by M B Naqvi
(IPS) KARACHI --
being called the most allied ally of the United States, rampant anti-U.S. sentiment virtually defines Pakistan politics.
At present, for instance, President Gen Pervez Musharraf's specially architectured government and the six-month-old Parliament stand paralyzed.
Thai is because the combined opposition, the largest chunk of which comprises Muttaheda Majilis-i-Amal (MMA), a six-party alliance of Islamic parties -- which won on an anti-U.S. plank -- is refusing to let any business be done until the Musharraf-made changes in the Constitution are ratified by Parliament's two-third majority.
The MMA also wants Musharraf to resign from the army and contest the presidential election under normal constitutional procedures. The general and his supporters adamantly refuse, causing a tough standoff.
The real story, however, is about MMA's rise and how its shrill voice has a resonance. Its success is its first ever.
What has strengthened the mullahs was the 180-degree policy switch made by Musharraf following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Islamabad's unquestioning participation in the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan --- the Pakistan Army's own proteges. That turnaround caused trauma to all who listen to the mullahs.
As a result of the October election, MMA leaders now control over a third of the Parliament and two provinces bordering Afghanistan. The mullahs had gone to town on what they consider the gross betrayal of the Islamic Taliban for the sake of 'infidels' from the United States. They drew on an existing reservoir of anti-U.S. sentiment.
Musharraf's failure to condemn the U.S. war on Iraq, in contrast with MMA's countrywide "million-man marches" after Friday prayers, has added to Musharraf's isolation and the MMA's stature.
Why is the United States so unpopular when Pakistan's oversized army, which has directly and indirectly ruled since 1954, is actually dependent on U.S. goodwill? The United States helped in whatever industrialization there is, and in the army's modernisation. Pakistan's economy, always short of foreign exchange, was repeatedly bailed out by U.S. help.
People from the United States do not understand why Pakistanis dislike them. The reasons lie in history.
The way Pakistan joined the West in the 1950s behind the back of Parliament, and the manner in which democracy was subverted by the supporters of the United States, made many here hate the U.S. The narrow elite of larger landlords had ganged up with bureaucracy against the poorer and volatile Bengalis. That was seen as U.S. design. At any rate, the left-leaning intelligentsia believed so.
Power would thus be cornered by a bureaucratic-military coterie. Later, the generals emerged as leaders of the largely feudal ruling establishment. Pakistanis saw all this as the United States being against democracy because it has supported all the military dictators.
The mullahs' pulpits in the mosques eventually cashed in on growing anti-U.S. feeling, first generated by the leftists and liberals. The Islamic right has made its hatred of the United States religious in character --- as if that country was mainly anti-Islamic.
The mullahs could also draw on suspicions of Jewish and Indian Hindu states' 'collusion' that strengthened a paranoia produced by a sentimental pan-Islamism.
The United States certainly has few friends in Pakistan outside the army and big landlords, which are also the only civilian constituency of Pakistan army. Both these groups had traditionally exploited the mullahs to drum up support for their anti-democratic regimes.
The army's ever-shriller rhetoric on Kashmir, supported by the mullahs, cemented the army's ties with religious leaders that survive.
The United States too had heavily relied on the mullahs and Pakistani army to fight the Soviet troops in Afghanistan (1979-1988) and immensely enriched both mullahs and Pakistani generals.
When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Pakistani generals played kingmakers, manipulating Pakistani and Afghan religious leaders. Pakistani military schemes led to this country's seminaries producing the Taliban, Afghans like Mullah Mohammad Omar and many Pakistanis.
The generals and the CIA dumped the old Afghan religious leaders and put the Taliban on the Kabul throne in 1996, and claimed they have given 'strategic depth' to Pakistan's national security -- against the 'Indian threat'.
The cementing of links between the religious leaders and the generals, especially during the Taliban regime, also strengthened Pakistani religious leaders' prestige and clout, while the generals continued to backseat drive nominal governments in Islamabad.
As soon as Musharraf dumped the Taliban after a telephone call from Colin Powell, the mullahs began a raging campaign against him and his alleged modernism.
The army's close cooperation with mullahs did not cease after Sept. 11 and even as Musharraf joined the war against Taliban, what Pakistan sees as the Kashmir 'jihad' -- their second major area of cooperation --- remained a joint enterprise of Pakistan army and religious and extremist parties.
This relationship could be inferred from the Musharraf promise in June last year that he would stop all cross-the-Line-of-Control-in-Kashmir traffic, from Pakistan. He also asked the mullahs to pipe down. Not only did the violence subside, with India certifying it, but the mullahs' anti-U.S. and anti-Musharraf campaign also suddenly stopped -- only to resumed when the October election campaign started.
These links have remained unbroken. The United States, Britain and Indian authorities alike believe that no cross-border terrorism can take place without the Pakistan army's assistance. Musharraf broke his promise because, except for Kashmir, Pakistan has no lever to force India to seriously negotiate.
This is why there is an element of mystery in the MMA's hard stance against Musharraf's constitutional changes and his continuation as both army chief and president. There is no real split between the army and religious leaders.
Religious leaders know that their role in Kashmir is indispensable. Apart from their utility vis-a-vis India, since the Kashmir issue has always been the stock-in-trade of all right-wing governments, civilian or military -- a Pakistani version of the politics of God and country -- no government can seriously suppress them. Even, so why such a hard stance?
Just as Sept. 11 changed America, so did Musharraf, by selling the Taliban down the river and thus giving the MMA leaders a stick to beat him with. They have done so and continue to do so.
Today, the MMA scents more power. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q group) has a paper-thin majority in both Houses. The government cannot get any constitutional measure approved because it lacks the two-thirds majority. But if the MMA decides to support Musharraf and his changes, with a few face-savers thrown in, only the simpletons will be astounded.
The parliamentary deadlock cannot last long. Either there is a compromise or the generals will be forced to scrap the whole project of so-called democratisation. In this case, would there be another election? Or would the generals opt for direct military rule?
April 23, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.