General in a labyrinth

Clearly, Pervez Musharraf has not won his political spurs as yet, cocooned as he is by his phalanx of commandos from the real cut and thrust of politics

The warrant issued by the Islamabad high court for former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s arrest on Thursday in what is essentially a bailable case adds a new and provocative element ahead of the May 11 elections that have much wider implications for the security of not just Pakistan, but also neighbouring India, China and, in particular, Afghanistan, where the endgame has begun.

It’s a move that, in the domestic narrative, is being seen as part of the vendetta unleashed by a peeved judiciary, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry whom the former military dictator tried to railroad out of office along with some other judges ranged on him.
Mr Musharraf’s blinkered attempts to re-arrange Pakistan in his own image when he was President, set off the mass street protests that brought Pakistan to a halt and ultimately paved the way for the 2008 elections that gave the incoming civilian dispensation its unquestionable seal of legitimacy. A turning point, as it took Mr Musharraf’s embrace of democracy, half-hearted as it was, to its natural conclusion — the exit of the Army from active and obvious politicking.
His re-entry into a vastly changed Pakistan as a full-fledged civilian this March, only to come up against the age-old tactics employed by the powers that be to settle scores, shows, however, how little Pakistan has really changed.
By all accounts, Mr Musharraf knew full well on Wednesday night that he was up against the odds. Yet, he went ahead and attended court on Thursday. Clearly, he has not won his political spurs as yet, cocooned as he is by his phalanx of commandos from the real cut and thrust of politics. But, faced with the prospect of jail-time, he has sought to cleverly highlight the questionable tactics of the judiciary and seek public sympathy.
Whether he chooses to extract a face-saving deal that sees him exit the political arena or not, the flags that he sent up recently were an interesting pointer to the manner in which Mr Musharraf believes he can present himself as Washington’s best choice for President when Asif Ali Zardari steps down in October, while saying much the same to Delhi with whom he came closest to — as much as his bete noire Nawaz Sharif — talking up a peace process over the unresolved issue of Kashmir.
But this is where he runs full tilt into Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s ambitions to take over the presidency in what many believe is a backroom deal with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who, by all accounts, could sweep the elections and ring in a third term. And doggedly put Pakistan’s interests first.
First, in admitting that he had acquiesced to the drone strike deal with the United States, Mr Musharraf has set himself up as the man with whom Washington can continue to do business, especially during the increasingly fractious drawdown of American forces currently underway in Afghanistan where Afghan forces have proved woefully inadequate in tackling the resurgent Taliban.
The drone attacks, aimed at Pakistan’s badlands of North Waziristan and the sanctuaries that straddle the AfPak border, scandalously for India, left the pro-Kashmir militants nurseries out of the line of fire.
But the Obama administration, unfazed and in a calculated move that runs contrary to its commitment to Delhi, concentrated its firepower on the Taliban that preyed on Western forces operating in Afghanistan’s Pashtun dominated eastern provinces, and homed in on the Taliban that Pakistan cultivates and shelters, while not quite touching the notorious Haqqani network whose affiliates can reach not just the heart of Kashmir, poised on the knife-edge between peace and insurgency, but also Xinjiang. Simultaneously, it circumvented the Pakistanis and prepared to reach out to the Afghan Taliban directly.
Pakistan Amry Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s military — which Vali Nasr has, in his fascinating book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, describes as adept at milking the “dependence on the US and the sense of entitlement that went with it” — quickly realised the perils of a co-operation that has him “compromised” and in danger many say, of facing down a mutiny if US drone strikes continue.
Mr Musharraf’s signal that he would not be intimidated by Taliban threats — there were three attempts on his life when he shut down the Kashmir terror factory as President — could not be clearer. He has shown he is squarely behind Washington, soon after new US secretary of state John Kerry met Gen. Kayani in Jordan to discuss the situation arising out of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s determination to talk to the Taliban’s newly opened Qatar office directly, which would effectively cut the US and Pakistan out of the picture.
Not that it has happened as yet, with the Taliban equally set on not cosying up to the “US stooge”, while having few qualms over living off US payoffs in the Gulf state.
With the Pakistan military, as much as rising star Imran Khan of the Tehrik-e-Insaf party and Mr Sharif, not to mention Mr Karzai who has little over a year left in office, determined to shake off the pro-US tag, Washington may look on a friendly Musharraf more kindly than before.
India’s concerns rest with the fact that it will have to deal with being edged out of an Afghanistan where it has steadily built goodwill and where its soft power, is a calculated, strategic hedge against Taliban resurgence, in the face of Pakistan’s determined efforts to re-impose its hegemony and return it to the barbaric, fratricidal chaos that birthed an anti-West, anti-India Al Qaeda, pre-9/11.
As the US scouts around for a successor to
Mr Karzai, homing in possibly, on the highly effective governor of Balkh, Atta Mohammed, a Tajik who serves a mean barbecue in his Mazar-i-Sharif backyard, and Delhi, in a rare convergence of views with Beijing, holds its first ever talks with the new leadership on Thursday, over the implications of a Taliban return, Mr Musharraf’s comeuppance may overturn long-term calculations all around.

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