Written for Internationalopinion.com, June 20, 2003

Tough Talking Musharraf On Blackmailing Trip to UK, US

Yatindra Bhatnagar

Pakistan's military dictator, and illegitimate President, General Pervez Musharraf is on a tough-looking trip to the UK and the US and has already started his blackmailing tactics. He is talking tough. He is scaring the West of the growing Islamic pressure on himself. He is complaining about India's growing economic and military might. More importantly, he is issuing threats of using the weapons of mass destruction and showing off his real, or supposed, nuclear capabilities.

It is common knowledge that Pakistan's nuclear weapons program heavily depends on China and that out of five or six nuclear bombs Islamabad exploded immediately after India did it in 1998, a couple were failures. But that Pakistan has finally acquired N-know how and has been able to put together a few nuclear bombs might also be a safe bet. Musharraf can base his bluff on that, if he likes.

Musharraf hopes to get political support and material help from the United States, ease the pressure from Britain and America to stop cross-border terrorism affecting India and generally make his own position secure.

In London Gen. Musharraf started his salvo when he warned the West against "allowing India to develop military superiority that would leave Pakistan's nuclear arsenal as its only deterrent."

Brave words, indeed, but also reckless.

In an interview with The Times newspaper, General Musharraf complains about "a sharp rise in India's defense spending." He added: Coupled with restrictions on Pakistan on buying military equipment abroad threatens to create a "dangerous imbalance.

He, of course, conveniently forgets that India is much bigger than Pakistan, with a much larger coastline and also much larger economic and strategic interests to protect. There cannot be any "balance" between the military might of India and that of Pakistan, ever.

Musharraf, June 19, met British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is reported to have told him about the urgent need to stop cross-border terrorism against India. No one knows for sure how strongly Blair spoke to Musharraf about Pakistan's proxy war against India, but he had last week, heard India's Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani make a strong case for Britain to put pressure on Pakistan.

Musharraf's comments after meeting Blair were typical of his arrogant and recalcitrant stand when he said: "If they think I am going to stop even a bird flying across the LoC (Line of Control), I will not."

Looks like the Pakistani military ruler got a tongue lashing from the British strongman. Tony Blair can be tough and he has demonstrated this before, during and after the Iraq war with his unequivocal support to the United States to oust Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraq.

Musharraf is trying his hand at blackmail. He wants Britain and America to go slow and easy on Kashmir issue. He also wants to warn his "allies" that hard-line Islamic groups within Pakistan and Arab Muslim countries are vehemently opposing his closeness with the West, especially the US. With this argument, he wants the US to start giving him all that he wants, in economic and military deals, and make him stronger.

The Pakistani General will also play the Al Qaeda card and would argue that the success of the American Afghan campaign depends on his support to hunt the armed Taliban remnants. The US, and the whole world, knows very well that the top Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden have not been captured, if alive, just because Pakistan has not been fully and honestly cooperating with the Americans.

This is also a fact that with the adoption of strict Islamic laws in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, virtual Talibanization of the area has begun. This would make the US campaign against Al Qaeda more difficult and Hamid Karzai's Kabul regime more shaky, thanks again to Musharraf.

Musharraf is a clever politician and knows when and where to apply pressure. His position in Pakistan has been strengthened because of the verdict of Lahore High court in his favor. Pakistan's opposition groups had blocked the functioning of the National Assembly on this issue - they did not want Musharraf to hold both the posts. Now the court has allowed Musharraf to hold both the posts at the same time. He is President, according to the referendum he had organized, and he continues to be the Army Chief, a position he usurped when he staged a military coup and ousted the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had earlier fired him as General of the Pakistani Army.

It might be of interest to recall that the court's interpretation of Pakistan's constitution in favor of Musharraf has come after the military-ruled government had dangled a carrot of a three-year extension for all high court judges. 

Musharraf can now take comfort that his position is not that shaky. Whatever threats he faces from growing Islamic groups in Pakistan, he plans to fight through the kindness of the United States. Indications are that the US Administration is prepared to make a sweet deal for Musharraf in money and military material.

It is another question that by continuously pampering an undependable and dubious ally, like Musharraf and Pakistan, the United States is only nurturing yet another Osama bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein. Musharraf is scheduled to meet with President Bush on June 24 and some big deal is being finalized.

If that happens, the Americans will have to deal with this one also the same way the other two were dealt. But that would be a tougher decision to make and more difficult to carry out, later.

Musharraf will be visiting Germany and France where also he hopes to have a favorable reception.
Yatindra Bhatnagar, journalist-author-poet, has worked for print and broadcast media for more than five decades. He has written over 21 books on a wide variety of subjects. He has his website Internationalopinion.com for which he writes regularly.