American influence : Is there any left?
President-General Pervez Musharraf’s “second coup” amounted to a serious personal blow for Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and American counterterrorism and nation-building policies in the Pakistan-Afghanistan badlands. Whatever his other failings, the crisply pressed Pakistani leader is a gentleman of the English colonial school. But good manners did not prevent him rejecting Rice’s latest calls for restraint — and then ignoring her phone calls during a fraught weekend that saw him tear up a host of solemn undertakings.
Gen Musharraf’s calculation that the White House and Pentagon would tacitly go along with his putsch looks correct in the short term. As always his fealty, however conditional, to the “global war on terror” is Washington’s first priority.
Not coincidentally, the general’s emergency declaration made great play of the threat posed by jihadis and Pakistani Taliban. The United States defence secretary, Robert Gates, duly responded on Nov. 5, saying that while “we are reviewing all our assistance programmes, we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts” Gen Musharraf knows that when faced by such weighty domestic considerations, Rice is outgunned.
All the same, Islamabad seems to have been taken by surprise by the swiftness, strength and unanimity of international condemnation, which saw Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, join his European Union (EU) counterparts in demanding that Gen Musharraf rescind his action and quit as army chief. There was speculation on Monday night that elections scheduled for January, and put off indefinitely at the weekend, could be reinstated. But for now the state of emergency remains in place.
The chaotic sequence of events strongly suggests that Gen Musharraf’s time is running out. It will be said of him now that he could not even organise a coup in a barracks. His credibility is shot; his popularity and political capital are draining away.
American and Pakistani analysts suggest the democracy-security trade-off that has kept him in power since 9/11 cannot be sustained much longer. Perhaps another general will in time replace him. Perhaps the elections, if they proceed unhindered (and that is a big “if”), will produce a genuine democratic alternative.
Much depends now on the strongest opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto. Her power-sharing plans disrupted, she may feel obliged to campaign all out against the military regime. The ensuing confrontation could be unpredictable and bloody both for her and the general. For that reason perhaps, there are indications that the government-opposition dialogue will be salvaged.
“What history has taught us is that in Pakistan, the military cannot rule without the backing of civilians — and civilians cannot rule without the backing of the military,” a senior Pakistani official said. Despite everything, the two remained sides of the same coin. They must find ways to work together.
And from the point of view of the United States, Pakistan’s paymaster, geopolitical guide, and strategic dominatrix, a Bhutto-Musharraf deal still seems the best way of avoiding various nightmare scenarios all pointing towards the same uncomfortable question: who “lost” Pakistan? These are gloomy days for the US power and interest in the wider region. Rice’s Pakistan trauma was almost matched by her failed fire-fighting expedition to Istanbul. The part aim of the visit was to furnish Turkey with a good, publicly acceptable reason not to invade northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) militants — something Ankara has been demanding from Washington for at least two years.
The talks preceded on Nov. 5 “showdown” meeting (as Turkish media portray it) between Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and President George Bush in Washington. In the event Rice tabled little of substance beyond enhanced intelligence-sharing. Asked what if any effective action was planned, she dodged and weaved. The Turks were predictably unimpressed — and may take matters into their own hands. “There have been no tangible steps offered to us,” an official said.
Rice’s Israel stopover on Saturday was unproductive, too, casting further doubt on the usefulness of a US-promoted peace conference, vaguely scheduled for Annapolis this month or next.
“This is a very delicate time,” said Rice, whose frequent-flyer miles are beginning to rival those of her predecessor, Warren Christopher. “They [the parties] are coming to the realisation... that Annapolis is an event but it’s not the only event. There has to be a day after.”
This rather obvious effort to play down expectations suggests the Bush administration is losing confidence in its own project. In Israel-Palestine, as in Pakistan and Turkey, Rice and colleagues are paying the price for long lost years of misjudgment and neglect. — The Guardian