General Musharraf’s “State of Emergency”

Making a Mockery of Democracy

I think the New York Times has this one right. “For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world. On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly.”

Not since Hamas’ dramatic victory in the Palestinian elections has the disconnect between Bush’s democratic rhetoric and reality of U.S. policy been so starkly exposed. In the former case, Washington responded to democracy with rejection, and support for the Fatah coup. How will it respond to Musharraf’s assault on the fading façade of incipient Pakistani democracy?

Recall that Musharraf toppled the democratically elected president of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in 1999. The year before Pakistan had conducted nuclear weapons tests, and been slapped with U.S. sanctions. Relations with the military dictatorship were cool until 9-11, after which Musharraf became a key U.S. ally in the “war on terror” and recipient of massive U.S. aid.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, through his deputy Richard Armitage, told Musharraf: “Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,” if he was unwilling to cooperate in the destruction of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. That regime was largely a creation of Pakistani military intelligence, and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia its main supporters. But Musharraf agreed to break ties, host U.S. forces, and even to suppress any (democratic) anti-U.S. demonstrations in his country.

Using Pakistani military bases as part of its campaign, the U.S. swiftly overthrew the primitive Taliban apparatus, chased al-Qaeda and some of the Talibs across the border into Pakistan, allowed the reemergence of the Northern Alliance warlord regime with a Pashtun fig-leaf figurehead, proclaimed a great victory and then without skipping a beat shifted its attention to the wholly unrelated target of Iraq.

In the border area, often described as “lawless” and never fully controlled by the central government of Pakistan, tribal leaders met the routed Afghans as well as the al-Qaeda Arabs with hospitality. In the interim, the latter have not only survived, regrouped and facilitated military opposition to the Karzai regime in Kabul, but acquired a following within Pakistan. There is now a Pakistani Taliban movement that in coalition with other anti-government Islamist movements in the country (alongside “moderate” democratic movements as well) seriously challenges Musharraf’s regime. In July, in an effort to crack down on Islamist forces, the government stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad, killing 183 according to the BBC. Tensions between the Islamists (who are well represented in the military) and Musharraf are at a boiling point, recently obliging him to reach out to political rival former prime minister Banazir Bhutto

The U.S. put Musharraf in a very difficult position. “You must agree,” it told him in 2001, “to help us overthrow Pakistan’s own creation, the Taliban.” After he did, he was told, “You must send your soldiers to places in your country they have never been deployed before, to crush the fleeing Afghans and al-Qaeda terrorists. Or we will do it for you.” The region where these forces have taken refuge is, as Eric Margolis recently wrote in an excellent column, “under express constitutional guarantee of total autonomy and a ban on Pakistani troops ever entering there.” Pakistani army efforts to crush them have met with dismal results, forcing Islamabad to in effect sue for peace a year ago.

In September 2006 the government signed a pact with tribal groups, including the “Islamic Emirate of Waziristan” whereby the latter would prevent cross-border movement of militants into and out of Afghanistan in exchange for the government’s cessation of air and ground attacks against militants in Waziristan. This met with some concern in Washington, and Voice of America announced that the pact had Mullah Omar’s blessing. But Bush spokesman Tony Snow at the time said that the agreement was aimed at combating terrorism and that Islamabad had assured the U.S. the accord wouldn’t undermine the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In any case, the attack on the Red Mosque led to reprisals on government forces in Waziristan and the collapse of the Waziristan Accord.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the collective product of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concerning national security issues, was released last July just as the accord broke down. It declared that al-Qaeda has regained the same strength it had as of the 9-11 attacks due to (1) the “safe haven” it has enjoyed in parts of Pakistan and (2) its association with “al-Qaeda in Iraq,” which has allowed it to “energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives …” That set the neocons chattering about a U.S. attack on Pakistan.

