Pakistan: Eye of the Stormby Owen Bennett Jones, Owen Bennett-Jones
Pakistan, a nation for only fifty-five years, has had a turbulent history. Ruled by the military for half its existence, it has seen three wars with India and the loss of much of its territory. The combination of political instability, deep-seated economic and social problems, and access to nuclear weapons has made it one of the most strategically sensitive countries in the world. The war in neighbouring Afghanistan has placed it at the very centre of global attention and projected its military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, onto the world stage.
Musharraf has become the first Pakistani leader in thirty years to dare to confront the country's Islamic extremists. But can he succeed in controlling the forces that helped create the Taliban in Afghanistan and fuelled the bitter conflict in Kashmir? Will his army and intelligence agencies be able to tame the radical elements that they created and sustained? In this powerful history of Pakistan from 1947 to the present, Bennett Jones describes the many fault lines in Pakistani society. He assesses the role of the nationalists in the provinces, the feudal landlords in the countryside, and the bureaucratic elite in Islamabad and analyses the complex relationships between religion, regional politics, and the armed forces.
As a BBC correspondent in Pakistan between 1998 and 2001 Bennett Jones witnessed at first hand many of the events that brought General Musharraf to power. His book contains the first detailed accounts of the 1999 coup, the Kargil conflict, and how Pakistan came to test its nuclear bomb. It will be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand a country that was crucial to the expulsion of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s and which, after the 11 September 2001 attack, became a key coalition partner in America's "war against terrorism."
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PakistanEye of the Storm
By Owen Bennett Jones
Yale University PressCopyright © 2002 Owen Bennett Jones
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMusharraf's Challenge
Some scholars and religious leaders are inclined towards making emotional decisions ... They are poised to create dissensions and damage the country. There is no reason why this minority should be allowed to hold the sane majority as a hostage. -General Pervez Musharraf, 19 September 2001
If the 1.8 million students of the religious schools come out onto the streets today for the implementation of the rule of Sharia law in the country, no power on earth could stop them. Not even the 0.6 million strong army of Pakistan. -Islamic activist Ali Bin Mawiya, writing in Al-Muslim, September 2001
At 8.55 a.m. on the morning of 11 September 2001 an American Airlines Boeing 767 tore into the North Tower of New York's World Trade Center at 400 miles per hour. Eighteen minutes later another 767 crashed into the South Tower. And then a third plane was seen approaching Washington. Just a few miles outside the city it suddenly made a 270-degree turn and lined up on the Pentagon. At 9.43 a.m. the nose went down and the plane ploughed through the heart of America's military industrial complex.
It took just a few hours for the US administration to conclude that the attacks had probably originated from Afghanistan and that any effective counter-attack would require the co-operation of Pakistan. On the afternoon of 11 September Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Maleeha Lodhi, was in her office watching television coverage of the twin towers attack. With her was Lt. General Mehmood who, as a reward for his leading role in General Musharraf's 1999 coup, had been made the director general of Pakistan's main intelligence agency, Inter Service Intelligence, ISI. Mehmood had just completed an official visit to Washington but his return to Pakistan had been delayed because, following the attacks, all the airspace around New York had been closed. The State Department called the embassy at 5.00 p.m. Lodhi and Mehmood were asked to attend a meeting with senior US officials the next morning.
At 8.00 a.m. on 12 September the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, told the two Pakistanis that their country had to make a choice. Islamabad could align itself with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan or with Washington. 'You are either 100 per cent with us or 100 per cent against us,' he said. 'There is no grey area. Straight after the meeting Mehmood called Islamabad and spoke to General Musharraf. Pakistan's military leader made a snap decision. He told Mehmood that Washington would get what it wanted. At 3.00 p.m. Armitage held a second meeting with Lodhi and Mehmood. This time he had more specific demands. The US would need basic logistical support and a high degree of intelligence co-operation. Mehmood assured Armitage that Pakistan would co-operate.
Musharraf may have taken his decision quickly but he abandoned the Taliban with some reluctance. Before 11 September he had consistently supported Mullah Mohammed Omar's Kandahar regime. This was not because he sympathised with the Taliban's interpretation of Islam (on the contrary, he clearly rejected their obscurantist outlook) but because he believed the Taliban served Pakistan's regional interests. For Musharraf the Taliban had two main advantages. First, since most of the Taliban were ethnic Pukhtoons, they had a natural affinity with Pakistan which also has a significant Pukhtoon community. Islamabad, Musharraf argued, had always backed Pukhtoon regimes in Kabul: the alternative was to have a hostile Afghan administration filled with Tajiks and Uzbeks. Second, since the Taliban had been created largely in and by Pakistan, the leadership in Kandahar was relatively sensitive to Pakistan's interests. With Mullah Omar in charge, Musharraf believed, Pakistan had strategic depth. His army could concentrate on guarding the border with India and had no reason to fear an attack from the northwest.
