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'Musharraf was never genuinely in the war on terror'
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | August 19, 2008 12:00 IST
The consensus among leading South Asia experts in Washington is that the Bush Administration far from abandoning Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [Images], who resigned Monday, pandered to him for far too long and should have cut him off much earlier, particularly since he was playing a double-game in the US-led war on terror.
In interviews with rediff.com, these experts contended that if the US had washed its hands off Musharraf much earlier, particularly after he imposed emergency rule, threw lawyers in jail and curtailed the freedom of the press, it perhaps could have precluded the permeating antipathy by large segments of the Pakistani populace who strongly believed Washington was propping up yet another dictator simply to serve its own interests, in this case, "fight Bush's war on terror."
Erstwhile point man for South Asia in the Clinton Administration, Karl F Inderfurth, currently a professor of international studies at George Washington University and a foreign policy advisor to the Obama presidential campaign, said, "I don't believe he was abandoned."
"In fact, if anything," he said, "the Bush Administration stayed too closely aligned with him for too long when it was clear that the people of Pakistani said they want change and the US was being seen as an obstacle to Pakistan's legitimate democratic aspirations."
Inderfurth said, "We should not have been on that side of the debate. Somehow, we lost our moorings by not recognizing that emergency rule, crackdowns on civil society, putting lawyers in jail, beginning to have a heavy hand with the press, was, and should have been an anathema to the United States."
"The Bush Administration clearly felt that Musharraf was essential to the war on terrorism, and failed to recognize that for the people of Pakistan, the war on terrorism was seen as Bush's war and was not being supported by the Pakistani people, which, if it's going to successful in the long run, the people of Pakistan are going to have to be behind it and the government of Pakistan."
Robert Hathaway, Director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was a senior Congressional staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee for nearly two decades, said it was a fallacy to believe that when Musharraf was in control the US-led war on terror was being prosecuted effectively.
"That wasn't the case at all. Most of us believe that Musharraf was playing a double-game and that he was cooperating with the United States when it was convenient for him to do so and to the extent it was convenient," he said.
Hathaway said, "So, one worries about the war on terrorism only if one believes that Musharraf was a stalwart ally in that war and he wasn't."
He asserted that "first of all, the Pakistani people abandoned him and they had every right to do so. And, secondly, no one, except perhaps Musharraf and his closes supporters is prepared to argue that the US should have stayed with a leader when that leader's own people wanted him to go."
"Musharraf, a long time ago, had lost his authority and his legitimacy. We were late in recognizing how badly his position had eroded," Hathaway said, adding, "I wish we had divorced ourselves from him far sooner than we actually had. So, rather than abandoning him, I mean, if anything, we are Johnny comes lately on this."
Former diplomat and one of the most experienced South Asia hands, Teresita Schaffer, who during her more than three-decades stint with the US Foreign Service had served in all of the key South Asia capitals, said the writing had been on the wall for a considerable time that Musharraf's political support had significantly dissipated by the US finally seemed to read the tea leaves only after even the Army and his own designated successor General Ashfaq Kiyani had ditched him.
Schaffer said it was the Army that had forsaken Musharraf that led the US to adopt a hands-off policy when the call for his ouster and impeachment began to acquire a critical mass.
"The army had evidently concluded that it did not want to face either an impeachment process regardless of outcome or the popular disturbances that would have resulted if Musharraf decided to use his power to dissolve Parliament and dismiss the government. These were the key factors that led Musharraf to resign," she said.
According to Schaffer, now the head of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "The US Administration evidently concluded that in these circumstances Musharraf had effectively lost power, which led to the statement last week (by the Bush Administration) that impeachment was 'an internal Pakistan matter.'"
But with regard to the US-led war on terror, she said, the new civilian government would now have to focus on the "internal insurgency in Pakistan and they still face the challenge of mutual mistrust and will have to work even harder to overcome that since their common enemy � Musharraf -- is not in office anymore."
Inderfurth said vis-�-vis the war on terror, "I would like to look at this in optimistic terms, although the record of the new civilian government in Pakistan since February doesn't give one a great deal of confidence that they will get their act together. But looking at this in an optimistic way, the resolution of the 'Wither Musharraf!' issue and putting that behind should allow the civilian government an opportunity to now focus on the real threats facing the country, including the threat of extremism and the militants in the tribal areas that are placing Pakistan at risk."
He said, all this time "because of the continuous infighting and disagreements about how to deal with Musharraf, how to deal with the restoring of the judiciary, these bigger issues haven't gotten addressed and the Musharraf departure may give them an opportunity to start focusing on these issues of immediate concern."
Hathaway said, "As long as he stayed in office, he was going to be a divisive, polarizing figure, but beyond that, he would give Pakistani politicians something to argue about and something to focus on and an excuse for not dealing with the real problems facing the country."
"Pakistanis now have no reason not to look inward and to begin to come to grips with the very serious economic and political and security challenges they face," he said.
Hathaway hoped that with Musharraf gone "as a great distraction, Pakistanis will have greater incentive to turn inward, to look at the problems they confront, and clearly the have to come face to face with the realization that their very country as they've defined their country -- both in a territorial sense, but also in terms of a sense of who they are as a people and what they stand for as a country -- is challenged."
"And, now that the distraction of Musharraf is being removed, hopefully they can come to the conclusion that they have to get serious about fighting extremism, not because Washington wants them to, not because Washington tells them to, not because Washington bribes them to do so, but because their country is going to fail if they don't."
Sumit Ganguly, professor of political science and director of the India Studies Program at Indiana University in Bloomington, said he could understand the US deciding to dump him and not even offer him asylum. "The US has no real tradition of granting asylum to former, squalid dictators that it so lovingly coddled."
"One hopes that the Turks or the Saudis will give him a little villa where he can write his fictional memoirs, Ganguly said.
He predicted that it is likely that the US would "pressure the motley coalition (in Islamabad [Images]) to cooperate," in its war on terror, because, "quite frankly, they have little or no choice, but to offer at least limited cooperation."
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