The Guardian 28 November, 2007

Washington stirs a witch’s brew in Pakistan

Eric Margolis

Plans by President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to attack Iran have been at least temporarily derailed by the mounting crisis in Pakistan. Not only is this important South Asian nation a key US ally in its conflict with anti-western Muslim groups (the so-called "war on terror"), the US also planned to use three Pakistani air bases it now controls to launch air attacks against Iran.

President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of martial law, the arrest of Supreme Court justices who were going to rule illegal his continued role as commander-in-chief and president, the arrest of other opposition figures, and muzzling the formerly feisty media have proven most embarrassing to the Bush Administration which claims to be an apostle of democracy.

Bush, who claims to have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in order to bring them the light of democracy, must continue supporting Pakistan’s military dictator or see his war in Afghanistan collapse.

Under heavy pressure from Washington, Musharraf agreed to hold elections on January 15 and release some jailed opponents. In reality, however, it was another cynical ploy. Every election Musharraf has held since seizing power in 1999 has been rigged. Does anyone really believe there will be fair elections in Pakistan under martial law or with the media gagged?

Musharraf, who commands less than eight percent popular support, and is widely hated as an American stooge, knows he would lose any honest election. What he plans are the same kind of farcical "democratic elections" held by the US-backed military dictatorships of Egypt and Algeria.

Army unrest

There is reported to be growing unrest in the 600,000-man armed forces. Senior commanders, recently promoted by Musharraf after pre-approval by Washington, still support him. But they are increasingly dismayed by the threat of a clash with civilians. Many senior officers fear their continued support of Musharraf is turning the public against the armed forces and injuring their good name.

Pro-Taliban tribesmen and Uzbek allies in Northwest Frontier Province on the Afghan border are rapidly taking over cities and towns. Army troops ordered to attack them have surrendered or refused to fire. The Swat Valley, which is well inside Pakistan, fell to Islamists several weeks ago.

This could mark the beginning of a rebellion in the ranks. The loyalty of the army’s senior officers has been rented by billions of dollars of secret aid the CIA has funnelled through Musharraf. Those who could not be bought were ousted, including Pakistan’s most capable military men.

Official post-9/11 US aid to Pakistan is US$10.6 billion (AU$12 billion), but "black" payments are many times higher. Some reports put them at US$1 billion (AU$1.13 billion) monthly. These mammoth payoffs have not trickled down to the mid- and lower ranks. They have vanished into the pockets of the military brass and senior officials. Pakistan’s armed forces are still woefully deficient in modern arms.

So much for supporting democracy. In the name of fighting extremism, Musharraf has jailed or intimidated nearly all of Pakistan’s political moderates.

Benazir Bhutto has still not decided whether to collaborate with Musharraf or try to force a bloody confrontation with him, though she suggests talks are off. Many of her friends and supporters are appalled she would make a shady, backroom deal with the military dictator.

Anyone who still wonders why so many people in the Muslim World hate the west need look no further than Pakistan, where, in the name of "democracy" and "counter-terrorism" Washington and London are stirring a witches’ brew of dictatorship, intrigue and violence.

Contempt petition

In another development the Communist Party of Pakistan has filed contempt charges against Musharraf.

In its contempt petition the party stressed that General Musharraf has to shed the office of the Chief of the Army Staff and uniform by November 15. By continuing with two offices of President and Chief of Army Staff General Musharraf has committed a gross contempt of the judgement delivered in its Constitutional Petition of 2004.

The party said that General Musharraf has no respect of law and he considers himself above the law of the land and by continuing to hold the two positions has committed a gross contempt of a supreme court judgement.

Eric Margolis is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada.

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