Troubling changes in Pakistan: A coup in the works? – Guest post by Tarek Fatah

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
by any other name would smell as sweet

On Thursday morning as Pakistan’s Defence Minister was preparing to board a flight to China for an official visit, he was detained by Pakistani security officials and was told he had been barred from leaving the country. An altercation ensued, but the country’s top civilian defence official was told by the police and soldiers that they take orders from senior generals and judges, not government ministers.

Minister Ahmad Mukhtar was told by the security officials that they were acting on instructions from the National Accountability Bureau, an arm of Pakistan’s intelligence service created by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to harass political opponents with corruption charges. The Defence Minister was told his name was on an ‘Exit Control List’ even though he has never been convicted of a crime. Clearly, Pakistan has entered a decisive stage. Imagine the U.S. Defence Secretary being detained by U.S. marshals at JFK airport or the RCMP telling Peter MacKay, he cannot leave the country.

What was bizarre about this development is that although it was Pakistani’s Interior Ministry that was supposed to have issued the orders, the Interior Minister himself was named as someone not allowed to travel abroad without special permission. Clearly the administration of the government in Islamabad has been taken over by plainclothes military intelligence officials. A coup by any other name is still a coup. Or as Shakespeare would have said,

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
by any other name would smell as sweet

This new development follows Wednesday’s decision by the Pakistani Supreme Court to annul the country’s National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which had been proclaimed by General Musharraf towards the end of his rule and which had resulted in the withdrawal of thousands of politically motivated criminal charges against the country’s politicians of all stripes, including current president Asif Zardari.

There is lot more to these machinations than meets the eye and the stakes are very high for Canada, the U.S. and the rest of the West. Although the generally pro-Taliban Pakistani media has defined the NRO debate as being about corruption, it is really about the military and intelligence services refusing to accept civilian control.

The end of the NRO should have meant that the cases withdrawn under it would be reinstated and each case would be decided on its merit in various lower courts. Given that most of the cases were never proved after being tried for ten years or so, this should have meant renewed prosecution and early decisions on acquittal or conviction. But the Pakistani judiciary is acting in concert with the anti-Zardari media and the military intelligence apparatus.

Instead of letting the cases return to court and be decided individually, an attempt is being made to create frenzy against the elected government that can result in its overthrow. Some Pakistani judges have consistently sided with anti-western Jihadis and share their hatred of Zardari and his pro-U.S. civilian disposition.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that parts of the Pakistani military and intelligence services have launched a campaign to harass American diplomats in Islamabad. Its correspondents in Islamabad said the harassment campaign includes “frequent searches of American diplomatic vehicles in major cities” and the refusal by Pakistan’s officials to extend or approve visas for more than 100 American officials.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. shrugged off the visa delays on the large influx of U.S. diplomats coming to Islamabad, telling CNN they are “simply a matter of process and conformity of Pakistani rules and procedures.”

Hardly convincing considering the fact that the delay in visas has ensured the American helicopters used by Pakistan to fight militants can no longer be serviced because visas for 14 American mechanics have not been approved.

Payments to Pakistan of nearly $1 billion a year for counterterrorism have been suspended because the last of the American Embassy’s five accountants left the country this week after his visa expired. No helicopters in the air means good news for the Taliban. Clearly, someone senior in the Pakistan military and the ISI has the interest of the Taliban at heart and has their sights on their civilian boss, the Defence Minister, not to mention on President Asif Zardari.

The New York Times report said harassment of U.S. officials has grown so frequent that “they viewed it as a concerted effort by parts of the military and intelligence services that had grown resentful of American demands to step up the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”

The Obama Administration it seems is working with its eyes wide shut. While it pours billions into the coffers of the Pakistan Army and its ISI, these are the very forces that are working for the Taliban and intend to accomplish their task by overthrowing or incapacitating the elected civilian government that has sworn to fight Al-Qaeda.

One would have expected the Obama administration to deal firmly with the Pakistan Army and the ISI, but it seems the State Department will once more fumble the ball and the people of Pakistan will be left with yet one more military (or military-backed) administration as the generals snuff out democracy, this time by pulling the strings of the judiciary.

If change in Pakistan is brought about by a faux constitutional process manipulated by the ISI or the army, it should be seen for what it really is: a pro-Taliban coup d’etat against a legitimately elected civilian government. The U.S. and its allies should oppose such change in Islamabad to ensure their success in the war against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

National Post, Canada

Tarek Fatah is a Toronto writer and broadcaster. He is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State (Wiley 2008).



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