When I saw this story late last night, visions of chaos and disaster immediately started rolling in my mind:
US looks at plan to oust Musharraf
THE US has indicated for the first time that it might be willing to back plans by elite echelons of the military in Islamabad to oust Pervez Musharraf from power, as the Pakistani President was beset by major new difficulties over his attempts to sack the country’s chief justice.
Surely (I thought) we couldn’t be crazy enough to attempt such a dangerous idea. The risk of radicals getting their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is far too great, and (ahem) one might think that the U.S. has learned at least a little something about meddling about in this part of the world.
Reports yesterday quoting highly placed US diplomatic and intelligence officials – previously rusted on to the view that General Musharraf was an indispensable Western ally in the battle against terrorism – outlined a succession plan to replace him. US officials told The New York Times the plan would see the Vice-Chief of the Army, Ahsan Saleem Hyat, take over from General Musharraf as head of the military and former banker Mohammedmian Soomro installed as president, with General Hyat wielding most of the power.
The NY Times? Hmmm…. That sounds as if it would have been a huge story, doesn’t it? Even though Polimom was out of town last weekend, I can’t believe I’d have missed it altogether. My hysteria-propaganda meter started to twitch, and I went looking for The Australian article’s source — and what I found says something rather different. From Sunday’s NY Times:
For decades, the military has been the most dominant institution in Pakistan. If Mr. Musharraf were to fall to an assassin’s bullet, American diplomatic and intelligence officials say, it is unlikely that there would be mass uprisings in Lahore and Karachi, or that a religious leader in the Taliban mold would rise to power.
“I am not particularly worried about an extremist government coming to power and getting hold of nuclear weapons,” said Robert Richer, who was associate director of operations in 2004 and 2005 for the Central Intelligence Agency. “If something happened to Musharraf tomorrow, another general would step in.”
Based on the succession plan, the vice chief of the army, Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hyat, would take over as the leader of the army and Mohammedmian Soomro, an ex-banker, would become president.
That was buried many paragraphs into a two-page discussion of whether “Mr. Musharraf is all that stands between Washington and a group of nuclear-armed mullahs”, as we fear, or is instead capitalizing on (and perhaps slightly exaggerating) those terrifying risks. Interestingly, the succession information is offered in a description of how Pakistan’s government is structured in case something were to happen to the President. The Times article also includes this:
On the other side of the debate, some State Department officials say that while Islamic militants probably would not topple Mr. Musharraf, why roll the dice?
Mr. Musharraf might be frustrating to work with, they say, but he has the virtue of being a known quantity. And with Iraq spiraling out of control and an emboldened Iran flexing its muscle throughout the region, aren’t things complicated enough without taking a chance on a nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 165 million people?
“How many degrees of difficulty do you want to add?” asks one Bush administration official. “This is one equation that we don’t want to touch.”
Ummm… yes, that’s exactly what I’d hope the administration is thinking.
If this is the source for the Australian’s story, (and it’s the only related NY Times article I could find), then either something was lost in translation, they stopped reading about mid-point on the first page…. or they’ve made a deliberate propaganda attempt.
Whatever their motivations, something major is happening at the very top of the governmental heap in Pakistan, and it seems to involve Musharraf attempting to circumvent constitutional authority in front of this year’s elections. Given his precarious perch upon the political tight-rope, I’d be very surprised if the U.S. wasn’t fully aware of — and even in contact with — Musharraf’s successor(s). He’s probably more likely to fall than not.
But I’m skeptical that we’re trying to remove him.
I think the most likely scenario is that the U.S. is planning (wishing?) for damage control in the event of Musharraf’s fall — hoping in some way to manage the chaos that could easily result. The U.S. administration would be stupid if they weren’t paying extremely close attention; the risks are far too great.
On the other hand, it would be just as foolish — or more so — if it turns out the U.S. has a hand on Musharraf’s tight-rope… and is shaking it.
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Added: Swaraaj Chauhan at The Moderate Voice has more on the current unrest in Pakistan.
Update: Some further info from Reuters (here). Meanwhile, Stratfor has this situation report:
“PAKISTAN: The corps commanders of the Pakistani military will hold an extraordinary meeting in the next few days, Pakistani daily The News reported. The meeting reportedly was called to discuss the crisis developing from the suspension of the chief justice of the supreme court, which reports said the government considers a mistake.
“A mistake”. Now there’s an understatement.
This is clearly developing into a major political crisis, folks.