The undemocratic tendencies of Pervez Musharraf have never deeply offended President Bush. Even after declaring a state of emergency, firing the Supreme Court and jailing most of his political opponents, Bush claimed that, “truly,” Musharraf was “somebody who believes in democracy.” Bush, on the other hand, is somebody who truly believes in loyalty. This is the glue that holds together the edifice of his own power. Musharraf might be Bush’s most dangerous friend but the fear of what might happen if the general feels betrayed indicates why, in the name of democracy, the president has so far only asked his friend to set aside his military uniform but not relinquish the presidency.
According to Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer, National Security Council staff member and now a Brookings fellow, when Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte went to Islamabad in September, “he basically delivered a message to Musharraf that we would stand by him, but he needed a democratic facade on the government, and we thought Benazir was the right choice for that face.”
The message from the Bush administration to Musharraf over the last seven years has been consistent: the appearance of democracy (or at least the promise of democracy) is more important than democracy itself.
Now, after it turns out that democracy will need a new face in Pakistan, we learn from Bhutto’s aides, that there is damning evidence that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, have been busy laying the groundwork for rigging the upcoming parliamentary elections. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has prepared a detailed report that Benazir Bhutto herself planned to share with two members of Congress in a meeting due to take place the day she was assassinated. The PPP trusted Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, and Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, rather than representatives from the Bush administration which they regard as too closely aligned with Musharraf. From The Independent we learn that:
The report compiled by the PPP apparently includes information on an alleged “safehouse” being run by the ISI in a neighbourhood of Islamabad called G-5, from which the rigging operation was run. “It was compiled from sources within the [intelligence] services who were working directly with Benazir Bhutto,” said Mr Lashari [a member of the PPP election monitoring cell].
The report names a recently retired ISI officer who has allegedly been running the rigging unit and claims he worked in tandem with another named senior intelligence officer. It also claims that US aid funds were being used for the projects.
At the heart of the scheme, the report says, was a project in which ballot papers – stamped in favour of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), which supports Mr Musharraf – were to be produced by the intelligence agencies in about 100 constituencies. Mr Lashari said the effort was directed at constituencies where the result was likely to be decided by a small margin, so it would not be obvious. “They diverted money from aid activities. We had evidence of where they were spending the money,” he added.
Is it possible that the Bush administration already knew of, or had received intimations that Musharaff’s intelligence services had such a scheme in operation? Even before Bhutto’s assassination and while expectations of vote rigging remained high, the administration had no qualms about sending an assistant secretary of state up to Capitol Hill to assert in the face of deep skepticism that, “I do think they can have a good election. They can have a credible election. They can have a transparent election and a fair election.”
The aroma of complicity (which it should be noted necessitates neither foreknowledge, nor support, but simply acquiescence) is perhaps evident in the way Washington responded to Bhutto’s assassination. First came the chorus that this was the dastardly work of al Qaeda, or one of its allies, the Taliban leader, Baitullah Meshud, who is effectively the Amir of South Waziristan. Then some intelligence sources started pulling back from that line and instead suggested that this was the work of al Qaeda infiltrators in the lower echelons of Pakistan’s intelligence services. What no administration official was willing to concede was that the jihadists might in this instance have been acting as minions for high-ranking intelligence officers.
Ever since 9/11, President Bush has been a captive of his own for-us-or-against-us logic when it comes to dealing with Pervez Musharraf. If Musharraf could not be painted as an ally, the risks of turning him into an enemy seemed too daunting to contemplate. In Musharraf’s hands, nuclear deterrence became a principle with new meaning as it served to deter threats to a regime rather than a state.
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal continues to protect Musharraf’s power for as long as Washington is paralyzed by the fear that nuclear material could slip out of his control and fall into the hands of al Qaeda. What Bush wants us to view as the Musharraf nuclear insurance policy is in fact a nuclear protection racket. Fearful of the mayhem that the boss’ removal might unleash, we have funneled billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan’s military, no strings attached, all in the tenuous name of keeping the neighborhood safe.
To those with a firm grasp on power, democracy must always appear risky and threatening. Democracy necessarily entails the dispersal of power and challenges the claims of those who would make themselves the guardians of power. Yet the pledge that all such guardians effectively make with the people they claim to be serving amounts to this: Trust me, because I can’t trust you.