Pakistan's General Musharraf Seized Power in Coup but is America's Friend
October 12, 2001
by Richard S. Ehrlich
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (EPN) -- Two years ago, Gen. Pervez Musharraf toppled an elected government in a bloodless coup.
Today, in a macabre twist of diplomacy, he stands as one of the few people to have indirectly benefited from the horrific attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which killed an estimated 3,000 people.
Gen. Musharraf no longer loiters as an international pariah after replacing Pakistan's democracy with a dictatorship.
Instead he is one of America's best friends in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
His newest enemies are a vocal, potentially violent minority of Islamic fundamentalists, who demand he be stripped of power after turning against Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
Gen. Musharraf, 58, completed his second year as president on Oct. 12 with little time to celebrate.
The capital Islamabad and other major cities had to be hurriedly protected by security forces in armored vehicles and makeshift sandbagged bunkers to quell anti-Musharraf and anti-American protests by a slew of angry Muslim groups.
It was the most massive display of guns and troops since Gen. Musharraf's Oct. 12, 1999 coup.
Worried about some Islamic mosques' potential to fuel anti-U.S. agitation, Gen. Musharraf reportedly told senior government officials while arranging security on the second anniversary of his coup: "Mosques are the place of worship, these are sacrosanct and where peace is taught with lessons of tolerance.
"These should not be allowed to be used for disruptive activities."
His second anniversary coincidentally fell on a Friday scheduled by Muslim leaders for big anti-American protests because Fridays draw large congregations to mosques where rallies can be organized.
Despite the government crackdown, thousands of demonstrators in scattered cities took to the streets in anger at the bombardment of Afghanistan by American and British forces which began on Oct. 7.
Afghanistan's Taliban said more than 200 civilians died in the assaults.
The death toll was impossible to immediately verify, however, because the insecure regime forbids foreign correspondents from entering Afghanistan.
Washington, London and their allies declared Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network were the intended targets.
President Bush earlier displayed seemingly circumstantial evidence which he said linked Mr. bin Laden and al Qaeda to suicidal hijackers who steered passenger planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11.
Whoever was behind the surprise attack on America, overnight on this side of the world Gen. Musharraf's tattered dictatorship gained a new sheen.
As self-appointed president, the soft-spoken, graying general still likes to wear his khaki uniform while controlling Pakistan's 145 million citizens.
His opponents, meanwhile, now denounce him as a puppet of the United States.
About 97 percent of Pakistan's population are Muslim. While most are unwilling to submit to the brutal restrictions of a Taliban-style regime, many are troubled and terrified by living so close to America's deadly rain upon Afghanistan.
Gen. Musharraf was already grappling with Hindu-dominated India over the status of Muslim-majority Kashmir -- a gorgeous but blood-stained region divided between both nations.
Pakistan and India possess nuclear weapons capability, making Gen. Musharraf's job one of the most powerful yet stressful in the world.
As a result of America's Afghanistan war, meanwhile, the general is being squeezed not only by an international alliance arrayed against "terrorism," but also by fundamentalist Pakistani Muslims and a cluster of politically-minded military officers.
Some senior officers in the 587,000-strong military who may have supported Gen. Musharraf's coup are perhaps now not so sure where he is leading the nation while bodies start to pile up on the other side of the nearby Khyber Pass.
Some Western diplomats, meanwhile, point to Gen. Musharraf's past month of dealing with the United States as an impressive indication of how he adapted to President Bush's for-us-or-against-us ultimatum regarding the bombardment of Afghanistan.
Not that Gen. Musharraf had much choice.
If he flipped off President Bush, Gen. Musharraf ran the risk of being perceived as an accessory to the Taliban's sheltering of Mr. bin Laden -- especially because Pakistan helped create the Taliban in the mid-1990s and was one of only three nations to recognize the often-cruel, medieval regime.
Pakistan's punishment may have included a U.S. strike against Pakistan's nuclear facilities and a branding of the nation as a potential terrorist base because Muslim guerrillas in the north have been crossing the mountainous border to fight in India's two-thirds of Kashmir, in an effort to end New Delhi's control.
Appalled at the perceived lack of Pakistani independence, Gen. Musharraf's critics were outraged.
They denounced him in the streets and in the media, and hurled abuse at Washington for forcing him to kowtow.
"I ask the general [Musharraf] to resign voluntarily or the nation will throw him out of President House," said Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who leads the pro-Taliban, influential Jamiat-e-Islami party.
"I warn General Musharraf not to cross the limit, because Pakistan is not owned by him or his [army] institution," said Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who heads a similar party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
Mr. Rahman's party operates thousands of influential "madrassas," or Islamic religious schools, which teach young men to support and adore the Taliban.
"Two years down the power lane, General Pervez Musharraf's foreign policy has made him a favorite with the democratic West, particularly the U.S. and its allies, for supporting them in their war on terrorism," said the Nation newspaper in an Oct. 12 front-page analysis of his two years in power.
"And yet despite enjoying the smiling approval of the international community, the policy shift has not gone down too well in the domestic arena."
Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich
email: animists *at* yahoo *dot* com
Richard S. Ehrlich's Asia news, non-fiction book titled, "Hello My Big Big Honey!" plus hundreds of photographs are available at his website http://www.oocities.com/asia_correspondent