of the 57 Muslim member-counties would not allow the OIC to jointly initiate such controversial action and therefore Pakistan’s participation cannot arise, which proved correct.
Washington of course was not amused and the Bush Administration grew increasingly hostile to Musharraf’s determination to prioritise Pakistan’s interests when steering the ship of the state through the choppy waters of the unfolding New Great Game, in which the West — led by the US — is manoeuvring to contain growing Russian and Chinese influences in Central and West Asia. His foreign policy decisions over time convinced Washington that under his leadership, Pakistan would side with enemies of US and Britain in the New Great Game. First, he refused to isolate Iran; instead he vigorously pursued energy cooperation to build the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline in the face of stiff American opposition. Second, Washington was alarmed by Musharraf’s preference for deepening Pakistan-China bilateral relations and forging nuclear cooperation; and more so when he offered Beijing naval facilities at the Gwadar port on Balochistan’s Arabian Sea coast overlooking the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic chokepoint through which passes approximately 30 per cent of world’s energy supplies.
Perhaps the last straw was his success in gaining Observer Status for Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Russia and China are spearheading the SCO, which includes four other countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; Iran and India are also Observers. The SCO is widely perceived as a rising eastern counterweight to western security and economic groupings and Islamabad drifting towards the SCO was simply unacceptable in Washington.
To rub salt into its wounds, Musharraf refused permission to interrogate Dr AQ Khan and firmly rejected Washington’s demands that NATO troops be allowed into the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his associates.
By early 2006 it was clear Washington was looking for nothing less than a pliable leader in Islamabad, a firm political foothold in Pakistan and a Pakistani foreign policy that complemented US strategic aims in Central Asia.
What perhaps angered Washington the most were actions Musharraf took to wind down the “war on terror” within Pakistan. Immediately after taking power, he outlawed three Islamic extremist groups and, after 9/11, intensified military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.
Washington would have gone along with Musharraf had he focussed on military operations to curb Islamists. Military action alone cannot defeat guerrillas; but it can kill many of them and in turn induce new recruits — well known points reiterated by William R Polk in Violent Politics (2007) – so that the so-called “war on terror” would not end any time soon.
That could supplement US Administrations’ assiduous manufacture of the “Islamic threat” through the 1990s to launch an endless “war on terror” — the New Cold War — to rescue America’s permanent war economy. For after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US economy (and by extension west European economies) faced perhaps its biggest crisis: the “Communist threat” ceased to be credible; it could not be exploited to terrify the American people into acquiescing to rising military expenditure that keeps wheels of the permanent war economy rolling and to expanding the repressive security apparatuses.
So the Bush Administration deftly replaced the “Communist threat” with the “Islamic threat”, no doubt following Machiavelli’s famous advice in The Prince, that a wise ruler invents enemies and then slays them in order to control his own subjects. The apparently counterproductive bombings, arrests, torture, kidnappings and disappearances (sanitised as Extraordinary Rendition) carried out by US forces while the CIA covertly funded, armed and supported Islamists are intended not to eliminate the “Islamic threat” but to contain it within manageable limits and to spawn the next generation of “terrorists”.
Sometimes, plans go awry; “culling” may not contain the resistance, as seen in Afghanistan from time to time. Nevertheless, the strategy is to “feed terrorism” and simultaneously “cull terrorists” so that the perpetual New Cold War oils America’s moribund permanent war economy.
Musharraf, however, did not play ball. He complemented military force to defeat Islamists with political initiatives.
He signed a peace treaty with tribal elders in North Waziristan (within FATA) to marginalise the Islamists. To combat the Islamists’ religious ideology, he promoted “enlightened moderation”, a veiled reference to secularism and tolerance. Musharraf’s vision of a secular Pakistan has its roots in exposure to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s legacy when he attended school in Ankara during his father’s diplomatic posting to Turkey. In fact, after taking power in Pakistan he often held up Ataturk as his role model. He planned to “wean away” the people from the “extremists” through education is how he described his approach to this writer. Towards this end, he introduced educational reforms and re-wrote school history text books; enacted laws protecting women’s rights and diluted Islamic laws against women; and he liberalised the media. To deny Islamists their traditional rallying cry — Kashmir — he opened path breaking negotiations with India to remove that arrow from the Islamists’ quiver.
