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Musharraf bids Uncle Sam farewell

Musharraf bids Uncle Sam farewell

Author: Syed Saleem Shahzad
Publication: Asia Times
Date: August 28, 2002
URL: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/DH28Df01.html

Beleaguered Pakistani President Pervez  Musharraf, a virtual prisoner in his own barracks following attempts on his life, is desperately maneuvering to form a political bloc that will prevent the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), led by former premier Benazir Bhutto, from dominating October's national elections.

Musharraf last week controversially rammed through constitutional amendments that will allow him to dismiss an elected parliament and government and to appoint and sack heads of important constitutional offices, powers previously exercised only by the prime minister.

Analysts believe that the PPP is the only party with sufficient political savvy and experience to prevent this from happening should it gain a majority in the October polls. Musharraf would risk throwing the country into complete chaos should he try to oust a legally- elected PPP.

Events have turned dramatically against Musharraf since he sacrificed his personal ambitions and what many believe to have been the national interest in backing the United States in its war on Afghanistan, culminating in at least two known attempts on his life by suspected splinter militant groups determined to punish Musharraf for walking hand-in-hand with Washington.

And to add insult to injury, while Musharraf remains confined to his army house in Rawalpindi, it is not a matter of particular concern to the US, which has already sucked as much advantage as it can out of using Pakistan as a frontline state in the war against terror.

Attention has now shifted to the Middle East and Iraq, a region where Pakistan is of little relevance, especially when it comes to a "regime change" to oust Saddam Hussein - Jordan and Turkey are now the targets of Washington's charm offensive.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, at this point a pro-US democratic government (the PPP) and a pro-US army chief (such as Vice Chief of Army Staff General Mohammed Yusuf) would be in the best interests of the US, rather than an iron man who has vested all powers in his hands and who could become a threat at any time to US interests.

The might of Musharraf's military administration has thus been focused on launching a "king's" party that would be strong enough to defeat the PPP, but the consensus is that without heavy rigging (which is always a possibility), the PPP will sweep the elections.

This has forced Musharraf to meet Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a premier fundamentalist party, who has been an outspoken critic of the government. The one-on-one three- hour meeting was unprecedented: it was the longest meeting Musharraf has had with any political leader. Qazi refused to comment on what was discussed, other than to say that "he [Musharraf] appeared an extremely scared man". However, sources maintained that Musharraf requested the JI chief to forge an alliance of all right-wing parties to stop the emergence of the PPP, which, should it win, would be in the position to form a government for the third time.

Both previous PPP governments (1988-1990 and 1993-1996) were led by Benazir Bhutto, the second dismissed by the president on charges of "corruption, mismanagement of the economy and implication in extra-judicial killings in Karachi". Bhutto has since been in exile, and faces criminal charges should she return to Pakistan to personally fight the election campaign.

These political moves apart, the US-based South Asia Tribune has also hinted at contact between Musharraf and top jihadi leaders. Although such meetings have not been confirmed, Asia Times Online has learnt that two of the main militant groups, the banned Lashkar-i-Taiba (an Islamic militant group that has been active in Kashmir), and the also-banned Harkatul Mujahadeen, have recently mobilized their resources and instructed their men to move to Lahore. No exact reasons have been given for this, but it is likely that the militant groups are preparing for renewed forays into Indian- administered Kashmir. Musharraf had promised, under pressure from the US, and with some success, to curb cross-border operations by Pakistan-based militants into Indian Kashmir. Expect this to change, especially before the Jammu and Kashmir state elections begin in September.

Meanwhile, there are further signs of a reemergence of anti-US groupings in Afghanistan, with reports of US casualties in skirmishes in Kunar, Khost and Paktia. These factions have been able to form because of relaxed vigilance over the border routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Again, like the cross-border activities into Kashmir, Musharraf had promised the US that the borders would be sealed to prevent the Taliban and al-Qaeda members from seeking refuge in Pakistan.

Initially this was the case, but recently Pakistan has kept a negligible presence on its western borders, allowing a virtually free flow of people and goods. Sources said that in the past month two large Taliban convoys comprising about 1,000 armed persons moved into Waziristan Agency in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal region. The district administration knew of their presence and also informed the higher-ups. They were asked to monitor the movement of the convoy, which they did until it crossed back into Afghanistan.

Ever since their rout began late last year, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have fled Afghanistan via two main routes. One was a sea route through Karachi port and the other by air through Islamabad. Ibrahim Hyderi is a fishing slum in Karachi where even cellular telephones do not work and where law enforcement agencies seldom visit. Two month ago, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence conducted a joint raid in the area and two prominent Taliban commanders were seized. They were scheduled to depart for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates by small ship, a route that is apparently still in use.

Similarly, Pakistani intelligence sources say that they have tracked some suspects who fled from Pakistan by air, usually destined for the German cities of Dusseldorf, Cologne and Hannover, using fake Pakistani passports.

According to an investigator, a group comprising German officials at the exhibition centers in these cities and Pakistani collaborators is involved in smuggling people. The German embassy in Pakistan has often complained that many "businessmen" and their associates go to Dusseldorf, Cologne and Hannover and never return. Like the sea route, this channel is said to still be open.

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