Revolution#142, September 7, 2008

From A World to Win News Service

Musharraf: another imperialist servant bites the dust

The following article is from the A World to Win News Service:

August 25, 2008. A World to Win News Service. The nine-year rule of Parvez Musharraf, deemed an “important ally” by the U.S. and other Western imperialists in their so-called war on terrorism, has come to an end. He resigned August 18 to avoid the shame of a political outcome he was no longer powerful enough to prevent: the coalition government that took office earlier this year had reached an agreement to impeach the president for alleged violations of the constitution, including the imposition of a state of emergency last November and the sacking of 60 judges. At first Musharraf looked for another way out, but suddenly he found himself abandoned by all his former friends.

Even the U.S. avoided coming to his rescue. It seemed that his use-by date had expired. What the U.S. and UK did do for him, however, was to oblige the current Pakistani government to grant him the kind of possible safe passage out of Pakistan’s muddled and dangerous political world that has rarely been open to other leaders in the last 61 years since the country was founded.

To give a short background summary: In 1958 a military coup ended the rule of Pakistan’s first president, Iskander Mirza, who was forced into exile in London. His successor, General Ayub Khan, who lost credibility after the 1965 war with India, resigned and turned over control to General Yahya Khan, who was removed from office after the 1971 war with India, when a defeated Pakistan lost what became Bangladesh. After that war, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, became Prime Minister, but his term was cut short by a coup led by General Zia ul-haq, who had him hanged in April 1979. General Zia reigned for 11 years and provided the U.S. with important assistance during the Cold War before dying in a mysterious air crash. Of the two 1990s civilian prime ministers, one, Nawaz Sharif, was removed by the then-general Musharraf’s coup. Sharif came close to being executed but finally was sent into exile. The other, Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and official opposition leader at the time of the coup, was also sent into exile. She returned in 2007 and was assassinated last January. Musharraf was not able to outlast the life expectancy of his predecessors. If, under U.S. and UK protection, he is able to remain alive, unimprisoned and unexiled, he will have escaped the fate of most of them.

These leaders faced an abrupt exit not only because of their failures and extreme reactionary nature, but also because of their extreme servitude to the imperialist system and the unique situation that system has locked Pakistan into. In part this is due to the historical terms of its creation and its geopolitical position. However, the role Pakistan has played in the service of the Western imperialists has made this situation all the more fragile and volatile.

Pakistan was created in 1947 after the British left India. Before they left, the colonialists deliberately created a situation that would ensure that they could interfere in regional affairs for decades. The ensuing war between Moslems and Hindus, with some of the worst sectarian killings in world history, was not accidental. The result was the splitting apart of India and the establishment of Pakistan based not on any real existence as a distinct nation but mainly on religious grounds. This was a major factor in the political instability that has plagued Pakistan ever since.

Musharraf faced little mass opposition when he seized power in October 1999. The civilian governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had represented the same reactionary classes as the generals and had proved no less brutal or corrupt. They had followed the same path in grovelling before the interests of the U.S. and other Western imperialists. So most people saw no point in supporting any of these forces. But mass indifference soon turned into massive hatred for Musharraf. And by the time he was forced to resign, the disastrous results of his rule were obvious to everyone.

Pakistan’s economic situation is in one of its worst moments. Even foreign investors are leaving Pakistan in the face of deteriorating security. Inflation is said to be over 20 percent. The Karachi stock market has been going downwards and the rupee lost a quarter of its value over the last year. Sporadic conflict between the army and Islamist fundamentalists based in the North-West Frontier Province along the border with Afghanistan has escalated into a war, one that so far has gone badly for the army. Until recently suicide bombings and other Islamist attacks were not considered an important problem for Pakistan, but the sharp increase of these activities over the last 12-18 months has made it one of the world’s most violent places. A bomb blast on August 21 at a munitions factory near Islamabad killed 63 people and injured many more. It was said to be the worst attack of the kind that Pakistan has ever seen.

Pakistan is accused of helping the Taleban fight the Afghanistan government and the U.S. and other NATO invader forces. After much effort by the U.S. to improve relations between Pakistan and India, once again they have deteriorated. The question of Kashmir is once again becoming a source of confrontation. [for background on Kashmir, see the section “The Dispute in Kashmir” in the article “The Trouble in Kashmir...and U.S. domination in South Asia,” available online at] New Delhi and the CIA have accused Pakistan of involvement in the July bombing in front of the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed 40 people. Also, while there may be unity among the dominant political forces on getting rid of Musharraf and opposing India, apart from that they are deeply divided.

Musharraf and the era of “war on terrorism”

Seven years ago, before the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan seemed much more stable than today. But in fact, during the previous decades the U.S. had already impregnated Pakistan with the crisis born today.

During the Cold War, Pakistan was the headquarters of the Islamic jihadis who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and a center for recruiting young Moslems from all over the world to fight alongside them. CIA intervention and American financial and military aid to the jihadis was funneled through Pakistan. The country’s situation was increasingly bound to the Afghanistan war. If we add the approximately four million Afghans who took refuge in Pakistan over the last three decades and the millions still living there or who have relatives in Pakistan, that linkage is even stronger.

Musharraf was in power during the period after September 11, 2001 and the launching of the U.S.’s so-called war on terror. These events contributed both to his being able to consolidate his rule and to his eventual fall.

