What is the payoff for being a loyal partner in George Bush’s “war on terror”? For Pakistan’s dictator General Musharraf, it means being granted the means to propagate terror yourself.
The US air force personally delivered two F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan last week – just as scores of dead and injured were being dragged away from a shootout at the Red Mosque in the capital Islamabad.
The Pakistani military said it had “sanitised” the Red Mosque before anyone could see the number killed in the fighting between the Pakistani army and Islamist gunmen.
Bush patted Musharraf on the back for raiding the mosque, describing the general as “a valuable ally in rejecting extremists”.
If Bush thinks that the army’s assault will pacify Pakistan, he is sorely mistaken.
The attack has sent shockwaves across some of Pakistan’s most unstable regions. This threatens the alliance between Musharraf and the conservative Islamist organisations that have hitherto supported him.
Bomb blasts left over 56 people dead last weekend in Pakistan’s northern regions near the Afghan border, while a tribal council decided to end a “peace agreement” that it had signed with the government last year following heavy losses by the Pakistani military.
The attack on the Red Mosque also threatens to open up tensions within the government, according to Riaz Ahmed of the International Socialists in Pakistan.
“The right wing Islamist parties generally support Musharraf’s neoliberal economic policies, while being opposed to his alliance with the US,” he explained.
“Many government ministers have links with the people who ran the Red Mosque school and many other similar organisations.
“The US has put Musharraf under sustained pressure to act against some of his own supporters because of their connections to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“In recent months the Pakistani military and Nato forces have repeatedly attacked Muslim schools on the Pakistani border.
“These military operations have split the Islamists. One section supports the military operations, because it wants to attract more foreign capital to Pakistan. The other section opposes the actions because they will help US imperialism.”
Bush is happy to present Pakistan as a battleground between the “liberal” dictator Musharraf and Islamic parties.
But there is a force that both would rather not mention – the millions that took to the streets earlier this year in support of the high court judge sacked by the Musharraf regime.
Those protests reflected the desires of millions of Pakistanis who reject the imperialism of General Musharraf and his US backers, as well as opposing the neoliberal economic policies espoused by all Pakistan’s established parties.