Musharraf’s Remarkable New Journey
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
24 January 2004
General Musharraf is smart. No one disputes that. But how long can he survive in a turbulent land called Pakistan where everyone from the military to mujahideen (armies of Allah) say one thing and do another? A snapshot of the “defender of the supreme national interest” following two unsuccessful assassination attempts on his life.
General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s supreme leader, has a reputation of being a survivor. He proved it once again during December 2003 when he was able to survive two assassination attempts in Rawalpindi, barely 11 days apart.
But in Pakistan, where Musharraf’s star has been on the rise since the days of Gen. Zia ul Haq, he is known as Mr. U-turn. That is because he has flip-flopped so many times in his professional career as a solider and a politician that it is practically impossible to trust him or take him at his word. Indeed, what makes him even more remarkable is that when he makes a U-turn he does it with such gusto and public hoopla that even the most skeptics are easily convinced.
While it is impossible to fathom the psyche that is responsible for his bizarre behavior, one thing is very certain – General Musharraf’s life is full of contradictions. His childhood in New Delhi (where he was born in 1943) and his formative years, when was brought up by his enlightened parents (father a diplomat, mother a labor activist), are so far removed from the Jehadi culture that he personally nurtured as a senior officer in the Army. It is hard to believe that a former student of St. Patrick’s High School in Karachi, and Foreman Christian College in Lahore, would one day, as Brigadier Musharraf, be put in charge of the Special Services Group (SSG) by General-President Zia ul Haq solely to crush the Shia revolt in the Gilgit region in 1988. It is equally difficult to understand that President Nawaz Sharf would pick him as the new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in 1998, superceding at least two more senior officers, in order to invigorate the military establishment efforts to crush the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi, which is precisely what the general did.
What makes the career of General Musharraf even more remarkable is that he is the first Mohajir to head the State and the second Mohajir to become the COAS. That he was trusted by Zia and Sharif, both belonging to ruling Punjabi clique in Pakistan, is a testament to his survival skills. His treachery against his own President, leading to the military coup in 1999 and expulsion of Sharif from Pakistan in 2000, and his hatred towards Indians, resulting in Kargil (military misadventure in 1999) and Agra (diplomatic misadventure in 2001), are all well known. General Pervez Musharraf, as the principal “corporate” sponsor (representing Pakistani military establishment) of the terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), tried to persuade various Kashmiri guerrilla groups to unite under Maulana Masood Azhar, JeM’s leader, following his release from an Indian jail in exchange for the release of Indian Airlines passengers. In recent years his ability to dump generals and politicians who assisted him in securing power but were subsequently discarded as political baggage (Gen. Mohammed Aziz, Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, Gen. Mehmood Ahmed, Gen. Mohammed Amjad, former President Rafiq Tarar, etc.) has reinforced the image of an untrustworthy person solely dedicated to his survival. Indeed, the disparity between General Musharraf’s professional career and his private life presents yet another window to his unique capability to do the U-turns without any guilt or remorse.
Even those who have never trusted Musharraf and would usually take lightly his utterances say that he is a changed man today. The Time magazine recently quoted his aides to say that after two recent attempts on his life, “Musharraf has a new attitude”. A State Department official recently remarked, “Musharraf was born again on December 25”. Lately, his utterances in regard to India as well as his performance at the January 2004 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Islamabad mark a complete U-turn from the past. While India and the United States have never agreed on Musharraf before, it was a different story on January 20, 2004, when Yashwant Sinha, India’s minister for external affairs, met with the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in Washington. While Mr. Powell expressed his usual vote of confidence in Musharraf, Mr. Sinha went a step further, stressing a need for stability in Pakistan and implying that Musharraf must continue to lead Pakistan in order for the peace initiative between the countries to succeed.