After 9/11, Pakistan was forced to play a central role in the invasion of Afghanistan. A fellow general, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, gave him a choice: “You are either with us or against us.” Powell’s deputy told a Musharraf deputy what would happen if he made the wrong choice: Pakistan “should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age.” (From Musharraf’s autobiography, In the Line of Fire)

The answer from Musharraf and the Pakistani ruling classes was not straightforward, however. Participating in the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan and the Taleban would take Pakistan in the opposite direction from where it had been going in the previous two decades. Helping the Islamist jihadis had strengthened Pakistan in its contention with India, including by giving it what the Pakistani military calls “strategic depth” in case of an all-out war with India; Pakistan’s influence over the Taleban regime increased its regional weight. Taking the U.S. side in this new conflict threatened to demolish what Pakistan’s ruling classes felt they had achieved through years of investment. But there was another problem too. They had mobilized the masses around Islam all through the years, and now they were being asked to go against the very “brother Moslems” who had helped add legitimacy to their rule.

Musharraf finally appeared on national T.V. to give a long speech justifying this new approach and trying to convince the powerful fundamentalist forces inside Pakistan. His concluding argument was “Pakistan comes first,” meaning that the country had no choice but to cooperate with the U.S. in its turn against the fundamentalist fighters America had helped finance and organize in the first place. With this, Musharraf made himself the U.S.’s official most important “non-NATO ally.”‘ The reward was $12 billion in U.S. aid, mainly to strengthen the Pakistani army. However, the real result was not to strengthen Pakistan’s ruling classes but to weaken them. For years Pakistan exported Islamist-based war to other neighboring countries; now it began importing it.

During Musharraf’s reign, while he helped the U.S. invade and occupy Afghanistan and arrest hundreds of Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan as well, his role in that war was controversial. While for years American authorities up to President Bush himself insisted that Musharraf was an invaluable ally, there were numerous reports indicating that his government was allowing the Taleban to reorganize inside Pakistan. In fact, some reports said that the Pakistani military was not only turning a blind eye to these activities, but even actively aiding them. Despite the Karzai regime’s protests on this issue, the U.S. appeared to ignore these reports for a long time. At first the American authorities pretended that nothing of the kind was really happening; then they laid the blame on elements of the Pakistani army or the powerful military intelligence agency (ISI) supposedly acting independently. Only after the Taleban gained a considerable ground and became a more dangerous threat to the NATO occupation did they start to raise concerns. (It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze why the U.S. maintained its support for Musharraf and the Pakistani army under these conditions. But it is hard to believe that the U.S. was unaware of the situation.)

Musharraf’s end

In parallel to the resurgence of the Taleban that forced the U.S. to take Pakistani aid to them more seriously, Musharraf was becoming more and more unpopular within the country. One factor was his participation in the “war on terror.” Another was his maneuvering to secure his personal power as the head of the army, state and government, in violation of Pakistan’s constitution that had been written to serve its ruling classes. He had himself re-elected as the country’s president while still head of the army, breaking his promises to give up one or the other position. He was well aware of the country’s chronic political instability that has meant that both jobs so often go together. He went so far as to declare a state of emergency in November of last year and remove 60 judges, including Chief Justice Mohammed Iftikhar Chaudhery, for fear that they might declare his presidency illegal. Musharraf had tried to fire Chaudhery once before, in May 2007, but due to the consistent protests of lawyers who enjoyed wide popular support, he had to retreat. Washington supported all of Musharraf’s despotic acts, insisting that they were purely “internal” matters, while at the same time praising the general as an irreplaceable ally.

Over the last year and a half Pakistan’s economy has turned disastrous and it has staggered through one political crisis after another. Musharraf’s position was weakening, and he was becoming harder and harder to save. Finally the UK and U.S. tried to forge a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. When she was assassinated during her bid for a parliamentary majority and a prime ministry under Musharraf’s presidency, the result was more political tumult and greater mass disgust. The ignominious defeat of the pro-Musharraf parties in last February’s elections and the formation of a coalition government between the Pakistan People’s Party (led by Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s husband) and the Moslem League (Nawaz Sharif) made his political isolation undeniable. The new head of the army, Ashfaq Kayani, distanced himself from Musharraf too. The U.S. sent a top general to meet with him and seemed to conclude that the key ally was the Pakistani army, not Musharraf personally.

That was the beginning of the end. U.S. officials started to publicly question Musharraf’s usefulness, and even to ask, in relation to the “war on terror,” if Musharraf was part of the solution or the problem. It seemed that the meeting between White House officials and the new Pakistan’s People’s Party prime minister in late July this year was related to Musharraf’s future, too. When only a few days later U.S. intelligence officials publicly confirmed the Pakistani intelligence service’s involvement in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, this was a signal that his fate was sealed. Not long after that, the two Pakistani governing parties reached the agreement to impeach him.

Yet the U.S. and UK couldn’t just drop him. They had to keep steering matters. It has been revealed that Sir Mark Lyall Grant, a senior British diplomat involved in brokering the deal between Musharraf and Bhutto last year, negotiated another deal between Musharraf and the coalition government in the first half of August. Musharraf was convinced to resign in return for a promise of a safe passage out of office. (The New York Times, August 15, and BBC, August 20)

Musharraf went out in the same way he came in—as an imperialist servant. He had no choice but to take part in the “war on terror,” and when he lost the imperialists’ support he had no choice but to leave. However, through the last nine years, not only have the masses of people found themselves in a much worse and deteriorating situation, but also the position of the country’s imperialist-dependent ruling classes in the country and the region has been considerably weakened. An unstable Pakistan has become much more unstable, and the hostile region even more hostile. While due to the war in Afghanistan, India and Iran have become more powerful and influential there, Pakistan has lost all its influence in Afghanistan and that has increased the crisis of its ruling classes too. So Musharraf’s legacy and the price that Pakistan has to pay for servitude to the U.S. is turmoil today and more to come, in politics and all other aspects of Pakistani society.

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