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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Does the West need Musharraf?
Ahmed Rashid
By Ahmed Rashid

President Pervez Musharraf
Gen Musharraf faces extremist challenges in the capital, Islamabad

Ahmed Rashid, guest journalist and writer on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, reflects on the West's relationship with Gen Musharraf.

As the international community, particularly the US and Britain continue to make statements in favour of beleaguered Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the issue of how relevant he still is for the West's agenda in the region becomes critical.

Protests against Gen Musharraf multiply and he appears to be losing control in several areas of the country and facing dwindling public support.

Since 11 September, 2001, he has always appeared as the 'can-do' authoritarian general who can deliver on the demands placed by the Western alliance.

He has delivered hundreds of al-Qaeda prisoners to the US, positioned 80,000 troops on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to stop Taleban incursions and made peace with India.

Gen Musharraf now seems incapable of delivering on any front that is important to the West and yet the US and Europe continue to back him

However he has also failed to deliver on many counts, for example, by allowing the Taleban leadership to resettle in the city of Quetta and by carrying out controversial peace deals with tribal extremists on the border, while allowing Islamic extremists to go unchallenged at home as they spread ideas of jihad and Sharia law.

Open threats

Some Western diplomats now believe that this two track policy has been Gen Musharraf's way of showing to the West that he is indispensable but that he faces many threats.

Such is the case with the mullahs of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, who are openly threatening the government with jihad and suicide attacks, while being closely tied to the military's main intelligence service, the ISI.

Until now the West has not worried about this, as long as Gen Musharraf kept Pakistan under control and concentrated on the West's primary agenda of catching al-Qaeda leaders.

The US may like to see free and fair elections in Pakistan, but not at the cost of Gen Musharraf departing the scene or plunging Pakistan's support - no matter how lukewarm the role is - in the war on terrorism into uncertainty.

A protest against Gen Musharraf in Pakistan
The opposition has become united in recent months

So far the West has also accepted Gen Musharraf's plea that democracy in Pakistan must be tailored to local conditions - in short what he accepts as democracy and keeps him in power rather than the global norm of democracy.

The US State Department fully backs Musharraf's views on democracy.

"The direction that Gen Musharraf set for Pakistan is a good one, and we are supporting that,"' said Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia last month.

Yet the West's dependency on Gen Musharraf may have little relevance now if he is losing control of Pakistan and refusing to take on the extremists any longer - be they inside Pakistan or on its borders.

Nato and US military officers have long argued that Gen Musharraf is double dealing with the Taleban, causing Western military forces in Afghanistan major headaches.

Running amok

Some of the biggest problems facing the current government appear to have been created by it, or by its allies.

In the past the judiciary in Pakistan has been a pliant group. But faced with the prospect of Gen Musharraf enjoying indefinite one-man rule, they have turned against him.

Meanwhile the army's allies, such as the Pakistani and Afghan Taleban, which have been fostered by the ISI since 9/11, have turned against their creator, creating havoc along the border. Other extremist groups have been growing in influence across the North West Frontier Province and Punjab.

The riots in Karachi on May 13
'The riots in Karachi have worsened the political crisis'

Meanwhile in the country's commercial capital, Karachi, Gen Musharraf's most loyal political allies, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), have been at the centre of controversy after more than 40 people were killed in clashes in mid-May that many people believe were instigated by the MQM.

Finally Pakistani liberal and professional groups, long viewed by the US as potential allies of Gen Musharraf and the US led war on terror, are rapidly turning anti-American, as Washington is increasingly seen as Gen Musharraf's only visible prop.

'Close relationship'

"We have a very close relationship with President Musharraf," an unabashed Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said on 23 May in Washington.

In Washington his principle backer is the office of Vice President Dick Cheney which has enormous influence over Condoleezza Rice and the State Department.

Last winter, when Richard Boucher was set to hold a State Department seminar on Pakistan's future, he was forced to cancel the event by Mr Cheney's office, apparently because it may have been taken as a signal that US support for Gen Musharraf was declining.

Ironically it is the CIA and the Defence Department - the traditional supporters of the Pakistan army - which are now keen on changing policy towards Pakistan, and encouraging a greater role for civilian politicians.

Pakistani Islamic students carry bamboo sticks as other patrol outside the Lal Mosque (Red Mosque) in Islamabad
'Mullahs of the Red Mosque are openly threatening the government'
A key concern in Washington and other capitals is that unless an acceptable alternative to Gen Musharraf appears, Western governments fear the unknown more than they do the known, no matter how discredited he may be.

