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Musharraf is not the rogue; Bhutto was



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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December 3, 2008

LONDON - President Pervez Musharraf gets a bad press; Benazir Bhutto a too kind one. Which of them is the real rogue? When Musharraf, as Pakistan’s top army commander, tried to engineer war with India over Kashmir in 1999 he demonstrated his roguish side. Yet even many of his opponents in Pakistan will concede that since he deposed Nawaz Sharif and assumed power he has been largely a benevolent dictator. Compared with last days of the Shah- and many in the American foreign policy establishment are falsely comparing what happened then with what is happening today in Pakistan- the country remained until this assassination rather stable, except in its lawless frontier provinces that border Afghanistan, a problem area even in British colonial days. Until now Musharraf has rarely cracked the whip. His riot police act with relative moderation. His jails are not full. Executions are rare and never for political offences. When one sits down and talks with Musharraf one get answers rather than bluster. Pakistan today is not Iran of yesterday, neither in the type of leadership nor in its degree of religious fervour: the Islamist parties have never gained more than 11% of the vote in a free election.

Bhutto and her husband seem to be manifestly corrupt. The one chance of nailing her lay in Switzerland where she had stashed cash in quantities she could never have earned honestly. At the time of her death she was appealing a Swiss conviction for money-laundering. Many believe she was implicated in her brother’s death. Certainly she quarrelled with both her brothers and her mother, all of whom competed to have the lead billing in the family’s political drama. She also was estranged from her husband. Yet now, according to her will, her husband was her chosen successor. For Bhutto keeping the family- to wit her 19 year old son- in the line of power was more important that developing a democratic, openly competitive, party. We still don’t know if her father was blameless in the political murder that saw him hanged. Nor must we forget that it was her father who started the nuclear weapons’ project and swore that if need be “the people will eat grass” in order to make that possible.

In comparison, Musharraf has done no great favours for his family, nor earned excessive wealth. He is a down to earth army man, who when younger loved to test his macho side.

It was under Musharraf that Pakistan extended the olive branch to India over Kashmir. Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, praised Bhutoo as someone who had wanted to break the “sterile patterns of the past” that had brought them to war three times over the disputed province of Kashmir. But this was a gratuitous back handed slap at Musharraf. Singh knows as well as anyone that the Kashmir dispute is grounded for lack of Indian resolve to go the last mile. He also knows that the militancy that plagues the region, spreading its infection into Afghanistan and to the frontier provinces of north western Pakistan originates in large part among the fighters who first engaged in violence in Kashmir in an attempt to oust the Indian presence.

There is no doubt that the Pakistani military was in large measure responsible for developing this infection when it built up the strength of the mujahidin in Kashmir. It provided training. It helped with logistics and provided military materials over a long period of time.

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But, apart from clandestine, illegal work, by some local Pakistani military and intelligence officials, this support network has been closed down by Musharraf. This doesn’t stop the militants drawing their military requirements from elsewhere, nor stop them organising a big bombing from time to time in India. Nor does it stop them working with the Taliban and the other militants of north west Pakistan. In their eyes India has designs on Afghanistan and is the enemy to all Islamic militant movements.

A peace agreement on the lines proposed by Musharraf- which most Western diplomats will tell you is as handsome an offer as they ever imagined- would shut down Kashmir-grown militancy once and for all. The militants are no longer as popular as they were inside Kashmir and the proposed peace deal would finally pull the carpet from beneath them. Moreover, it would be a singular contribution to lessening all Pakistani-based terrorism.

Why doesn’t Singh do it? Because of pressures from his own military. Because of the aspiring great power role of the foreign policy establishment that can’t bear to treat Pakistan as an equal. Because of the ultra chauvinism of Singh’s coalition partners, the Communists. Because the priority with the Communists on policy is to persuade them to agree to the pending nuclear deal with the U.S..

But now Musharraf is losing political strength all bets are off. Pakistan itself may be consumed by this infection of militancy.


Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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