When Musharraf skilfully combined military operations against Islamists with a political front promoting secularism to ideologically disarm them, the US administration saw red. By secularising Pakistani society over time Musharraf would de-fang the “Islamic threat” within Pakistan and extricate the country out of the contrived orbit of “war on terror”. That would greatly diminish Washington’s leverage to intervene in the country to distance Islamabad from Beijing and exploit energy resources abundantly found in Balochistan and, in the long run, perhaps derail US administration’s well laid plans to bring Afghanistan to heel and to dominate Central Asia and its oil-rich Caspian Sea basin.
But Musharraf was in no mood to back down. So the Bush Administration slipped regime change into gear. Taking advantage of his missteps, the anti-Musharraf media blitz, NGO and student mobilisations, lawyers agitations, protests by political parties and civil society organisations seemingly coming from all directions in fact displayed a fantastic degree of organisation, coordination and financing clearly beyond the ken of the fratricidal activists and often ad hoc institutions and never witnessed before in the country. Very likely they will not be seen again either; indeed later the activists were singularly incapable of organising any significant agitation when three women were buried alive for defying their parents’ choice of husbands. The manoeuvres against Musharraf bear uncanny resemblances to organised “people’s power” the CIA unleashed during “colour revolutions” and upheavals against Hugo Chavez.
The Bush Administration began reaping the rewards of unseating Musharraf within 24 hours of his resignation. Chief of Army Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani travelled to Kabul to meet NATO and Afghan commanders on 19 August. About 10 days later Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen informed a Pentagon news conference on 28 August that Kayani and his lieutenants held a “secret meeting” with their US counterparts on a US aircraft carrier, reminiscent of American gun boat diplomacy in Latin America and unthinkable in Pakistan under Musharraf’s watch..
Mullen touchingly chronicled how he “learned to trust” Kayani and bent over backwards to emphasise that Kayani is no American puppet, that Kayani’s “principles and goals are to do what’s best for Pakistan.” But a few sections of the US media, weaned on decades of Pentagon-speak from the debacle in Vietnam to the illegal invasion of Iraq, saw through the verbal obfuscation. And when a reporter pointedly queried Mullen whether Kayani’s “goal for Pakistan also aligned a hundred per cent with the US goal”, the Admiral waffled: “[Kayani] knows his country a whole lot better than we do. And again, I just think that’s where he is, that’s where he’ll stay.” Translation: US administration has got Kayani on tight leash.
And to maintain there is no substantial change from Musharraf’s policies, Kayani’s spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas and Mullen alleged the meetings had been arranged several weeks earlier, when Musharraf was President, to facetiously imply he had approved the contacts.
The import of “coordination” between American, NATO, Afghan and Pakistan militaries will become clearer over the next weeks and months. For now the suspicion is unavoidable that the US Administration has at long last begun frog-marching Pakistan into the US-created Afghan quagmire to further destabilise the country and justify intervention.
Musharraf had resolutely opposed precisely this eventuality. He rejected US demands that the Pakistani army assist NATO forces in Afghanistan. He underlined the country will not repeat the catastrophic mistakes of the 1980s when it got embroiled in America’s war in Afghanistan against the then Soviet Union, for which the Pakistani people continues to pay a heavy price. Rather, he insisted his army will fight only Pakistan’s war within Pakistan’s borders.
The consequences of the PPP leadership following the US into the Afghan quagmire will soon be evident.
Already, within 16 days of Musharraf’s resignation, US forces carried out the first ground assault in Angoor Adda area within Pakistan’s borders — which Musharraf had disallowed — with the connivance of the new leadership. Obviously there is more to come since the Bush Administration has eagerly caricatured the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as “The New Frontier” in the New Cold War.
For the moment, there is great euphoria among Pakistani liberals over the presumed “return to democracy”. The comments by Ayesha Tanmy Haq are typical: “We have removed a dictator by the citizenry showing that real power lies with them.” The hapless liberals have yet to discover Late Neo-colonialism and its devious manoeuvres for regime change; they have in fact effectively legitimised them by opposing Musharraf. They are agonisingly unaware of the labyrinthine geo-politics and economic imperatives underlying the New Cold War. They are blissfully going along with the collaborationist leaders who are bartering away the country’s future for the proverbial pieces of silver.
Dr Sachithanandam Sathananthan read for the Ph D degree at the University of Cambridge and was Visiting Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University School of International Studies.
(Source: Outlook India)