Only long term Western support for a genuine democratic process can secure the growth and development of new politicians but so far that has been pointedly lacking.

The West must start considering how the army and the next civilian government can work together, rather than continuing to back a single individual against all odds.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He is the author of three books including Taliban and, most recently, Jihad. He has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for the past 25 years and also writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Daily Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal.

This debate is closed. Here is a selection of comments you sent.

I sincerely hope that for Pakistan's sake President Musharraf survives this onslaught. One must remember that the judiciary, the press and the political establishment are all like any other institution in Pakistan - they are all as corrupt as any other. There is a dire need for a radical but a gradual change, and if this happens the results will be evident not next year, but two decades later.
Dr Rasheed Ahmad, United Kingdom

The West needs President Musharraf, and more importantly, Pakistan needs President Musharraf. No other politician in the country has the guts or the will to fight the menace of terrorism. No civilian has the will to roll back support for the Taleban and Kashmiri militant organisations which Pakistan created (for better or worst). I agree that Gen Musharraf has not been entirely successful in his efforts, but the reason is that he cannot alienate the Pashtuns and the Punjabis by coming too hard on the Taleban or Kashmiri militants. These two communities form the majority of Pakistan, and Gen Musharraf is not ready to upset them too soon.
Qureshi, Karachi (Pakistan)

I think Pakistan needs a leader like Iran's president, specially after 9/11. I say so because if that was the case west would not have gone in Afghanistan or Iraq, killing millions of our innocent Muslim brothers and sisters (including a lot of children). If we can sort out the leaders in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia no one can look at any Muslim country with a bad eye because at the moment the governments of both countries are run by the US which is a big shame and I hate it.
Noman Ikram, UK

I strongly believe that the person who comes to power through illegitimate means cannot leave his seat happily, especially in the case of Pakistan. The current situation that has engulfed the entire nation is disturbing. I think that it is now time for the president to give a chance to those who want to come to power through legitimate ways.
Safeena Qayyum, Pakistan

President Musharraf should now consider the retirement home, but it would be sad to see the same old leaders coming back to destroy the country.
Desolated Soul, Canada

A lot of commentators have pointed to the growth of economy under President Musharraf as something of his doing... But the truth is that the same thing would have happened to any other leader who cooperated with the West after 9/11. The results would have been the same... Pakistan is getting quite a bit of aid from US as Uncle Sam's ally. Back in 1998-99, the US put sanctions against Pakistan after it tested nuclear weapons. Things will be as they were once the US does not need the president any longer.
Usman, Pakistan

Pakistan is at crossroads. President Musharraf was the best thing that happened to the country in the late 1990s. He brought economic stability, political strength and statesmanship when it mattered most (during 9/11) as well as privatising the media. He will be remembered for this. However, what he fell short of is building strong institutions that can stand for themselves. And the justice system is one good example of that. Unfortunately by being so supportive of President Bush, he has lost his credibility within the country. As of the Western powers, they do not mind dealing with dictators as long as someone gets their jobs done. If he wants to change things, the president can make a good start by consulting people outside his current set of advisors.
Ahmed M, Toronto, Canada

Ahmad Rashid fails to address what happens if President Musharraf leaves. Who is next, another general or a politician? Now considering that the champions of democracy have become lifelong chairpersons of their respective political parties, I honestly doubt how democratic their regimes would be this time around. Yes I mean Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. If Pakistani people really want these people back in power then the nation truly deserves the misery these people brought the last two times.
Kamal Pirzada, USA

I say only few words about General Musharraf, he is hero, a brave and sincere person, who secured Pakistan from foreign invasion and put the country on social, economic and political reform. Previous governments failed to do so. I think the president is the best option both for Pakistan and for the West.
Abdul Majid Alwani, The Netherlands

No doubt President Musharraf's days ahead are going to be rough. But one must admire him the way he sustained pressure both internally and from the West.
Ameer Abbasi, UK

With all the trouble back home, will the general stir up trouble with India? After all, that is sure to unite everyone against the common enemy.
John Mattick, UK

We feel that Ahmed Rashid should have thrown the more relevant question that "Does Pakistan or Pakistanis need Musharraf any more?" In case the West needs Musharraf the most, then he (Musharraf) should be shifted there with all his family members immediately. Which would be of course a better and safer choice for all sides!
Irfan H. Malik, Karachi - Pakistan

Gen Musharraf should resign at this point and have some dignity. He hasn't delivered anything in past eight years. He should go home now.
Shahab Nasir, Islamabad, Pakistan

