ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 07
Columns - Issue of the week  

Mush, Bush and the duck that lays golden eggs

By Ameen Izzadeen

General Pervez Musharraf in his autobiography 'In the Line of Fire' revealed a bombshell: US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage warned him that if he did not cooperate in the war against terror, the US would bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age. Musharraf says in the book, a collection of memoirs, that he had little choice after the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States but to abandon the Taliban – a group that was conceived, delivered, nurtured and financed by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence, the country's secret service.

While the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan defied the US demand and did not mind being bombed back to the Stone Age, Musharraf relented to the US threat. Pakistan may be a nuclear-weapon state but its nuclear power pales into insignificance in comparison to US fire power. Musharraf says in his book: "America was sure to react violently, like a wounded bear... If the perpetrator turned out to be al-Qaeda, then that wounded bear would come charging straight toward us."

General Pervez Musharraf

Musharraf the wise general joined George Bush's war on terror and the decision signalled a major policy shift. For the first time, the State and the Islamists differed on a foreign policy issue. On domestic issues, the Islamist had locked horns with government politicians but on foreign policy issues, especially Kashmir and Afghanistan, they are on the same side. The Islamists, including the mullahs of the Red Mosque which is making headlines these days, had defended the government's stance with religious zeal.

Although Musharraf joined the war on terror, he was smarting underneath. He made it a point to extract as much concession and aid as possible from the United States. Musharraf's contribution to the war on terror was well-measured and calculated. For him, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their supporters in Pakistan constitute the proverbial duck that laid golden eggs. But he did not want to be a fool like the greedy man who killed the duck in the hope of getting all the eggs at once.

The Bush administration is not unaware of Musharraf's double game and the Pakistani president knows it. When Mush does not get what he wants, he slacks off, making life difficult for NATO troops in Afghanistan. When Bush is not happy with what Mush gives, Mush is put under pressure. That's the nature of the Mush-Bush game.

Here is an example. When the Americans and their puppet government in Kabul said Musharraf was not doing enough to stop the Taliban and al-Qaeda members from finding refuge in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the Pakistani president blamed the NATO and Afghan forces for their inefficiency. He did little or nothing to prevail upon pro-Taliban tribal chiefs who are providing safe haven to Afghan insurgents. He sprang into action only when the pressure became unbearable.

He sent his army to the tribal areas of Waziristan in the North West Frontier Province and a major conflict followed. With scores of Pakistani soldiers dying in the conflict, the US was made to believe that the crackdown in Waziristan was no bluffing. In appreciation, billions of dollars were pumped into Pakistan. According to some estimates, the money amounted to US$ 10 billion - much of it had come from a coalition support funds, a programme controlled by the Pentagon and subjected to little or no congressional scrutiny.

The Waziristan conflict ended with the Musharraf regime and the pro-Taliban tribal leaders entering into an agreement in 2006, much to the annoyance of Washington. In March this year, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation imposing restrictions on American military assistance to Pakistan, adding more pressure on Pakistan. Musharraf was made to understand that Washington was thinking of a regime change in Pakistan - a frontline state in Bush's war on terror, which has only strengthened al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic terrorists, though since October 2001, American guns have not fallen silent on a single day in Iraq or Afghanistan, nor sparing civilians among others. Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistan Prime Minister, in the meantime, is in the political limelight, once again and she enjoys the US support - a cause for worry for Musharraf.

It is against this backdrop that the Red Mosque drama unfolded. Red Mosque mullahs were once the darling of Pakistan rulers who used them to whip up public support for the country's Afghan and Kashmir policies. But they parted ways when Musharraf joined 'infidel' Bush's 'unholy' war.

When Musharraf was fighting the pro-Taliban tribal militants in Waziristan, the Red Mosque issued a fatwa, urging not to accord Muslim burials for soldiers killed in the fighting. The fatwa was backed by 500 other Muslim scholars and caused a major dent in the soldier's resolve to fight. The fatwa was a blessing in disguise for Musharraf, for he did not want to neutralize the Islamists - the duck that lays golden eggs.

