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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Musharraf overvalues himself
West-approved leadership key to region's security

Peter Goodspeed
National Post
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Pervez Musharraf was warned by the United States and Britain not to declare a state of emergency. He went ahead anyway.
Is Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, a reincarnation of the Shah of Iran?
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has pumped more than US$10-billion of military and economic aid into Pakistan and hailed the General as a staunch and faithful ally who plays a critical role in the war on terror.
But it has little to show for its efforts. Osama bin Laden and the top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders still live safely in exile in Pakistan's tribal belt, and the country is a recruiting ground and training centre for post-9/11 terrorist attacks outside its borders.
As in Iran in 1979, Washington and the West find themselves propping up a hugely unpopular authoritarian ruler whose future is threatened by an Islamist uprising and growing anti-American sentiment.
Saturday's declaration of a state of emergency was more than just an embarrassment for Western diplomats. It signalled the near-total failure of their policies toward Pakistan.
Unlike Iran, however, the West may not cling to its collapsing alliance of convenience with Gen. Musharraf.
After being warned directly last week by Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, and Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, not to declare a state of emergency, the Pakistan President went ahead anyway, confident his allies would acquiesce as part of the price they pay to have his country fight Islamic extremism.
Not for the first time, he overestimated his own importance. A resentful West dislikes blackmail and while it still needs to work with Pakistan, it does not necessarily need Gen. Musharraf.
Although allies from Washington to London, the European Union and the Netherlands are saying they will review aid programs to Pakistan, it is highly unlikely they will cut relations with Islamabad.
They do not want to jeopardize the West's military alliance against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, especially since Washington and NATO are having trouble getting their traditionally more reliable partners to ante up troops to extend NATO's mission across the border in Afghanistan.
Add to that NATO's urgent need to curb Taliban infiltrations from Pakistan and the fact that fully half the alliance's logistics chain in Afghanistan passes through Pakistan, and a break with Pakistan appears impossible.
Still, as pressures mount for the country to return to full constitutional rule, Gen. Musharraf may be sacrificed.
His removal will be greeted with joy across Pakistan. The appearance of a new, strong but silent military leadership would pave the way for finalizing the kind of power-sharing deal Britain and the United States were trying to engineer between Gen. Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.
An obvious new leader from the military would be Lieutenant General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, nominated by Gen. Musharraf as his potential successor when he intended to step down as head of the army on Nov. 15. As a former head of Pakistan military's intelligence unit, Gen. Kiani is well-known and well-liked by officials in the West. He also once served as Ms. Bhutto's chief military advisor and was the main go-between in negotiating her recent return home.
If Gen. Kiani, or another suitable military leader, decided not to run the country directly, he could establish an interim government with an appointed but suitably pliable figurehead president and go ahead with the elections that were scheduled for January.
Ms. Bhutto's acceptance of such a deal would be crucial. But she is far more likely to agree to a new arrangement with a new military leader who moves toward a transition to democracy than to rely on the promises of the unpopular Gen. Musharraf.
Yesterday, Pakistani security forces arrested more than 1,500 people. Most were not Islamic radicals threatening violence, but lawyers, human-rights activists, politicians and journalists. It is now virtually impossible for Ms. Bhutto to share power with Gen. Musharraf without looking as if she has sold her soul.
Like the Shah, Gen. Musharraf has isolated himself at home and abroad. If the West wants to avoid repeating its history of failure in Iran, it needs to start focusing on how to support democracy in Pakistan, without further destabilizing a fragile, nuclear-armed state under pressure from religious extremists.
© National Post 2007

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