Monday, November 12, 2007

Musharraf Is Our Sonofabitch, But Don't Say So In Public!

In Pakistan, where the state of emergency is now in its second turbulent week, the government has expelled three British journalists because of something none of them wrote.

The offending item was an editorial in their paper, referring to Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf as "our sonofabitch", referring to the Cold War philosophy of propping up any dictator who supported our agenda, often expressed in the line "He may be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch!"

The paper involved is the UK's Daily Telegraph and the editorial which sparked the expulsions was printed on Friday.

Bankrupt relationship
Despite George W Bush's rhetoric about freedom, the struggle against terrorism is provoking a reaction familiar from the Cold War and nowhere is that clearer than over Pakistan.

In the old parlance, General Pervez Musharraf is "our sonofabitch". He has failed to stamp out extremist groups and close the madrassas that inspire them. He has allowed the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to fall into the hands of assorted jihadis. And he has sacked independent-minded judges for fear that the Supreme Court declare illegal his re-election as president last month.

Yet, despite this combination of incompetence and brutality, America and Britain continue to back him as head of what has a strong claim to be the most dangerous country in the world.

In order to broaden the government's political base, their plan is for the general to doff his army uniform later this month and enter into a power-sharing arrangement with Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party, after general elections in February.

If that ever comes to pass, it will bring together a soldier whose popularity has plummeted and a politician whose standing has been undermined by her willingness to cut a deal with him. And the prospects for its lasting are slim: Miss Bhutto and the military are like oil and water.

In short, the relationship between Gen Musharraf and the West is bankrupt. Valued as an ally after 9/11, he is now part of the problem. Under his dictatorship, Pakistan has become an increasingly ungovernable country in which moderate, secular forces have been sidelined to the advantage of the Islamists.

An alternative – an alliance between General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the army chief designate, and Miss Bhutto's secular rival, Nawaz Sharif – seems neither imminent nor especially enticing. But that should not blind Britain and America to the fact that their "sonofabitch" in Pakistan is a spent force.
Regular readers of this space will know that I do not agree with the Daily Telegraph editorial writer in every particular. I have posted the editorial here in full, nonetheless.

The Daily Telegraph recorded the Pakistani reaction as follows:
Pakistan's High Commission sent the following response to this article:

"The language used for the President of Pakistan in your leading article ("Bankrupt relationship", November 9) is offensive and flouts the norms of decent journalism.

"For a newspaper of The Daily Telegraph's reputation to resort to such derogatory language is highly regrettable. This deserves an apology."
But no apology has been issued, and instead Pakistan has expelled Daily Telegraph reporters Isambard Wilkinson, Colin Freeman and Damien McElroy, according to Henry Chu in the Los Angeles Times:

Pakistan expels British journalists
The Pakistani government gave the journalists 72 hours to leave the country, Pakistan's deputy information minister, Tariq Azim, said Saturday. Daily Telegraph reporters Isambard Wilkinson, Colin Freeman and Damien McElroy are the first journalists to be kicked out since Musharraf declared a state of emergency Nov. 3, putting Pakistan under de facto martial law.
Henry Chu also noted some of the context behind this action:
Under the state of emergency, news media are forbidden from airing or publishing any content thought to "ridicule" Musharraf or the government. Musharraf, a general who came to power in a 1999 coup, says that emergency rule is necessary for him to fight a growing Islamic insurgency.

Private Pakistani news channels and foreign channels such as CNN have been yanked off the air. Many journalists fear that they are the next targets of a crackdown that has already thrown thousands of lawyers, human-rights activists and opposition members into jail.
And so the "Global War on Terror" continues to engulf Pakistan, devouring lawyers and judges and journalists and political opponents ... and promising meaningless rigged elections.