Well written. I feel that Gen Musharraf is having very little exposure to the real problems. He lives between a few of his Western advisors and local advisors most of the time. This seems to be major hindrance in making realistic, broader and durable decisions. He is currently making random decisions which unrealistic and temporary. I hope and wish that he could see things realistically and based upon broader parameters. He must understand that Western point of view is not the final word or end of life. How could the West understand and offer solutions to all problems in Pakistan while they are have such a contrasting and different culture, philosophy, history and priorities? It is nice to discuss things with the West and take advice, but it should be taken as an advice not as an order!
Zaheer Abbas, Germany

Only a dictator can solve the problems of Pakistan. There is no doubt that President Musharraf has developed Pakistan to an extent which others could not do. He is the first ruler of Pakistan who could decide that the future of Pakistan lies in good neighbourly relations with India and has made a good progress in this direction. Only a dictator can control the extremists and fundamentalists. No politician elected on the strength of votes can do it, because he has to depend on votes of these very people to remain in the chair and rule. No doubt the president made a big blunder by suspending chief justice of Supreme Court, but later on he should have handled this situation more delicately than by trying to suppress the fury of the common man. But I still feel he is the best bet for the future of Pakistan if one day it becomes a democracy again.
Harbhajan Singh Taggar, UK

Unless or until the government breaks rank with the religious parties and links up with the democratic parties there never will be progress or happiness in Pakistan
Paul, UK

The general seized the opportunity after 9/11, made a U-turn on his policies relating to the Taleban, trained Kashmiri terrorists (partial u-turn) and fooled the West (namely Bush) into thinking that he is their best ally. A lie can last only so long. The truth is emerging, he is ineffective in controlling the extremists in his own backyard, they are after his blood and he is hiding (hence his long motorcade and security). Pakistan's history has not been to kind to its leaders (exiles, assassinations, hangings etc), and I think that the general's fate hangs in balance.
Rahul, USA

During the last six months, your commentator has not written one good sentence in favour of the Pakistani economy, its rising stock markets and industrial development. Mr Rashid is a rebel journalist and belongs to very narrow minded mullahs with a beard who are opposed to the very establishment of Pakistan. Please note, Islam does not provide a system to govern a country in modern days. It is a fact. All governments should be secular and religion should be a private affair. It is not a responsibility of a government to watch peoples' morals and their day-to-day activities.
Jameel , USA

Ahmed Rashid is an honest writer. One is surprised to see the continued support of the US to a military dictator Gen Musharraf. The US needs to be very clear that by continuing to support him, it is alienating civil society and the public at large - both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. The government and people of Afghanistan are surprised to see the USA fighting al-Qaeda and the Taleban on the one hand, yet persist with supporting the alleged backer of the Taleban and al-Qaeda, Gen Musharraf, on the other hand. The double standards of the US is increasing the level of hatred against it in the hearts of Afghan and Pakistani people.
Zarghun Khan, Turkey

It is easy to understand the US position. There are absolutely no other alternatives. There are off course the usual suspects - Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto - who ran the country into the ground through incompetence and corruption in the 1990s (they had two goes each). Under these so-called "democrats", Pakistan was listed as the second most corrupt country in the world. Imagine if these two got back. The economy would go down the drain as it did in the 1990s. What do you think would happen then to the millions of young men with no jobs and no hope? The most important thing for Pakistan is to have stability for economic growth, with a strong and honest leader, who thinks of the country first.
Pav, UK

Rome wasn't built in one night. If Gen Musharraf stays in charge then instability will remain for a while, but if he left then instability will remain not only in Pakistan but in the entire world
Matt, Texas, USA

Where is Gen Musharraf on the international scene? America "loves him" because he has no political strength (he is a pushover). India "loves him" because he let them build a fence an internationally disputed area without even batting an eyelid. Have they ever had it so easy? He is the perfect cocktail for America-India nexus. The moves afoot on the recent America-India nuclear "cooperation" deal is testimony to this. They know that Musharraf could do nothing except accept. If he were to protest whatsoever, America would go back into calling him a pariah dictator (as he was pre 9/11). This is the problem with leaders that lack electoral credentials or legitimacy. They can so easily be blackmailed.
Mohammad Ali Shaikh, Lahore, Pakistan