“I think the president’s going to have to take military action there over the next few weeks or months,” Bill Kristol said on Fox News. “Bush has to disrupt that sanctuary. I think, frankly, we won’t even tell Musharraf. We’ll do what we have to do in Western Pakistan and Musharraf can say, ‘Hey, they didn’t tell me.’” It got the White House talking tough. Tony Snow answering reporters’ questions refused to rule out striking at targets inside Pakistan. Asked if the U.S. would seek Pakistan’s permission before a strike, he said “We never rule out any options, including striking actionable targets. … Those are matters that are best not discussed publicly.” He declared that Musharraf is “going to have to be more aggressive” in going after al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

In fact, the U.S. had already conducted strikes. One in January 2006 a military airstrike targeting the village of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal area of northwestern Pakistan killed at least 18 people, including women and children. It apparently targeted al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The U.S. government denied responsibility, which suggests this was a CIA operation. During the same month a missile attack killed eight people in a village in North Waziristan, prompting protests throughout the country and two official letters of protest hand delivered from the Foreign Office to U.S. embassy officials. His American allies’ disregard for Pakistani sovereignty was becoming an acute embarrassment for Musharraf.

Only July 20 Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam called US officials’ comments about striking targets along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border “irresponsible and dangerous,” adding, We cannot, nor should we be expect to take indiscriminate action over a large territory without any precise information about any Al Qaeda or terrorist hideout.” But the following day Bush in his weekly radio address stated he was troubled by the report that al-Qaeda was gaining strength in the Pakistani tribal region. Then Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush’s homeland security adviser, told CNN that if the U.S. has “actionable targets, anywhere in the world, including Pakistan, then we would respond to those targets. … There are no options off the table.” This produced an immediate angry response from the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who told CNN: “Some people are talking irresponsibly of attack in the tribal areas by the United States. People in Pakistan get very upset when, despite all the sacrifices that Pakistan has been making, you have the sort of questions that are sometimes asked by the American media… [But] indiscriminate attacks could only undercut efforts to win hearts and minds.”

On July 25, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Peter Verga told an unusual joint session of the House Armed Services Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, “If there were information or opportunity to strike a blow” on Pakistani territory “to protect the American people” U.S. forces would act immediately. On the same day at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns declared, “Given the primacy of the fight against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, if we have in the future certainty of knowledge, then of course the United States would always have the option of taking action on its own.”

Of course this sort of talk did not go down well in Pakistan, and it had to worry the general. His goal was to survive assassination attempts and serve a third term as president. To do that, he had to get the parliament to change the constitution and prevent the Supreme Court from declaring such a move illegal. Thus, he suspended the Chief Justice in March. But the judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was reinstated by the Court in July, handing Musharraf a setback just as the U.S. was ratcheting up pressure on him. Thereafter, Condi Rice has been twisting his arm to accept an arrangement whereby Bhutto, back in Pakistan, can organize her Pakistan People’s Party to work with him to support the “war on terror.” That deal requires that he leave his Army post.

Last month Musharraf won the parliamentary vote for president, but the Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether he can legitimately hold the post without resigning from the army. Perhaps anticipating a negative decision, he has now declared a state of emergency and is busy locking up political opponents and shutting down the independent press. He has perhaps determined that to do otherwise he would either (1) fall to a “People’s Power” type movement coalescing around Bhutto (no democrat but with some populist appeal), or (2) fall to Islamist forces including some in the military. He might also feel that the first of these results would lead dangerously to the second, embroiling Pakistan in conflict with the U.S.

Washington forced Musharraf into his present position. He’s the leader of a nation in which the Taliban’s presence and popularity grows. This results from no fault of his own but as a result of the “regime change” exercise in Afghanistan six years ago and its failure to destroy either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. He’s the leader of a nation in which Osama bin Laden’s popularity is far greater than his own. He’s the leader of a nation appalled (like most nations) at the carnage in Iraq, resulting from an invasion based on lies. He’s the leader of a Muslim nation with a huge Shiite minority (the second largest Shiite population in the world, next to Iran) whose adherents will—with likely Sunni support—react with outrage to a U.S. attack on neighboring brotherly Iran. He’s been put in a very tight spot by the neocons’ wild moves towards the creation of an American Raj in Southwest Asia. He wants to cooperate, but he’s perhaps reached the point where he feels that to say “Yes, Ma’am” again to Condi will not just mean his own political fall but the rise of others whom the U.S. will target with deadly force.

“Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.” According to Musharraf on CBS’s 60 Minutes,that’s what Colin Powell’s deputy told him in 2001. Surely such words haunt him, and played a role in his decision to declare the state of emergency, ”making,” as the New York Times puts it, “a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world.”

The U.S. State Department, having reportedly discouraged Musharraf from declaring martial law in the past, pronounces itself “deeply disturbed” by the “extra-constitutional actions” he has taken. Possibly this just another sniffle of hypocrisy dripping from Pinocchio’s lengthening nose. Maybe the move received prior authorization from Musharraf’s patrons in Washington. Quite possibly the Vice President’s office has a different reaction from the State Department’s (often the case) and feels a stronger, more dictatorial Musharraf will be a more useful ally when the missiles hit Iran. Surely we will soon see how sincere these U.S. expressions of support for the Pakistani constitution and “democracy” really are.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. jim slaybaugh said on November 5th, 2007 at 4:57pm #

    Exceptional reporting-easy to believe-thank you.

  2. brian said on November 5th, 2007 at 5:09pm #

    A bit off topic: but for those not aware, the TV show Supernatural, which i saw last night on Australian TV, had a bit on Dick Cheney:
    Casey: “Dick Cheney.”

    Dean: “He one of yours?”

    Casey: “Not yet. Let’s just say he’s got a parking spot reserved for him downstairs.”‘
    NOTE: Casey is a female demon…

  3. Lloyd Rowsey said on November 6th, 2007 at 7:34am #

    A bit off TOPIC? How about a bit off PERSPECTIVE? Are does Dissident Voice itself take the cake in this regard?

    In his October 19th article, Russ Wellen included a link to an Arthur Silber piece; I’ve saved one Silber wrote on October 30th, and I think what it says is highly relevant to many — only many? – of DV’s history, political analysis, and “let’s get organized” articles of late; articles which by the bye seem to be enormously unread and are obviously enormously un-commented upon.

    OCTOBER 30, 2007
    Break the Goddamned Rules

    Forgive me for quoting myself, but these passages are the quickest way to an issue of critical importance. In Part II of “A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent,” I wrote:

    For this is where we are in the United States, nearing the end of the Year of Our Lord 2007: the truth is not merely unpleasant, an uninvited guest who makes conversation difficult and awkward. Truth is the enemy; truth is to be destroyed. To attempt to speak the truth on any subject of importance requires a deep reserve of determination, for to speak the truth requires that one first sweep away an infinite number of rationalizations, false alternatives, and numerous other failures of logic and the most rudimentary forms of thought — as well as the endless lies. On that single occasion in a thousand or a million when a person overcomes these barriers and speaks the truth, he or she discovers an additional, terrible truth: almost no one wants to hear it. This is how we live today: lies are the staple of our diet. Without them, we would die, certainly in psychological terms.

    Toward the end of that essay, I turned again to the Andrew Meyer incident (the tasering and arrest at the University of Florida):
    It was in this cultural setting that Andrew Meyer asked his questions. His second question concerned Iran (we assume Kerry discussed Iran in his lengthy remarks, which ran longer than scheduled, thus conveniently reducing the time for questions significantly). Meyer wanted to know this: why, if Kerry is so concerned about Iran, isn’t Kerry urging impeachment of Bush now, before he can order an attack on Iran? Meyer pointed out that Clinton was impeached for a blowjob, for God’s sake. Shouldn’t Bush be impeached now, before another monstrous crime is committed — and before a possible world war is begun?

