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Musharraf's little secret for Bush at Camp David Talks

once again the country faces core issues on which it might be forced to compromise, which will once again test the general's grip on the country. These include a compromise on Pakistan's nuclear program, its long-standing position on the Kashmir dispute and its Middle East policies, notably the possible recognition of Israel. Cooperation on security initiatives for Afghanistan will also feature highly at the talks.
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - With the deteriorating security situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq illustrating that the United States agenda in the region is far from complete, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, despite his checkered record on democracy and human rights, travels to the US as an indispensable US ally.

Musharraf begins his visit on Monday, with a meeting with US President George W Bush scheduled for Tuesday at Camp David, which was chosen rather than the White House in an apparent attempt to stress the importance of the visit, the first by a South Asian leader to Camp David.

After September 11, Pakistan made several about-turns in its foreign and internal policies, including dropping support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. There was opposition to such moves, but Musharraf successfully managed to contain it.

However, once again the country faces core issues on which it might be forced to compromise, which will once again test the general's grip on the country. These include a compromise on Pakistan's nuclear program, its long-standing position on the Kashmir dispute and its Middle East policies, notably the possible recognition of Israel. Cooperation on security initiatives for Afghanistan will also feature highly at the talks.

On the domestic front, the US will undoubtedly be keen for a briefing on the latest developments in the North West Frontier Province, where the local government is introducing Sharia law, and the situation within the armed forces, where reports of unrest regularly make the headlines. On the surface, Musharraf, after a number of reshuffles among top-ranking army commanders, is in full control and there is harmony among the ranks. But looking a bit deeper, and all is not well. picture.

Within the army there is a phenomenon known as the "Langar Gazette" (langer in Urdu means feast) which serves as a good barometer of how things stand in the armed forces. Basically, middle and upper-middle officers and their families get together every so often to literally have a feast. The real "meat" of the events, though, is the gossip and chatter that is exchanged, and which is carefully monitored by intelligence and passed on to the head of the army, Musharraf.

The latest feast, which took place shortly before Musharraf left for the US, apparently returned a negative result: many officers are highly concerned of possible changes in policy, especially on Kashmir and Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

According to well-placed political sources, Musharraf has secretly met with Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the Jamaat-i-Islami and parliamentary party leader of the Muttahida Maijlis-i-Amal (MMA), a strong coalition of religious parties. The MMA has threatened to launch a countrywide movement to oust the government if it recognizes Israel.

Apparently, Musharraf asked Qazi Hussain Ahmed not to stir things up while the general is in the US, and his request was agreed to, with the caveat that the MMA will be closely watching events at Camp David, and if there is any deviation from national policy there will be fireworks on his return.

This is not to underestimate Musharraf's ability to ride out a political storm. He has proved remarkably adept at weathering crises since assuming power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, and he has a finely-tuned awareness of international subtleties. But to many his character remains something of a mystery, and although leaders in Western countries accept the importance of his support in the "war on terror", some can't help but ask, "What is General Musharraf really up to?"

A little background on Musharraf is revealing. In comparison to his predecessors - both as Chief of Army Staff and the leader of the country (Pakistan has had its fair share of military dictators since independence in 1947) - Musharraf is considered far superior in intellect than any other, and he was also the architect of Pakistan's surprise incursion into India in 1999. In the spring of that year infiltrators from Pakistan occupied positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control that separates Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir in the remote, mountainous area of Kargil, threatening the ability of India to supply its forces on the Siachen Glacier. By early summer, serious fighting flared and the infiltrators withdrew following a meeting between then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and US president Bill Clinton.

In the coup that toppled Sharif, Musharraf, unlike previous military leaders, was chosen to lead the country by his peers, rather then him doing the bidding. Sharif had attempted to replace Musharraf on October 12 with a family loyalist, and although Musharraf was out of the country at the time, the army moved quickly to depose Sharif and designated Musharraf as chief executive.



The US and allied forces - in coordination with Pakistani troops along the border areas - will conduct massive operations ... these are likely to start with aerial bombardments, followed by sweeping military action to isolate guerrilla units.
Iran muddies Afghanistan's waters (Jun 21, '03)
Asia Times Online



However, after three years the situation is completely changed. Musharraf is now several steps ahead of his commanders and in full control. Through many in-house changes in the army, he has brought in his own team who are so junior to him that they dare not challenge his vision, authority or command directly, although as evidenced by the "Langar Gazette", this does not mean that there is not disquiet in the army.

This is in stark contrast to former president and dictator General Zia al-Haq who came into power in the late 1970s. He made several changes in the top command and built up a team that was unique in the military history of Pakistan. It included visionaries such as the late General Akhtar Abdul Rehman, who floated the idea of an International Islamic Front in Afghanistan to which the US agreed and backed to counter the former USSR in Central Asia.

Other members of the team included internationally-recognized military planners and strategists. Musharraf does not have this kind of a team, and neither has he attempt to develop one, leaving him as the shining - and guiding - light. Which is what concerns some people. As the final arbiter in the country, his character becomes all the more important. And behind a liberal face, it is no secret that he has, certainly in the past, been supportive of fundamentalist movements, and he was close to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, before September 11, 2001.

Musharraf will be an important factor in the unfolding Afghanistan drama, where the security situation is rapidly deteriorating in the face of growing guerrilla warfare against foreign, mostly US, troops in the country.

As Asia Times Online predicted on Friday, a massive operation - Operation Unified Resolve - was launched at the weekend in which US-led coalition forces poured troops into Afghanistan's eastern border to prevent insurgents from crossing into Afghan territory from Pakistan to launch attacks. And in an unprecedented move, the Pakistan army also mobilized a strong force on its side of the border.

Now, with the help of the Pakistani infantry, security sources tell Asia Times Online, US forces have found proof that the Hizb-i-Islami, a leading resistance group in Afghanistan led by former mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has been receiving assistance from Pakistan, including recruitment, training, weapons and money.

These revelations, coming as Musharraf prepares to meet Bush, have set people wondering whether the general knew of the Hizb-i-Islami link. And if so, just what is he really up to?

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact  content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

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