Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Musharraf: "The Cheaper the Crook, the Gaudier the Patter"

There is a line in Dashiell Hammett's crime fiction,"the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter," which captures the gangsterese language that the press and Hollywood enshrined from Al Capone to John Gotti. Cheap crooks often put on airs, and so do cheap tyrants like Pervez Musharaff, the Bush administration's man in Pakistan.

Musharaff has declared a state of emergency, imprisoned thousands, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and done this all in the name of "democratic transition"(if this is the road to democracy, what does democracy mean).

What is important about Musharraf's antics (besides the oppression of the Pakistani people) is that he is Washington's henchman, like a lower underworld crew chief, and he knows that he must satisfy the big bosses in Washington, even while he tries to skim and scam them for his own interests. Musharraf's identification with Washington is so extreme that he, in his state of emergency declaration, crazily compared his act to Abraham Lincoln's limited suspension of Habeas Corpus during the U.S. Civil War, and also sounded Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush blaming "judicial activism" for his actions.

Today, he gave an interview the New York Times, that continued his comical servility. Criticizing his major mainstream political opponent, Benazir Bhutto (former Prime Minister and daughter of an overthrown and executed Prime Minister) who he has put under house arrest, Musharraf accused her of "producing negative vibes, negative optics"(I don't know what negative optics are, but in general I imagine the general was trying to sound cool for an American audience). Musharraf then pulled out a New York Times op ed piece that Bhutto had written at the very beginning of the crisis,

Musharraf mocked her, challenged her right to serve as Prime Minister under a two term rule that he forced through as dictator, as if to tell his Washington bosses not to dump him and back Bhutto (which seems to be where the U.S. would like to go, not because Musharraf is a tyrant but because he is an ineffective one).

Bush called upon Musharraf to take off his uniform and hold elections. Musharraf obediently took off his uniform and said he would resign as head of the army (he is yet to do it) and pledged to hold elections. But at the same time he stepped up arrests, repressed rallies and demonstrations, and, in the interview had his gaudiest moment when he said "the emergency is to ensure that elections go on in an undisturbed manner," i.e., the opposition will not be able to campaign, ballots will be cast at the point of guns, and Musharraf will either win or declare another state of emergency.

Washington is continuing the charade, "pressing" Musharraf to end the state of emergency, and calling him "indespensible" in the "war against terrorism," and Musharraf is playing his part, pocketing the money, making excuses for his military's failures to fight the Taliban and Al Quaeda, making statements worthy of George Bush, i.e., people like the state of emergency, human rights activists who call for elections don't vote themselves, and belong in jail for disturbing the peace.

There has been relatively little commentary about Pakistan in the U.S. on the left, but the issue is really important. Musharraf is like the military dictators whom the U.S. first supported in Latin America and then everywhere during the cold war period to both preserve and protect U.S. corporate interests and fight revolutionary movements. The Washington consensus is that, as Franklin Roosevelt said about a Latin American dictator in the 1930s, "he's a son of bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." This policy almost always leads to increased instability, not stability, intense hostility to the United States, which for many translates into hostility to both the U.S. government and the American people, and also endless interventionism to prop up such regimes.

Pakistan today would be a good place to launch a progressive U.S. foreign policy. That would mean withdrawing support from Musharraf entirely and working with India to achieve a regional developmental policy that would bring all the nations of South Asia closer together and reduce the poverty and corruption that the religious right feeds on. It would also mean working through the United Nations and through civilian institutions, not the military, for the region, since the Pakistani military, like the military in many poor countries, is deeply implicated in the economic exploitation of the masses, often controlling sections of the economy through various subterfuges.

Machado, Trujillo, Batista, Chiang Kai-shek, Mobutu, Diem et al, previous Pakistani military dictators Ayub Khan, Yaya Khan, General Zia, Saddam Hussein,the Greek military Junta of the 1960s and 1970s, and many others, not to mention the Shah of Iran, and the apartheid government in South Africa. History has proved over and over again that these "indispensable" leaders are not only very dispensable, but the longer Washington supports them, the more dangerous and destructive the situation becomes.

Norman Markowitz

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