General Musharraf was no less dramatic in his symbolic first foreign trip, after the SAARC, to Turkey, where he had spent 7 years in his early childhood learning Turkish and admiring a great secularist named General Mustafa Kamal Atatuk. But the born again general, who had nurtured Jihadi culture in Afghanistan and Pakistan by transforming poor Pakistani and Pakhtoon boys through Madrassas into hard-core Mujahideen, made the following statement in Ankara on January 22, “Both Pakistan and India have to show flexibility to resolve the issue of peace in South Asia.”. Later he expounded on his new found wisdom at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This remarkable U-turn for the commando warrior, who has brought India and Pakistan to a brink of nuclear war in the past, was every bit as dramatic as Musharraf ditching the ISI creation, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, in the post 9/11 era.
Americans, who were impressed by the speed with which Musharraf signed on to the war against terrorism in September 2001 and by his national broadcast to his nation in January 2002 denouncing terrorism, have always overlooked Musharraf’s lies or duplicity in saying one thing and doing something else. Even when it was conclusively proved that Pakistan had traded nuclear technology for missiles from North Korea, the U.S.A. chose to look the other way. The American public posture did not change even after Iran, another member of the so-called axis of evil, disclosed that it had secretly received nuclear technology from Pakistan. So it is unlikely that American pressure induced Musharraf to change his tune. Could it be that Mr. U-turn is truly a changed man today and on a one-way highway of peace in so far as the South Asia is concerned?
As much as one would like to think that General Musharraf controls Pakistan as an absolute dictator, and a change of his heart could translate into a change in policies of his country, the reality is that Pakistan is ruled by a college of cardinals (“junta”), also known as Corps Commanders. So it is not simply Musharraf, but the whole military junta that has to believe in what the General is saying in public. The true test of Pakistan’s credibility rests in knowing the exact views of this odd and shadowy bunch. While Musharraf under American pressure forced out many of the rabid Islamists in Pakistani senior military hierarchy in army reshuffles of September 2000, October 2001 and November 2003, the fact of the matter is that not every General in the ruling junta is on board with Musharraf’s policies, especially Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. or in the war against militant Islam. Given that, one can only speculate how the same group would feel towards India knowing that hostility towards India in the Pakistani military establishment borders along schizophrenic proportions. It is in this context that one should view ongoing efforts by the Pakistani authorities to punish Parliamentarian Javed Hashmi for circulating in December 2003 an unsigned letter by Army officers criticizing Musharraf. Mr. Hashmi is the leader of Nawaz Sharif faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the very origins of that organization can be traced to many military junta leaders hailing from Punjab.
The relationship between Musharraf and the ruling military clique becomes even more interesting in context with the assassination attempt on Musharraf by at least two suicide bombers on December 25. Surprisingly, two unexpected pieces of evidence were left at the death scene where 14 people lost their lives. One was a cell phone that led to links between the bomber and military (and Kashmiri insurgents) and the other was a piece of the bomber’s face, which led to his quick identification. He turned out to be Mohammed Jameel, an Islamic terrorist affiliated to JeM and other fundamentalist insurgent groups, from Rawalkot area of Pakistani Administered Kashmir (PAK) belonging to the same tribe as Gen. Mohammad Aziz, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. This is the same Gen. Aziz who implemented the Kargil misadventure on behalf of Musharraf and subsequently became instrumental in assisting Musharraf to force out Nawaz Sharif in a military coup. Gen. Aziz, who was Army’s Chief of General Staff in 1999, was transferred to become the Corps Commander, Lahore, in the reshuffle of September 2000, and was later “neutered” by placing him in a 4-star, but a largely ceremonial position that he holds today. Indeed, if Musharraf were to be removed from his position today, he would be succeeded by Gen. Aziz as the COAS based on his rank. So it is practically impossible to believe that the entire Pakistani military junta is “born again” like Musharraf, not withstanding the sudden optimism also shown by Indians, who have lately tried to out do even the Americans in so far as posture towards Pakistan is concerned. A lot of that enthusiasm was generated by positive “touchy-feely” vibrations emanating during the SAARC and post-SAARC, and from secret discussions between Brijesh Mishra, Prime Minister Vajpayee’s top aide, with Tariq Aziz, his counterpart in the Musharraf administration, and Gen. Ehsanul Haq, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on the sidelines of the SAARC. The Indian foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha, addressing the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington on January 20, 2004, responded to this concern in a reply to a question posed by Ambassador Dennis Kux, one of the most astute South Asia specialists in America, who wondered how the new peace initiative between India and Pakistan would have any different result than similar such engagements in the past. Ambassador Kux was referring to Pakistan’s consistent pattern of undermining its bilateral agreements with India. Sinha viewed the changes in Pakistan, including various Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s) initiated by both countries ahead of the SAARC, as a paradigm shift in the situation on the ground. But the reality is that while the CBM’s announced by the two countries ahead of the Agra summit in July 2001 were not on the same scale of magnitude, they were very similar in intent and an objective assessment of the pronouncements ahead of the Agra summit clearly indicates that Pakistan’s posture was strictly defined by its desire to achieve a tactical victory in Agra.