I think the West has failed to assess Gen Musharraf's motives in supporting Western interests. Since 9/11, he has delivered very little for the millions of dollars of support given to Pakistan. I think there is little doubt that the general is guilty of double standards when dealing with the Taleban: he has provided a safe heaven to key players in Taliban regime. He has made Nuclear technology accessible to our enemies. Directly or indirectly, he has provided training camps and monetary support to terrorists within the country. After all these years, Pakistan remains a constant source of danger to Western countries. Pakistan has failed to adopt democratic political reforms democratic. As long as the state of Pakistan has existed, it has always nurtured elements of destruction to western governments
Chandra Drew, USA

No proper democracy, no rights for the Balochis or Sindhis, terrorist groups prospering all over Pakistan, the economy kept afloat by US dollars, Kashmiri militants still being quietly trained by Pakistani intelligence, no proper peace with Afghanistan or India, women's and minority rights a shambles, Pakistan is in a mess....
Vida, UK

And now we have come a full circle, yet again. The country's history is plagued with long martial law tenures sprinkled with cameos of democracy. The article provides a bold argument as to the rising fact that Gen. Musharraf has now practically lost all control. At the end he will meet a similar fate as his predecessors, Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Yahya Khan. While I will be glad to see him go, I am saddened by the fact that he is only to be followed by Miss Bhutto or Mr Sharif. So the never ending story of Pakistan and its inability to step up and deliver at least some of what was promised in 1947, will continue. I wonder if it is the army's fault, the bureaucracy, maybe the politicians, but I as a Pakistani can tell you its none of the above. It is us the people who are at fault. A nation that brags about valour and bravery but in reality too cowardly to face up to their self-created problems.
Mohammad Adil Khan, Canada

Until the Government breaks rank with the religious parties and links up with the democratic parties, there never will be progress or happiness in Pakistan.
Paul, UK

President Musharraf is a perfect example of "running with the hare and hunting with the hound" philosophy. Pakistan is still the world's biggest breeding ground for terrorists. It may be al-Qaeda, Kashmiri terrorists or another bombing incident in Madrid, Mumbai or London. The West's support of Musharraf is the perfect example of hypocrisy - on one hand the West imposes sanctions on Burma for suppressing democracy and on the other hand, shamelessly gets in bed together with dictatorial regimes like Musharraf or even the Communist Chinese government. On one hand Musharraf provides a safe heaven to terrorists like al-Qaeda and the Air India plane hijacker, Dawood Ibrahim.
Sanket, USA

We the citizens of Pakistan hardly have a choice . To choose between the devil and the deep blue sea, we rather stick with the devil, at least we know where he will take us.
Osman K Khan, Pakistan

President Musharraf is a puppet of the west, and no matter what happens in Pakistan they will keep him in power until they find a replacement. Musharraf is a power hungry guy, he does not like democracy and he keeps playing with people's sentiments. Pakistan cannot overtake the economic achievements of India and China, and only survives by receiving pieces of bread thrown to it by the US.
Raj Shah, USA

I see Ahmed Rashid's comments as having a great deal of sense and insight. The continuation of another dictator who insists on keeping both his political and military roles without attracting significant negative comment from his Western, particularly American, backers does not bode well for the future of any sort of recognisable democracy in that country, as it also does not reflect favourably on the genuineness of the practice of those vaunted democratic principles so often espoused by his Western backers.
James Hurley, USA

This must be the eighth time that Ahmed Rashid has declared that Musharraf's time is up. Why doesn't the BBC ask Mr Rashid to write on a topic other than Mr Musharraf?
Aamir Ali, Pakistan

The principal problem with General Musharraf is that he is selective on terrorists. The US is committing a grave mistake by providing overall support to this policy. However, this is the same policy that has backfired and led to the World Trade Centre and the emergence of worldwide religion-driven terrorism. Just as the US will not tolerate apartheid in ANY form in the 21st century, so it should not tolerate terrorism in ANY form. Militia camps and schools of terror anywhere in Pakistan, including Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and in Bangladesh (supported by the Pakistan army) must be dismantled if terrorism is to be uprooted by its roots.
Sam Mukerji, United Kingdom

Everyone should realise that President Musharraf provides only an ad-hoc solution to Pakistan's woes. But they should also realise that he is no more capable of giving the results than a full-blown democratic government. Musharraf is technically retired since ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif threw him out before the 1999 coup.
Zeeshan Ahmed, Karachi, Pakistan

It is true that General Musharraf is under tremendous Pressure nowadays. However, we must not forget to appreciate his astute handling of international issues such as war against terrorism, the nuclear black market Issue and his work in renewing the country's previously dire economic situation, which was far worse at the time of his coup.
Sikandar Ali, Pakistan



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