February 18, 2006
We Should All Be Cheering for General "Mush"

By David Warren

Every major city in Pakistan’s Punjab is now under lockdown, and everyone in Pakistan may soon be, as President General Pervez Musharraf tries to contain the violent riots that began as protests against those Danish cartoons. Demonstrators wrecked much of the middle of Lahore in actions which peaked on Tuesday, but which local reporters believe may peak again. In addition to such brand-name Western targets as Citibank, KFC, McDonalds, and a Norwegian cellphone company, they set fires in hotels, cinemas, and the Punjabi provincial assembly. This last is the clue that anti-Danish sentiment was merely an excuse to get people onto the streets.

Similar targets were struck in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Multan. Karachi was also partially alight, though it is harder to distinguish one riot from another there. Only towards the end of the week was the main highway into Karachi blockaded by nominally anti-Danish fanatics.

For the tense moment, mounted police are parading through the warmer parts of several of these cities -- in the time-honoured British Imperial tradition -- and the most incendiary imams are under house arrest, to prevent their preaching in the mosques. Especially, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed of Lahore is being watched, one of several potential “Mullah Omars” who has generously offered himself to be Pakistan’s first “Taliban” president, should Gen. Musharraf lose his footing.

On the other hand, Maulana Yousaf Qureshi, a cleric in Peshawar, was still free and speaking to the media, the last I heard. He is one of several leaders across the Muslim world who have offered rewards of $1 million U.S. and up (plus “a new car” in Qureshi’s case) to anyone who can kill a Danish cartoonist. No expiry on that offer, and it appears any Danish cartoonist will do.

A visit from President Bush is impending. At the moment it is going forward, but at the moment one also wonders if Pakistan’s government can cope. It would be unedifying to watch the body parts of a President of the United States being waved about in fanatic crowds, the way they do with dead Israelis in Gaza.

Westerners complain that Gen. Musharraf has not done enough to eliminate terrorist encampments in Pakistan’s North West Frontier (infiltrating Afghanistan), and Kashmir (trying to infiltrate India). But among the triggers for the present round of riots, quite apart from the Danish cartoons, were recent successes in ambushing leading Al Qaeda figures -- who, it must be understood, are folk heroes to several million graduates of Pakistan’s Saudi-financed madrassahs. Gen. Musharraf himself would love to drain the odd swamp; but they are filling faster than anyone can drain them. Moreover, he must be sceptical of the allegiance of many of his senior officers, who have publicly stated “Islamist” views.

His army is anyway distracted by what amounts to a general rebellion in Pakistan’s Baluch territories of the southwest. (The Baluchs also wander through the deserts of south-eastern Iran, and southern Afghanistan.) Though sparsely inhabited, it is the region where most of Pakistan’s natural resources lie, including uranium, copper, natural gas, and untapped oil fields both off and onshore. A unified force of some tens of thousands of Baluch tribesmen, enjoying nearly unlimited financial support and weapons smuggling from various Gulf states, is keeping a larger number of Pakistani troops tied down.

This is a problem which India is constantly tempted to exacerbate, to improve its negotiating position over Kashmir. Baluch and Sindhi leaders (the Sindh being the province that surrounds Karachi) have been so indiscreet as to appeal for Indian help in liberating them from Pakistan’s mostly Punjabi rulers. And Hindu nationalist politicians in India have sometimes mused aloud about how the “problem as a whole” could be solved, if the Indian army were to divide Pakistan into five or more ethnic states, each attached by treaty to India on the analogy of Indian-occupied Kashmir.

Gen. Musharraf presides, tenuously, over the large Muslim country that is most likely to suffer the next political meltdown. He has no choice but to govern with increasing ruthlessness. Various human rights intercessions from NGOs in the West are a long distance wide of the point.

If Pakistan falls, it will be into the hands of Punjabi and Pushtoon religious fanatics. If that happens, Baluchistan and the Sindh will break free. India will be drawn into the heart of the chaos. A war will follow, in which nuclear weapons might well be used. That’s why, for all his occasionally murderous duplicity, we should all be cheering for General “Mush".

Copyright 2006 Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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