United against Musharrafhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/united-against-musharraf/

United against Musharraf

He made mistakes. But those gunning for him today are no friends of Pakistan,or the world

He made mistakes. But those gunning for him today are no friends of Pakistan,or the world

Ex-army chief of Pakistan General (retd) Pervez Musharraf has returned to Pakistan from his exile,which everyone thought was permanent,and is facing a predictable trial for high treason punishable by maximum death and minimum life imprisonment. Pakistan is notorious for gumming up accountability,but simply can’t resist it,like a heroin-addict. He dismissed the government of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League in 1999,which is now back in power. He dismissed the Supreme Court in 2007,which is now in its activist overdrive. Why shouldn’t the two get together and hang him?

Musharraf is no saint,but the forces arrayed against him are more sinister. If Pakistan was collectively sane,it would realise what is about to happen. There is a consensus of the diabolical against him and no one minds being a part of it. Revenge,not justice,is expected from the Supreme Court,where a rough-riding chief justice is backed by a submissive bench looking fearfully over their shoulders at the surging phalanx of rightwing religious-oriented lawyers who will hit the street at his bidding and beat up anyone in sight.

Revenge,not justice,is pursued by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,whose government alone can bring to court the case of treason under Article 6 of the constitution. So bad were his party PML and rival PPP at kicking butt in revenge sequentially that they issued a Charter of Democracy in 2006 saying goodbye to self-demeaning vendettas that marked the “accountability” decade of the 1990s till the army,always dominant behind the scenes,overthrew the Sharif government in 1999.

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There are others gunning for Musharraf,none of them friends of Pakistan,or the world. Al-Qaeda wants him disembowelled because he arrested hundreds of its terrorists in Pakistan after 9/11 and handed over 276 of them to America to populate its Guantanamo Bay camps. (Almost all of them,when let off,rejoined the holy war and killed more Pakistanis.) Al-Qaeda’s followers in the tribal areas accepted Osama bin Laden as their sheikh (religious leader) and announced themselves enemies of Musharraf. Their minions,the Punjabi Taliban,followed suit,and thereby hangs a tale.

The Punjabi Taliban,mostly from southern Punjab,usually pass their time killing Shias,but their more important task is to stage cross-border attacks in Kashmir. There was money in it for the leaders and there was glory for the madrassa-indoctrinated youth expecting fair-complexioned houris to copulate with them after martyrdom in jihad against infidel Hindus.

Musharraf’s big blunder,after the jolt of the Kargil Operation — born out of typically low-IQ military strategists — was to call off the jihad. That had two horrible consequences: the jihadi non-state actors turned against him and tried to kill him three times in tandem with al-Qaeda. The “handlers” of jihad inside the military also turned against him and,at least in one attempt on his life,came pretty close to killing him.

There is so much bitterness against him in the army that the current army chief has had to acquiesce to him being indicted for treason. In fact,he has had to cope with officers caught in the act of conspiring against the army on behalf of al-Qaeda. The media has joined the al-Qaeda consensus against Musharraf. This happened during the siege of the Red Mosque in Islamabad in 2007 before he dismissed the Supreme Court. The Lal Masjid episode is worth examining.

On July 6,2008,the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) observed the anniversary of the operation by killing 19 people in Islamabad through a suicide bomber,15 of them policemen. An al-Qaeda video cassette marked the first anniversary of the destruction of Lal Masjid in which revenge was sworn. It formally created the TTP after the destruction of Lal Masjid.

Amir Mir,in his book,Talibanisation of Pakistan from 9/11 to 26/11,states: “Before the bloodshed,the Mosque had a reputation for radicalism,mostly attracting Islamic hard line students from North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas where support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda is quite strong. Much before the military operation code named ‘Operation Silence’ was launched by the Pakistan Army,Lal Masjid had become known as a watering hole of foreign terrorists.

“As Operation Silence unfolded,it was discovered that elements from jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba,Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkatul Jihadul Islami were present inside the seminary,carrying Kalashnikov rifles,LMGs,hand grenades,petrol bombs and rocket-launchers”.

Zahid Hussain,in his book,The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan and how it Threatens America (2010),noted: “Lal Masjid clerics Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid had learned their militancy from their father,Abdullah Ghazi,who received funding and guidance from the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies for jihad. After the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan,Abdullah Ghazi became closely associated with al-Qaeda.

“In 1998,he travelled to Kandahar to pay homage to Mullah Omar,and took his younger son along. During this visit,Abdul Rashid Ghazi became radicalised. He met with Osama bin Laden alone for an hour. At the end of the meeting,he picked up bin Laden’s glass of water and drank from it and said: ‘I drank from your glass so that Allah would make me a warrior like you’.” (p112)

Two months after the Lal Masjid siege,an 18-year-old boy blew himself up inside the high-security base of Zarrar Company,the elite commando unit responsible for attacking Lal Masjid; 22 commandos were killed. It was an insider job. Zahid Hussain writes: “One of the officers identified was Captain Khurram Ashiq,who had served in Zarrar Company” (p121). Captain Khurram Ashiq died in Helmand,fighting on the side of al-Qaeda. His brother,Major Haroon Ashiq,too,worked for al-Qaeda,killing SSG commander Major-General Feisal Alvi in Islamabad. He has been acquitted this year by an anti-terrorism court in Adiala Jail.

The media saw Operation Silence and was sold on the terrorists. The Lal Masjid operation was disowned by the ruling PML-Q government,born from the loins of Musharraf. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman was reprimanded by the madrassa network into opposing it too. The other issue on which the entire population of Pakistan joined al-Qaeda against Musharraf was Aafiya Siddiqi,now in an American jail serving an 80-year sentence for acting as an agent of al-Qaeda. Musharraf let her be picked up and spirited out of Pakistan.

The Supreme Court recompensed Lal Masjid by getting it more land on which to expand. It wants the scalp of Musharraf for what he did to its judges after they had sabotaged the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills — which is now making a loss of a billion rupees a month and is one of the contributors to the circular debt of over Rs 500 billion in bankrupt Pakistan. The nation is on the same page about Musharraf — but it is the wrong page.

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One can damn Musharraf for something that the current consensus in Pakistan will probably see as a saving grace: he was insincere in his vow of fighting terrorism to the US and India. He did nothing to destroy the non-state actors whom he saw clearly as his prospective killers. He played a double game in Afghanistan after 9/11 and Tora Bora. Most probably,he saw the army as too monolithically committed to asymmetric war,requiring the services of terrorists,to honestly change tack and therefore betrayed the world,which had rallied around him to save Pakistan’s belly-up economy.

The writer is a consulting editor with ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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