In Pervez Musharraf, the West has got the leader it has unreservedly championed for the last nine years, someone it fears it cannot do without, a weakness that Musharraf has manipulated since he signed up to the war on terror in the days after 9/11. It is an increasingly cantankerous and one-way pact that has enabled the growth in power of the most destabilizing factor behind Pakistan’s implosion – the one Musharraf never referred to: the Pakistan military itself.
Musharraf likes to be seen as a firefighter, and has portrayed himself as a bridgehead between the West and the badlands of Islamic South Asia, where our own spooks and soldiers are rarely able to tread. He has worked hard to finesse his special relationship with Washington, familiarly known inside Pakistan as “Mush and Bush,” and it has paid off with Pakistan receiving billions of dollars in U.S. aid.
Underpinning this deal are Musharraf’s published credentials. He has always given the impression that he and his troops are Western-leaning moderates. However, the real Musharraf is far more complicated, and a good deal of the time we have paid the general to stand by us, he has been cosseting the forces that are bent on undermining the West, as part of a policy of defiance that stretches back two decades.
Musharraf’s career took off in the mid-1980s, when he was dispatched to train fighters aiding the mujahedeen in Afghanistan – all part of a U.S. proxy war to eject the Soviet army that had invaded there in 1979. The conflict brought a secular Pakistan army into close proximity with jihadis, serving to radicalize ordinary soldiers, as well as sharpening their intelligence skills and battle craft.
Musharraf won his first real plaudits in 1988 when he was ordered to cool a political uprising by Pakistani Shiites living in Gilgit, in the north. Using out-of-work mujahedeen fighters, Musharraf’s men killed hundreds, crushing the revolt, and he was rewarded with a job at army headquarters.
Born a Sunni, he had never identified with political Islamism but from then on he understood the power of manipulating faith. By the mid-1990s, as director general of military operations, he was serving Benazir Bhutto, who was in her second term as prime minister. He lobbied her to revive a flagging insurgency that Pakistan had lit in the Indian-administered sector of the divided state of Kashmir in 1989. “He told me he wanted to ‘unleash the forces of fundamentalism’ to ramp up the war,” Bhutto recalled.
Musharraf claimed he could gather as many as 10,000 fighters to send over the border, and he reached out to four extremist Sunni organizations, including one founded in 1987 by three followers of Osama bin Laden. Uncaring or oblivious to the consequences, Musharraf’s Kashmir plan sparked one of the bitterest episodes in Indo-Pakistan relations, giving birth to a vast army of battle-hardened Sunnis who would move on from Kashmir to fight the world over.
In 1996, Musharraf did it again, making contact with the Taliban, then an army of refugees and students. No one could have known in 1996, when the Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan, where it would all lead. But Musharraf could not plead ignorance when he secretly rekindled the alliance long after 9/11. [complete article]