The Red Mosque, meantime, took the law into its own hands, sending its students on raids on Islamabad's vice dens. The government in the meantime demolished several mosques that were illegally built on prime state land in Islamabad. The Red Mosque mullahs were furious. They demanded that the mosques be rebuilt. They did not stop at that. They urged the government to implement the Islamic Shariah law.

In one of their last acts of moral-policing, the Red Mosque students abducted six Chinese women, said to be sex workers. The women were released after the Chinese embassy intervened. The Mullahs told Chinese diplomats who came to negotiate the release that the women were being released because China was a true friend of Pakistan. But within a week, three Chinese were killed in Pakistan, prompting Beijing to send an angry note to Musharraf, asking him to ensure the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

Musharraf had to do something to placate the Chinese, show the Americans that he would not tolerate Islamic extremism and precipitate a crisis situation that would give him an excuse to declare a state of emergency and crush any opposition to his move to extend his rule that ends in October this year. Hundreds died, including young students when Pakistani troops stormed the mosque. Many in Pakistan believe the Red Mosque crisis could have easily been solved through negotiations. But Musharraf is the man who handles the duck that lays golden eggs.

Musharraf's gamble apparently is paying off. The White House is happy. Bush was full of praise for Musharraf this week for his action against the Islamists of the Red Mosque. "I like him and I appreciate him," were the lovey-dovey words with which Bush hailed Musharraf, whose brutal suppression of Red Mosque rebellion was seen by Washington as efforts to build democracy. "Mr. Musharraf is a strong ally in the war against these extremists. He's been a valuable ally in rejecting extremists. And that's important - to cultivate those allies," Bush said.

On Thursday, a day after the Red Mosque carnage and the US delivered two of the 24 F-16 advanced fighter jets to Pakistan, Musharraf in an address to the nation vowed that he would not tolerate extremism and would not hesitate to use force. "Extremism and terrorism have not yet been eliminated," he said, vowing that "we are determined to root them out from every corner of the country." His speech was the perfect recipe for more trouble. On Friday, thousands of Pakistanis took to the street condemning the attack on the Red Mosque, burning Musharraf's and Bush's effigies and hailing the Red Mosque victims as martyrs.

But Musharraf would not mind, because the rise of Islamists in Pakistan would ensure his political survival and the US would be forced to put up with him. Brice Reidel, a former South Asian specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency, told National Public Radio (USA) that he had heard Musharraf telling US presidents that "if you don't support me, the next person will be the 'bearded ones;'." Imagine the mullah's having their fingers on Pakistan's nuclear button. That's indeed a nightmare scenario.

  • Red Mosque Factbox
    Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, is regard ed as a symbol of radical Islam in Pakistan. It was established in 1965 by Muhammad Abdullah, a cleric believed to have had close ties to dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.
  • The mosque is well known for its anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban sentiments. Abdul Aziz took over as the chief cleric after the assassination of his father, Abdullah, in 1998.
  • He issued a fatwa, or religious decree, in 2005 declaring that Pakistani soldiers killed fighting militants in the northern tribal areas could not be given Muslim funeral rites.


  • April 6 - Aziz announces plans to set up vigilante Islamic courts and exhorts followers to become suicide bombers if their Taliban-style movement is forcibly suppressed.
  • June 23 - Students kidnap nine people, including six Chinese women, and accuse them of running a brothel. They are released after about 17 hours.
  • June 29 - President Pervez Musharraf says suicide bombers from an al Qaeda-linked militant group are in Lal Masjid.
  • July 3 - Clashes erupt between the students and security forces when about 150 students attack a security post at a government office near the mosque and snatch weapons. Violence continues the next day. Sixteen people are killed.
  • July 4 - Aziz is arrested while trying to escape clad in a woman's burqa; up to 1,200 students surrender.
  • July 10 - His brother Ghazi Abdul Rashid is killed along with scores of others when troops stormed the mosque.
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