Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's resignation
Monday brings to an end an extraordinarily close relationship between Musharraf
and the George W. Bush administration, in which Musharraf was lavished with
political and economic benefits from the United States despite policies that
were in sharp conflict with U.S. security interests.
It is well known that Bush repeatedly praised Musharraf as the most loyal ally
of the United States against terrorism, even though the Pakistani military was
deeply compromised by its relationship with the Taliban and Pakistani Islamic
What has not been reported is that the Bush administration covered up the Musharraf
regime's involvement in the activities of the A.Q. Khan nuclear technology export
program and its deals with al-Qaeda's Pakistani tribal allies.
The problem faced by the Bush administration when it came into office was that
the Pakistani military, over which Musharraf presided, was the real terrorist
nexus with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As Bruce Riedel, National Security Council
(NSC) senior director for South Asia in the Bill Clinton administration, who
stayed on the NSC staff under the Bush administration, observed in an interview
with this writer last September, al-Qaeda "was a creation of the jihadist
culture of the Pakistani army."
If there was a state sponsor of al-Qaeda, Riedel said, it was the Pakistani
military, acting through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate.
Vice President Dick Cheney and the neoconservative-dominated Bush Pentagon
were aware of the intimate relationship between Musharraf's regime and both
the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda was not a high priority for the Bush
After 9/11, the White House created the political myth that Musharraf, faced
with a clear choice, had "joined the free world in fighting the terrorists."
But as Asia expert Selig S. Harrison has pointed out, on Sept. 19, 2001, just
six days after he had supposedly agreed to U.S. demands for cooperation against
the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda, Musharraf gave a televised speech in Urdu in
which he declared, "We are trying our best to come out of this critical
situation without any damage to Afghanistan and the Taliban."
In his memoirs, published in 2006, Musharraf revealed the seven specific demands
he had been given and claimed that he had refused both "blanket overflight
and landing rights" and the use of Pakistan's naval ports and air bases
to conduct anti-terrorism operations.
Musharraf also famously wrote that, immediately after 9/11, Undersecretary
of State Richard Armitage had threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the
stone age" if Musharraf didn't side with the United States against bin
Laden and his Afghan hosts. But Armitage categorically denied to this writer,
through his assistant, Kara Bue, that he had made any threat whatsoever, let
alone a threat to retaliate militarily against Pakistan.
For the next few years, Musharraf played a complicated game. The CIA was allowed
to operate in Pakistan's border provinces to pursue al-Qaeda operatives, but
only as long as they had ISI units accompanying them. That restricted their
ability to gather intelligence in the northwest frontier. At the same time,
ISI was allowing Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders to operate freely in the tribal
areas and even in Karachi.
The Bush administration also gave Musharraf and the military regime a free
ride on the A.Q. Khan network's selling of nuclear technology to Libya and Iran,
even though there was plenty of evidence that the generals had been fully aware
of and supported Khan's activities.
Journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins wrote in their book The
Nuclear Jihadist that one retired general who had worked with Khan told
them there was no question that Khan had acted with the full knowledge of the
military leadership. "Of course the military knew," the general said.
"They helped him."
But the Bush administration chose to help Musharraf cover up that inconvenient
fact. According to CIA Director George Tenet's memoirs, in September 2003, he
confronted Musharraf with the evidence the CIA had gathered on Khan's operation
and made it clear he was expected to end its operations and arrest Khan.
The following January and early February, Khan's house arrest, public confession
of guilt and pardon by Musharraf was accompanied by an extraordinary series
of statements by high-ranking Bush administration officials exonerating Musharraf
and the military of any involvement in Khan's activities.
That whole scenario had been "carefully orchestrated with Musharraf,"
Larry Wilkerson, then a State Department official but later Colin Powell's chief
of staff, told IPS in an interview last year. The deal that had been made did
not require Musharraf to allow U.S. officials to interrogate Khan.
But the Bush administration apparently conveyed to the Pakistani military after
that episode that it now expected the Musharraf regime to deliver high-ranking
al-Qaeda officials – and to do so at a particularly advantageous moment
for the administration. The New Republic magazine reported July 15, 2004,
that a White House aide had told the visiting head of ISI, Ehsan ul-Haq, that
"it would be best if the arrest or killing of any HVT [high value target]
were announced on 26, 27, or 28 July." Those were the last three days of
the Democratic National Convention.
The military source added, "If we don't find these guys by the election,
they are going to stick the whole nuclear mess up our a**hole."
Just hours before Democratic candidate John Kerry's acceptance speech, Pakistan
announced the capture of an alleged al-Qaeda leader.
Meanwhile, Musharraf was making a political pact with a five-party Islamic
alliance in 2004 to ensure victory in state elections in the two border provinces
where Islamic extremist influence was strongest. This explicit political accommodation,
followed by a military withdrawal from South Waziristan, gave the pro-Taliban
forces allied with al-Qaeda in the region a free hand to recruit and train militants
for war in Afghanistan.
Yet another deal with the Islamic extremists in 2006 strengthened the pro-Taliban
forces even further.
But Bush chose to reward Musharraf by designating Pakistan a "Major Non-NATO
Ally" in 2004 and by agreeing to sell the Pakistani Air Force 36 advanced
F-16 fighter planes. Prior to that, Pakistan had been denied U.S. military technology
for a decade.
In July 2007, a National Intelligence Estimate concluded that al-Qaeda's new
"safe haven" was in Pakistan's tribal areas and that the terrorist
organization had reconstituted its "homeland attack capability" there.
That estimate ended the fiction that the Musharraf regime was firmly committed
to combating al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Had the Bush administration accurately portrayed Musharraf's policies rather
than hiding them, it would not have avoided the al-Qaeda safe haven there. But
it would have facilitated a more realistic debate about the real options available
for U.S. policy.
(Inter Press Service)