Hi, My Name is Musharraf: Which Way Is Israel?

Protestors burn Israeli flag in Karachi, Below Foreign Ministers shake hands

By Dr. Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, September 11(2005): General Pervez Musharraf’s outreach to Israel is a tactical diversion from a mounting strategic domestic challenge to his military dictatorship.


As he stands stripped of democratic legitimacy at home, he desperately seeks it abroad. So, the September 2 meeting in Istanbul between his Foreign Minister and his Israeli counterpart is no more than deflecting attention from a brewing storm within the country.

This diversion coincides with his past pattern as well. Soon after the back-to-back failed assassination bids in December 2003 and a constitutional challenge to his hold on power, he had the Indian Prime Minister visit Pakistan which led to the signing of the Declaration of Islamabad on January 6, 2004. This move painted him as a “statesman” abroad, overshadowing his dictatorship.

Such diversions are also his stratagems to divide the democratic opposition that is made up of two popular liberal and conservative alliances. He believes that if liberal leaders of democracy, who dominate his democratic opposition, go along with him on his overtures to Israel, their conservative allies and the average Pakistani who are not yet ready for such a grand leap in diplomacy, would split from them.

If liberal democrats oppose his move, he will have them bracketed with the forces of “extremism and fundamentalism,” who want to keep Pakistan imprisoned in the past. He can then walk tall to the western world as “the only leader” who is unafraid of taking on tough issues.

In either case, he will benefit: If the opposition cracks up, it will defuse the democratic challenge at home. If it opposes him, he will gain the much-needed traction overseas, which has of late been on the wane because of his “double-crossing on the war on terror.”

While externalizing the problem of the lack of his democratic legitimacy, he intends to follow the Egyptian model. He knows that the Western world has willingly swallowed a military leader in Hosni Mobarak, who has governed Egypt for 24 years, without even caring about a fig leaf for democracy. Nor has it lifted a finger, when he sought and secured this month the fifth six-year term as “President!”

What is it that is sustaining him into power? The answer is obvious: His supporters in the western world, who accentuate his “statesmanship” abroad to downplay the nagging issue of the lack of his democratic legitimacy at home.

Ironically, it is his supporters in the West who are shamed by their electorate for supporting a dictator in Cairo, while Mobarak and his cronies continue to wallow in ill-gotten power and wealth. As a matter of fact, each year they accumulate billions of dollars of US largess — $2 billion a year — as Egypt has been the second largest recipient, after Israel, of American aid since 1978; while the poor in Africa, Egypt’s backyard, go on dying of hunger. Like Musharraf, the Egyptian has no popular base of support at home. It is his continuation of diplomatic outreach to Israel that is keeping him both in cash and power.

This is the lesson that Musharraf has learned to beat the democratic opposition in Pakistan and stem the rapid fall-off in his support by the US that is increasingly becoming unsure of his willingness as well as ability to fight terror. To counter Washington’s growing suspicions of his intentions and actions, he has invoked the long-held anti-Semitic charade that “road to Washington goes through Tel Aviv.” This invocation was led from a series of events that signal Washington’s flagging support for him.

He has recently seen that Americans have refused to receive a “state visit” from his “Prime Minister” on his terms, a visit that was scheduled 10 days apart from that of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July this year. Musharraf wanted his Prime Minister, like his Indian counterpart, to address the US Congress, have a 19-gun salute, and a state banquet in the White House. The US, having found such riddles ridiculous, hung up on him.

This humiliating “nothing-doing” response from the US was further worsened by the CIA director’s implicit recognition that Pakistan is a “weak link” in the hunt for Osama, which shook Musharraf to the core. Above all, the US’s growing insistence that Pakistan open up to democracy is further diluting the will of his military commanders to stand by him. To combat all these gathering clouds over his already slipping hold on power, he set out to enlist Israel into fighting for him in Washington.

Will the rank and file of the predominantly conservative military go along with his planned overtures to Tel Aviv? He has sop for the military as well, especially its top brass. Military leaders have long been wary of Israel on two counts: First, Israel, in their estimation, has moved dangerously close to India, especially since the late 1980s when then President Bush refused to certify to the US Congress that Pakistan was not on the path to building a nuclear bomb.

That was a red flag for Israel that has long been restless over the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into Muslim hands, especially in the hands of a nation that has coziest relationship with its Arab antagonists. For the Pakistani military, an Israel increasingly concerned with its bomb-making had meant a preemptive strike against its nuclear facilities like the one Tel Aviv launched against Iraq in 1981 to knock down its nuclear program.

Second, Israel had since forged close military and strategic ties with India, which were seen in Islamabad as “doubling” of the threat to its “strategic assets” and thereby the possibility of a collusive Indo-Israeli strike against those assets. This perception was alive and well even when Pakistan was just hours away from conducting nuclear tests on May 22, 1998. It was still gripped by the apprehension that Israel was waiting in the wings to bomb out its nuclear hardware. All day that day, the sky over Islamabad was dotted with the flight paths made by roaring F-16s in anticipation of an Israeli offensive.

If Israel and Pakistan fall into a diplomatic embrace, Musharraf thinks, it will put both sides at ease. More importantly, Israel will have to do a balancing act to befriend two “adversaries” – India and Pakistan – at once. These advantages, to Musharraf, will make it easy for him to sell his diplomacy with Israel to his reluctant comrades-in-arm.

Israel’s pull out of Gaza, however, was a godsend for Musharraf to initiate such diplomacy. He immediately timed his diversionary tactics to balance the future of his dictatorship on the back of Gaza’s 9,000 weeping, wailing Jewish settlers, who were evicted from their settlements. He, accordingly, swapped the dried out blood of the 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks for the freshly-shed tears of the 9,000 Jewish evacuees to recast his “military dictatorship” as “statesmanship.”

This is what led to a public handshake between Musharraf’s and Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom on September 2. The democratic opposition in Pakistan stands opposed to any dictator living off the misery of the innocent either at home or abroad. It is time the West, too, healed its way out of its self-inflicted wounds, i.e., babying pro-west dictators while bombing wayward ones. They all deserved equal treatment: A giant kick in the rear.

It, however, must be remembered that the democratic opposition in Pakistan is not averse to diplomacy with Israel. It rather goes all the way to recognize Israel in “substance” as the “only democracy in the Muslim world,” and demands that Musharraf do the same and immediately step down. Musharraf’s opposition takes heart from Israel’s abiding faith in democracy that never wavered even in the event of war. Israel has been at war since its founding in 1948, yet it has never made it a pretext to impose Martial Law, or shut down democracy. Every Israeli citizen is obligated to serve the military and defend their country, yet they never accepted a military dictatorship for a day.

Its generals win the wars, yet they do not gun their way into power. Instead, they go to their electorate to seek their vote. Its Election Commission has never been accomplice in stuffing ballot-boxes, tampering ballots, rigging elections, under-counting the opposition’s vote, over-counting the government’s ballot, or holding fraudulent “Presidential Referenda” to garb dictators as democrats. Its multiparty democracy has been thriving right in the middle of crises; its governments rise and fall right in the middle of war; its judiciary asserts its independence to hold to account anyone anywhere; its press does not live in the shadow of government; its peace movement is not dubbed as the enemy of the state; its opposition is not shipped out of country to live in exile.

Not only do the leaders of democracy and the people of Pakistan recognize the “democratic Israel,” they are fighting Musharraf’s dictatorship to become an Israel-like democracy.

On the contrary, Musharraf wants to use the “only democracy” in the Muslim world to prop up his “dictatorship.” Israelis need not be reminded that the Holocaust occurred on the watch of a “dictator.”

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