In praise of Pakistani Pres. Pervez Musharraf

It is hard to identify any single leader whose removal could open up greater dangers.

October 16, 2007 20:16
musharraf 88

musharraf 88. (photo credit: )


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There has been a flood of criticism of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in the United States in recent months. Caroline B. Glick's "Pakistani Nightmare" (Jerusalem Post, October 8) reprises many of the themes in these attacks on Musharraf. As one who has developed a fairly close relationship with him over the past few years in my capacity as chairman of the Council for World Jewry of the American Jewish Congress, including hosting Musharraf's meeting with American Jews in New York in 2005 and visiting him in Islamabad several times, I have been dismayed by what I think is a lack of understanding of the very real dangers that would face Pakistan and the world if he were to be removed. The Islamists in Pakistan are a well-armed and well-financed force that wields considerable influence within many parts of the government and has close ties with the Pakistani military and intelligence services. These ties grew in the 1980s when massive US and Saudi military assistance to Afghanistan's anti-Soviet mujahadeen flowed from the United States and Saudi Arabia through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). IN THE 1990s, Pakistani governments funded and trained Islamist "freedom fighters" for operations against Indian targets in the disputed region of Kashmir. US officials believe that by the time of 9/11, the influence of Islamist sympathizers in Pakistan's army, intelligence services, and government had reached a dangerously high level. In addition, as former prime minister Benazir Bhutto recently said, Pakistan's military and intelligence services have, for decades, used religious parties for recruits. The ISI, in particular, includes many key figures who have Islamist attachments. Part of their appeal is that the Islamists embrace strong nationalist symbols, positioning themselves as the protectors of Pakistan's nuclear deterrent capability and the champions of securing Kashmir for Pakistan. When, after 9/11, the United States put much greater pressure on Pakistan to cut its ties with militant Islam, Musharraf made a momentous decision to join the war on terrorism. But Musharraf's personal commitment was not shared by many hard-line skeptics within his own army. Many of them doubted that the United States could be trusted as an ally, given the US commitment to India, and did not want to turn against longtime jihadi allies. In addition, the costs of confronting the well-entrenched mujahadeen in the border regions with Afghanistan were daunting. This tension within the Pakistani national security establishment still exists today. If Musharraf, the strongest figure in the moderate wing, were removed, it is very possible that this balance would shift to the advantage of the Islamists and forces hostile to the West. Musharraf's critics paint a rosy picture of what might happen if Musharraf were removed. But what if they prove wrong, as critics of the Shah of Iran were in 1979 when they predicted that moderate forces would take power after his removal? RADICAL ELEMENTS in an unstable Pakistan could create a nightmare in the sphere of nuclear proliferation. What could happen is illustrated by the case of A.Q. Khan, who headed Pakistan's nuclear program until 2002. Khan admitted in 2004 that he transferred nuclear technology including gas centrifuges known as Pak-1's, to Iran between 1989 and 1991 and to North Korea and Libya between 1991 and 1997. In addition, the Pakistani government arrested scientists linked to Khan for suspected connections with the Taliban. Khan claims that the nuclear weapons technology transfers to Iran were authorized by a former Chief of Army Staff. The Army oversaw and controlled Khan's nuclear weapons development program, and Hans Blix, former chief of the IAEA, believes that Khan could not have acted alone without collusion from powerful elements of the national security establishment. Musharraf has brought this under control, and the threat is much smaller today. But pressures in the opposite direction still exist, and what would happen without Musharraf is a very open question. Nor is a return to nuclear proliferation activities the only nightmare scenario. Only five years ago, in May 2002, a state of near-war existed between Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed states, over the disputed Kashmir region. A million soldiers were facing each other across the India-Pakistan border, and daily clashes were occurring. Britain, which had historical ties to the two sides, warned that the clash could become "the most serious conflict in the world in terms of potential casualties and the use of nuclear weapons." British intelligence thought the situation was so tense that just one provocation could trigger a bloody war that could lead to the first use of atomic weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A terrorist attack by jihadists could lead Indian troops to retaliate against Pakistan, using their superiority in conventional forces to overwhelm the Pakistanis. Islamabad might feel compelled to use its weapon of last resort: a nuclear device. India could survive the strike and hit back with its own atomic weapons. Were this scenario acted out, millions would die. BUT THE worst did not happen, because Musharraf and cooler heads on the Indian side responded to intensive diplomatic efforts by other countries. India and Pakistan began to withdraw troops from the international border in June 2002, and negotiations began. By November 2003, the two sides achieved the first "total cease-fire" in nearly 15 years. In December 2006, Musharraf told an Indian TV channel that Pakistan was willing to give up its claim on Kashmir if India would accept some of his peace proposals. Musharraf's spokesman stated that Kashmir was never considered an "integral part" of Pakistan. What the Times of London had declared to be an imminent nuclear threat on May 23, 2002, was by 2006 transformed by Musharraf and Indian leaders into a manageable regional dispute. But here too, the pressures in the other direction still exist. Remove Musharraf, and you may be gambling with the stability of Indo-Pakistani relations, with all that implies for the United States and the world. Keeping Musharraf there as a steady hand does not mean that no change in the status quo is possible. New power-sharing arrangements may very well be necessary and inevitable. But a Pakistan without Musharraf could be a much more dangerous place. In fact, if you look across the world, it is hard to identify any single leader whose removal could open up greater dangers beyond his own country, than President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. The writer chairs the American Jewish Congress-Council for World Jewry, the sponsor of the 25th International Conference of Mayors in Jerusalem.

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