    At this moment in history, and in view of the stakes involved — which stakes involve literally the future of the world and of civilization, to employ those words with their genuine meanings for once — that is the question that should be asked of every national leader at least once a day, and preferably a hundred times a day. It is the question that should be asked all the time, of everyone. It is the question that should be asked of every Democratic member of Congress all the time, every day. Almost no one asks it. Democrats and their partisans continue their dull-witted fixation on the 2008 elections, forbidding themselves and anyone else to acknowledge that by then, it may be far, far too late. Major actors in the Bush administration have longed to attack Iran for years, and they have never tried to hide it. Now, their viciously murderous purpose is being aided and abetted by leading Democrats such as Hillary Clinton.

    And no one will ask: Why don’t you act to stop this insanity?

    Andrew Meyer asked that question.
    Just the other day, in “It’s Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules,” I wrote:
    Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself — to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.
    As I discussed in these articles (and in many others), our public debate — that discussion that involves our politicians, the major media, and most bloggers — is almost exclusively made up of empty phrases, vacuous utterances, and meaningless gestures. We do not speak of the genocide we have caused in Iraq, nor do we speak in truthful, accurate terms of the criminal war of aggression the United States launched against that hapless nation. Nor do we speak in truthful terms of the equally criminal occupation that continues from day to bloody day — and which this goddamned worthless Democratic Congress could end within months by simply refusing to fund it for one more murderous moment. But the Democrats and their apologist bloggers will tell you — apparently believing that everyone is as stupid as they are and will fall for this load of shit — that the Democrats can’t end the war. They don’t have the votes. Waaaaaaahhhhhh! The fact that the Democrats can’t end the war, waaaaaaahhhhhh!, is, of course, why we need “more and better Democrats.”


    And our politicians speak of keeping “all options on the table” with regard to Iran. They talk of our “right” to threaten, bomb and destroy still another nation because it will not do exactly as we tell it — even though that nation is not any kind of threat to us and will not be for years to come, if then. Our government is a genocidal murderer, empowered and enabled by cadres of genocidal murderers. If certain individuals do not commit the murders themselves, they make the murders possible — and they allow them to continue.

    The law is not the only method by which the state controls us, and strips our national discussion of all meaning. There is another, less formal but no less constricting means, which is commonly identified by the phrase, “the rules.” We must all follow “the rules.” You cannot ever break “the rules.” Be very, very clear on this point: the only way you can speak the truth on any subject of importance in this country today is BY BREAKING THE RULES.

    That is what Andrew Meyer did in Florida. He broke the goddamned rules. He did not do so in any way that merited his being arrested — but HE BROKE THE RULES. This cannot be permitted, not if our meaningless, pointless national discussion devoid of all substance is to continue in its meaningless, pointless way. Breaking the rules cannot be allowed if the lies are to continue. So he was arrested.

    And he was charged with a third-degree felony for resisting arrest with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace — for asking the most urgent question of our time, the question that almost no one will ask. He was charged with resisting an arrest that should never have occurred — and with “disturbing the peace.”

    Friends, if this country — and if you individually — are to have any kind of human future at all, and by “human,” I mean a life with any genuine meaning and joy, a life not fatally compromised by ongoing murder, torture, and brutality — you had better fucking disturb the peace every second of every day. Faced with the destruction of his life, Meyer apologized. In exchange for Meyer’s obeisance to the state, to the law and to the rules, the charges were dropped.

    I’ll return to this in more detail when I continue the “Final Descent” series, but for now, consider this passage from one of Meyer’s apologies:

    In society, as in life, there are consequences for not following the rules. In this instance, not following the rules has imposed consequences for many people other than myself, people who have seen their school, and perhaps their degree, tarnished in the eyes of others through no fault of their own.

    I do not criticize Meyer to any degree at all. The state targeted him for destruction. He is a very young man, with all of his life ahead of him. The cost was prohibitive. He had broken the rules, and he had to be destroyed. His example would help to keep the rest of you in line.