Musharraf realised that once the US had made up its mind to topple the Taliban there was no point in Pakistan continuing to support them. But he had not yet sold the decision to the rest of the army leadership. On 14 September, he called a meeting of his corps commanders in the army high command's nuclear bunker in Chaklala where the top brass hoped they could talk without the risk of American surveillance. He told his colleagues that Pakistan faced a choice. It could either align itself with the United States or be isolated as a terrorist state. For Musharraf the issue was never in doubt but many of his senior commanders, such as the deputy chief of army staff Lt. General Usmani, were reluctant to overturn Pakistan's long-standing Afghan policy. They argued that Pakistan should wait to see exactly what Washington would offer in return for Islamabad's co-operation. But Musharraf insisted there could be no delay. It took six hours for Pakistan's president to get his way. He clinched the argument by pointing out that any Pakistani prevarication would present India with an opportunity to curry favour with the US. The corps commanders duly fell into line.
Musharraf's decision brought immediate financial benefits to Pakistan. By January 2002 Pakistan had secured US $3 billion worth of external assistance in the form of debt relief and the rescheduling of interest payments. And while the decision helped Pakistan's balance sheet it also benefited Musharraf's international political standing. Before 11 September he was perceived as a military dictator who should announce, and abide by, a road map for the restoration of democracy. After 11 September his status was transformed: the Western world had a stake in his survival.
General Musharraf may have won friends in the West but within Pakistan he had made enemies. Thousands of Islamic radicals, swearing loyalty to their Islamic brethren in Afghanistan took to the streets in the cities of Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi and Islamabad. One of the demonstrators was a 25-year-old from Peshawar, Mohammed Ali. A student in a local madrasa, or religious school, Ali was typical of those who decided to protest. The attack on the United States, he believed, was a Jewish plot. He had heard that thousands of Jewish employees at the World Trade Center had not reported for work on 11 September. 'It was obviously planned by the Jews,' he said. 'Why else would there have been a camera there, ready to film it all?'
It was hardly surprising that Ali had a somewhat unrealistic view of the world. He had started his religious education when he was six years old. His parents, landless farmers who could not afford to send him to a mainstream school, had handed him over to the madrasa. Since Ali would get free meals and lodging, it meant there was one less mouth to feed. He would also receive an education.
By the time Ali was twenty-five and taking part in the anti-US protests, his mind was not cluttered by worldly concerns. He knew the Quran off by heart and, for as long as he could remember, his life had consisted of prayer and little else. His only possessions were the clothes he stood in: a pair of sandals, a cotton shirt with matching trousers and a small white hat. He had not earned a single rupee in his life. But he did have prospects. The religious training provided by the madrasa opened up the possibility of climbing up the social ladder. He hoped that by the time he graduated at the age of thirty, he could become a respected figure in the community: a mullah.
Ali had left his home city of Peshawar just once in his life - to go on a month-long Islamic study tour in Karachi. His political views were completely in line with the vitriol that the mullahs had been yelling at him since he was six. America and Israel were hell-bent on the destruction of Muslims. Islam was a universal religion that would take over the world. Pakistan's rulers were and always had been power hungry, corrupt traitors to their faith whose venal greed had destroyed the dream of an Islamic state. It was, perhaps, hardly surprising that Ali had become a self-righteous zealot. Like Christian puritans in the West, he disdained those who frittered away their days on worldly pleasures. Watching television, playing cricket, drinking alcohol, listening to music, dancing and even flying kites were all wrong. So, too, was wearing a tie. A tie, Ali pointed out, resembled the Christian cross and was therefore un-Islamic.
General Musharraf was always aware that his decision to back America would provoke a furious reaction from the likes of Mohammed Ali. The question was just how many Pakistanis would join the protests. On the face of it there were some good reasons for Musharraf to be concerned. He was well aware that in many respects Pakistan had become a more religiously conservative society than it was when it was created in 1947. Although there are no reliable statistics to prove the point, it is widely accepted that increasing numbers of people, especially in the cities, regularly attend prayers at the mosques. Although millions of Pakistani women still choose not to wear the all-enveloping burqa, many do now take greater care to cover their heads than did their mothers and grandmothers. Men are also changing their habits. A beard - a badge of the Islamic faith - is still by no means de rigueur in Pakistan but more men wear one now than was the case in the past.
