The General in his labyrinth

THE storm of rumours in Pakistan about President Pervez Musharraf's possible departure from office has provoked the deepest anxiety in Washington. Senior officials of the Bush administration see their carefully crafted Pakistan policy crumbling as the embattled Pakistani president's power erodes by the day.

By Eric S. Margolis (America Angle)

Published: Sun 1 Jun 2008, 2:30 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:22 PM

Washington's game plan in Pakistan has been to keep shoring up ally Musharraf with tens of millions of dollars in open and secret funds, while continuing efforts to sow discord between the Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League, and to prevent Pakistan's Supreme Court judges from being reinstated.

The ability to distribute US funds is Musharraf's last source of power. The money is used to rent the loyalty of certain senior military officers and bureaucrats, members of the media, and influence politicians.

Washington has paid particular attention to romancing the PPP. The Bush administration has sought to entice the PPP into an alliance with the Musharraf forces, while hedging its bet by trying to further enhance its links to Pakistan's military.

In Washington's view, the preferred outcome for Pakistan would be another military coup in which Gen. Ashraf Kayani, or another pro-US general, would seize power and continue Musharraf's policies. So far, however, the cautious, highly professional Gen. Kayani has ignored Washington's siren songs.

As Musharraf's power continues to decline, the US is increasingly concerned by the threat of attacks against vital supply lines running from its Pakistani bases into Afghanistan.

If the Pakistani bases used by the US to wage war in Afghanistan are in any way restricted, or even shut down, US and Nato forces in Afghanistan will be in serious trouble. Recognizing this danger, Washington has recently concluded deals with Russia and Uzbekistan to open overland supply routes to Western forces in Afghanistan.

Even so, there is high anxiety in Washington that Nawaz Sharif will become the dominant political figure in Pakistan and respond to strong public anti-war sentiment by curtailing the US use of Pakistani bases, limiting American influence over the intelligence service, ISI, and, of course, halt the use of a good part of Pakistan's army as ‘native troops,' or sepoys, in the US-led war effort.

So alarmed is the Pentagon, that Defence Secretary Robert Gates' plans to send US ground forces into the FATA are being rapidly advanced. Washington's criticism of Islamabad's recent peace deals in the tribal territories has sharply intensified. American conservatives are claiming Pakistan has ‘sold out' to Al Qaeda and Taleban, and is sheltering Osama bin Laden and his cohorts.

Musharraf's slow-motion fall from power has also wrong-footed Washington because it was counting on using US bases there in the event of an attack on Iran.

The US capitol is again buzzing with rumours of an impending air campaign against at least 3,000 targets in Iran that will be launched sometime before November elections to boost the fortunes of the embattled Republicans. Israel's American supporters are waging an all-out campaign for war against Iran. This week, they began running TV commercials claiming Iran was attacking the United States.

As Pakistan's economy takes a battering over soaring oil prices and political instability, and faces a punishing recessions, if not an outright financial crisis, it will become increasingly dependent on the US aid.

That is Washington's last hope. Pakistan will have the Hobson's choice of either continuing to support the US-led war in Afghanistan, and incur growing armed resistance in Pashtun tribal areas or be left in the cold and without US financial aid when its failing economy finally hits the wall.

Pakistanis will soon understand that the so-called ‘economic boom' they experienced during the Musharraf years was mostly the result of infusions of US money that lined the pockets of the pro-western elite. We have seen this same dreary baksheesh politics before in Anwar Sadat's Egypt and Boris Yeltsin's Russia.

The Pentagon is angry and frustrated over the failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dismayed with Pakistan for being ‘non-responsive' to US demands. Washington is so used to getting its way that it cannot abide the natives being insubordinate. The mood in Washington is increasingly warlike and grim as the beleaguered Bush administration enters its final days.

Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun.

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