There is nothing from past history to be really euphoric about the latest peace initiative recognizing that Pakistan continues to be ruled by military, and military has significant elements that have strong religious fervor when dealing with non-believers. So while India has every reason to secure a peace deal with Pakistan and put behind the sad episode regarding Kashmir in its formative years when as a new nation it was too inexperienced and naïve to know how international diplomacy works in a multi-lateral forum like the United Nations (UN), it is not very obvious why Pakistanis would suddenly agree to be accommodating and flexible towards India. The military junta in Pakistan has successfully withstood past pressures from the United States regarding al Qaeda, Taliban, proliferation in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), direct involvement in the 9/11 tragedy (payments wired to hijackers in the U.S.), and Islamic insurgency in Kashmir. The only way that Musharraf and his military junta would agree to the new peace initiative with India is because such a deal must have collateral benefits which far exceed giving respite to India and its aging Prime Minister. It has to meet the junta’s obsession with “strategic depth” that has been a cornerstone of Pakistani military’s prowess in retaining its unchallenged grip on the country for the last five decades.
To understand this argument further, one has to examine the events that took place around the time period when Pakistan suddenly started making its positive overtures towards India. In October 2003, the U.S. intercepted a German registered ship in the Suez Canal that was carrying equipment parts for manufacture of nuclear weapons. The delivery was intended for Libya, and fearing new sanctions (and possible military action) the incident invigorated Libyans to close a deal with British and Americans to come clean on the WMD’s. Once Pakistanis came to know that Libya was planning to give open and unfettered access to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warning bells must have sounded in Rawalpindi because it would open an entirely new can of worms. Even though Pakistan is already under investigation by the IAEA for its involvement in the secret Iranian nuclear weapons program, the challenge in the case of Libya is entirely of a different magnitude. It deals with a “nuclear black market”, in which clandestine factories have been set up in Islamic hot spots like Malyasia, Dubai, Sudan and elsewhere to create an “international supermarket for nuclear parts”. The Libyan case represents the “worst case scenario” in nuclear terrorism and blackmail because it shows that countries (or organizations like al Qaeda) who possess no industrial infrastructure to build a nuclear weapon can do so simply by acquiring “off-the-shelf” weapon parts through illicit connections. The experts who have looked at nuclear designs and crated machinery in Libya have no doubt that these are of Pakistani origin. Further revelations are expected to reinforce that Pakistan was the mastermind behind the organized weapons trade among the rogue nations, sort of like the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). The BCCI was also founded and run by Pakistanis and became notorious for promoting international corruption of banking laws and for undertaking secret transfer of illicit drug money among various international drug cartels until its forced collapse in 1991.