Successive Pakistani leaders had feared the Islamic clerics' capacity to arouse public opinion. Yet, as he weighed his options, Musharraf was also well aware that throughout Pakistan's history no religious leader had been able to translate the possibility of a mass-based Islamic revolutionary movement into reality. Although some religious parties have participated in elections they have never done well. It is often said that they have never won more than 5 per cent of the vote. In fact they once did much better than that. In 1970 - one of the few occasions when all the three main religious parties contested an election - together they won the support of over 14 per cent of the electorate in the areas that now make up Pakistan and in Punjab they won no less than 20.5 per cent of the vote. In subsequent elections, though, the religious parties have never come close to those figures and have indeed consistently secured less than 5 per cent. There are various explanations for their lack of success, of which the most obvious is their unpopularity. But while some of the electorate do perceive the religious parties as a bunch of interfering killjoys there are reasons to believe that the number of votes the religious parties have received has not fully reflected the degree of support they have.
In his analysis of voting patterns in Punjab, Andrew Wilder concluded that the top priority of many Pakistani voters is to back the likely winner in the hope of benefiting from that candidate's patronage. Given that the religious parties rarely look like winning, many people are reluctant to waste their vote on them. The religious parties themselves support this conclusion saying that in election campaigns they are repeatedly told that people would like to vote for them but do not see the point in doing so.
Despite that qualification, the point stands that the religious parties have never come close to winning power in Pakistan and, in terms of their influence on national politics, they have consistently punched above their electoral weight. The two most significant parties are Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami (JUI) and Jamaat-e-Islami. The JUI's political heartland is in the Pukhtoon areas of Balochistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where the party has control of a large number of radical madrasas. It is a grass-roots party that not only promotes Islam but also campaigns against social injustice. The JUI has won seats at the national and provincial level and has joined coalition governments in NWFP and Balochistan. Unlike the highly disciplined Jamaat-e-Islami, the JUI has long suffered from factional splits. The JUI's most prominent leader, Fazlur Rehman, is known for his strong anti-American statements and, in the late 1990s, the party offered moral and material support to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
While the JUI is a largely rural party, Jamaat-e-Islami draws its strength from the urban middle classes. It is an ideological party and advocates nothing less than Islamic revolution. Its specific policy objectives include the imposition of Sharia law, (divine law based on the Quran and the words and deeds of the Prophet) the redistribution of wealth, the banning of interest payments and the establishment of common Muslim defence arrangements so that occupied lands such as Palestine and Kashmir can be liberated. The party was founded in 1941 by a leading Muslim intellectual Abul Al Maududi. The best way to put Islam into practice, he believed, was to create a Leninist style, highly disciplined party that would act as a vanguard for the Islamic revolution. True to that tradition, some elements of Jamaat argue that the party should not participate in parliamentary elections but, rather, press exclusively for revolutionary change. Jamaat's party discipline is tight. Party decisions are subject to internal consultation (and compared to most Pakistani political parties the process of consultation is genuine) but once a party line is agreed, every member must follow it. Jamaat is the only Pakistani party to have computerised membership lists, a daily newspaper and its own academic journal. Jamaat's message may be backward-looking but its methods are more advanced and contemporary than any other political party in the country.
Despite being well-organised, Jamaat has always remained on the margins of Pakistani electoral politics and has posed little threat to the ruling establishment. Its credibility has always suffered from the fact that its founder, Maududi, was a strong opponent of the Muslim League's campaign for Pakistan. He viewed the Muslim League leadership in general, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in particular, as westernised elitists with no legitimate claim to represent the Muslims of the subcontinent. Ever since that major miscalculation, Jamaat leaders have consistently shown a remarkable lack of political acumen. The current leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed still talks of an Islamic revolution but has, at various points, sought short-term political advantage by allying himself to other political parties according to his reading of public opinion. Sixty years after the party was created, Jamaat's revolutionary credentials are in tatters.
The third significant Islamic party is the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP). The JUP has proved to be a far less resilient organisation than either the JUI or Jamaat-e-Islami.
Excerpted from Pakistan by Owen Bennett Jones Copyright © 2002 by Owen Bennett Jones. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Owen Bennett Jones was a BBC correspondent in Pakistan between 1998 and 2001 and witnessed firsthand many of the events that brought General Musharraf to power. He has written for the Guardian, Financial Times, and Independent newspapers, the London Review of Books and Prospect magazine.
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