    And speaking of that — and speaking of the fact that, eight months after I first proposed these suggestions for halting an attack on Iran, not one major writer or blogger has seen fit to do a goddamned thing of any consequence with any of those ideas or with additional ideas they might think of on their own, if they actually gave a damn — I wrote the following in an essay I wish more people would read, “Passing on the Sense of Wonder.” For certain reasons, that piece is a personal favorite of mine. On this issue, I said:

    I am enormously struck by the unnecessary and indefensible narrowness of action that most people, including almost all progressive bloggers (and certainly all national Democrats), view as feasible or “realistic.” I will be discussing this in detail in a new essay I’m working on, and that I hope to complete by tomorrow; it will deal with a few political heroes on a grand scale, and how such people have vanished from our lives, to be replaced by two-bit charlatans for the most part. For the moment, I will simply observe that almost all people think only within the severely circumscribed limits of what others have already determined to be “acceptable” behavior. In connection with progressive writers especially, the irony is exceptionally heavy: these are people who endlessly rail against “conventional wisdom” and “inside the Beltway thinking,” while they themselves vehemently reject the merest suggestion that anyone should break the accepted rules in any significant way, or refuse to play the game as it has always been played. In part, this is why my suggestions in “Dispatch from Germany” were almost universally ignored: I purposely insisted that the bounds of what is “acceptable” be expanded, and that the rules of the game be changed. For most people, this is unthinkable. They say such ideas are not “realistic”; what they mean is that they are not willing to take the necessary risks. But on rare occasions, a hero will come along who takes precisely those risks and completely rejects the conventional rules. Many progressives hail these heroes, and simultaneously prove entirely incapable of applying the indicated lessons to our situation today.

    Brave progressive bloggers, who will not dream of or even consider breaking the rules. Brave Democrats, who helped write the fucking rules.

    In following up on the matters discussed here, IOZ has another entry. He quotes from an extraordinary post at Stop Me Before I Vote Again, which includes this:

    The main thing, though, is to stop being constructive. Don’t waste a moment thinking about what “policies” might be better than the ones we have. The fact is that the institutions we have absolutely guarantee insane policies, and unless the balance of power between the elites and the rest of us is changed, then those institutions will continue to manufacture insanity day in and day out.

    And there is, needless to say, no institutional way to change the balance of power. The institutions exist to maintain the balance of power – or, more accurately, to tip the balance of power ever more toward the elites. Changing the balance of power requires interfering with the institutions, and impairing or impeding their operation.

    In short: stop traffic.

    Andrew Meyer tried to stop traffic. The state decided he had come to represent too great a threat, so he had to be crushed. Now he has been.

    My suggestions, and many other actions that could be taken to try to prevent an attack on Iran, involve much less risk, and probably none at all. Yet almost no one will do anything. Most people’s lives are entirely constricted by “the rules.” To break them is the absolutely forbidden thought. And so we continue toward catastrophe — and this one may be the last.

    And still you do nothing. So I have one more suggestion:


    Your life — and the lives of millions of others — may depend on it.

  4. Mike McNiven said on November 8th, 2007 at 1:47am #

    There was no Democracy in Pakistan to be mocked with in the first place! Non-Muslims, non-believers are excluded, legally, from positions of powers! The Baloch people are excluded! The socialists are excluded…!

  5. SomeoneFromPakistan said on November 18th, 2007 at 4:55am #

    Not a bad discourse, overall. But the discussion on Red Mosque was extremely biased. The Red Mosque operation took place in the Federal Capital, while I watched the live footage and analysis in Karachi, by independent media. Yes, the mosque was raided, and many were killed. But What you failed to observe, or mention, is that the Mosque was infested by militants. The live news footage showed the so-called “students” carrying weapons, and wearing gas marks. They managed to kill SSG commandos, which only shows they had been properly trained in combat skills.
    The mosque even had snipers planted on its minarets, for heavens’ sakes!!
    Most of the moderate Pakistanis believe that the army had given a lot of leeway to the mosque, since it had been disrupting social life and harassing the public for quite a few months.

    But yes, it is true, that there are still quite a few supporters of the the mosque because of the dogmas attached to mullahism. (Unfortunately)