The U.S. may continue to express its benevolence towards Pakistan in the ongoing campaign to capture Osama bin Laden, but IAEA has to play its nuclear regulatory role by certain rules and regulations. At the present moment, Pakistan is trying to explain away its role in the Iran affair by blaming it on individual “rogue scientists” working at super-secret Khan Research Laboratories (KRL). It is interesting to observe that Pakistani junta is willing to offer a sacrificial lamb, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the army chief of staff from 1998-1991, in order to shield the country from a collective blame. This point can not be missed by Musharraf, who is keenly aware that Gen. Beg, was the first Mohajir COAS and he is the second. The Pakistani ruling junta can not afford to place the country in a position that if IAEA creates the critical mass by linking North Korean-Iranian-Libyan-International Nuclear Supermarket to Pakistan, there is a definite possibility that Pakistan would face punitive actions, including a demand to “come clean” or face economic and other sanctions. The outreach by Pakistan towards India at this time is simply an effort to buy “insurance” and ensure that Pakistan has trade links with India to defeat international sanctions much like Iraq did in its relationship with Jordan under Saddam Hussein. The idea of buying “diplomatic insurance” between India and Pakistan is neither new nor an original idea. India did it 1962-1963 when it initiated talks with Pakistan solely to ensure that Pakistan stays engaged with India and remove any possibility of China-Pakistan linkup to worsen the Indian military defeat on the Northeastern border. Interestingly, the other reason for the six rounds of discussions with Pakistan (initiated on December 26, 1962 in Rawalpindi) was at the nudging of the Kennedy Administration which wanted Congressional approval for rushing military aid to India. So, one can view the present effort as a déjà vu with Pakistan and India having reversed their roles.
This argument is supported by facts. On December 19, 2003, Libya publicly agreed to dismantle its weapons program and allow unimpeded access to its secret weapons facilities and materiel. On the prior day, December 18, Musharraf opened his peace initiative with India, declaring that Pakistan is not wedded to U.N. Security Council resolutions on Kashmir and wants peace with India. This was the first of the many U-turns to come. On December 21, 2003, the first stories of the nuclear black market, shadowy dealers and middlemen began to emerge. On December 24, the military junta suddenly made its peace with its own parliamentarians by announcing that Musharraf would step down as the COAS at the end of 2004. This announcement had two major implications for Americans. One was that the military junta had solved the problem of political turmoil that was calling in question military’s ability to control Pakistan’s nuclear and missile assets. The other was to implicitly announce Musharraf’s successor. He will be Gen. Mohammad Yousuf Khan, the current Vice Chief of Army Staff as Gen. Aziz retires in October 2004. Unlike Gen. Aziz, Gen. Yousuf is seen by Americans as pro-west and one who will continue current policies put in place by Musharraf. The military junta has taken care of its problems, the country has brought diplomatic insurance by engaging India, and therefore the only question that remains is will Musharraf continue as the President after stepping down as the COAS.
I may sound as a pessimist, but as a strategist I can not see the current phase of engagement with Pakistan taking India to the “final peace settlement”. There will be progress made in trade and other areas that Pakistani junta considers vital to protect its “supreme national interest”, a phrase commonly invoked by Pakistani rulers. The benefits to India, and particularly to the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), in the near-term are obvious. The current positive environment will ensure its victory in the upcoming Parliamentary elections. In a sense, it is a win-win situation for ruling entities on both sides of the subcontinent (at least in the near-term).
In so far as Gen. Musharraf is concerned, he has now the constitutional mandate to continue until 2007 as the President of Pakistan without facing an election. However, Mr U-turn may live up to his reputation and step down as President after retiring from the post of the COAS. If the current investigation of Mohajir Gen. Beg is any clue, Mohajir Gen. Musharraf has been given a hint of things to come. His brother and son already live in the U.S. His surviving parent (mother) lives with him and his wife. His other child, a daughter, currently lives in Pakistan. Do not be surprised if sometime between now and the end of his military term, Musharraf’s daughter along with her husband and child leave the country. I expect the General and his dependents to follow, and who knows, where another U-turn may take him next. He has been quoted to say, “Ask those who know me, I am trustworthy”. But the only thing that Musharraf can be trusted with is his own life. He is a true survivor in every sense of the word.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.