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General Musharraf insists: I'm not George Bush's poodle...I am merely his mutt

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friday April 28, 2006 Musharraf insists: I m not George Bush s poodle * · General says US air strikes infringe sovereignty * · President denies running
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2006
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      Friday April 28, 2006

      Musharraf insists:
      I'm not George Bush's poodle

      * · General says US air strikes infringe sovereignty
      * · President denies running military dictatorship

      Declan Walsh and Simon Tisdall in Rawalpindi
      The Guardian
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1763515,00.html

      General Pervez Musharraf, facing a surge of anti-American sentiment,
      yesterday warned that covert US air strikes against al-Qaida inside Pakistan
      were an infringement of national sovereignty.

      Admitting that his popularity was waning, the Pakistani president insisted
      he was "not a poodle" of George Bush and rejected accusations he was running
      a military dictatorship.

      Speaking to the Guardian at Army House in Rawalpindi weeks after a tense
      visit by the US president that brought a torrent of domestic criticism, Gen
      Musharraf insisted he was his own man.

      "When you are talking about fighting terrorism or extremism, I'm not doing
      that for the US or Britain. I'm doing it for Pakistan," he said. "It's not a
      question of being a poodle. I'm nobody's poodle. I have enough strength of
      my own to lead."

      If necessary he had "teeth" to bite back, he added. "Yes sir, I personally
      do. A lot of teeth. Sometimes the teeth do not have to be shown. Pragmatism
      is required in international relations." Gen Musharraf pledged to hold free
      and fair elections next year as urged by Mr Bush during his visit to
      Islamabad last month. Opposition parties fear the poll, which government
      officials claim will be the most open since Gen Musharraf seized power in
      1999, will be rigged.

      "It is ironic that I'm sitting in uniform talking of democracy ... but to
      bring democracy into Pakistan I thought I needed it," he said.

      An American Predator drone fired Hellfire missiles at a house in Bajaur
      tribal agency in January, killing 18 people but missing their target,
      al-Qaida's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The attack near the Afghan
      border caused public uproar and brought renewed accusations that Gen
      Musharraf was a US puppet.

      Local journalist Hayatullah Khan, who photographed missile fragments linking
      the strikes to the US, disappeared four days later and is still missing. A
      western diplomat said he was probably being held by Pakistani intelligence
      and may have been mistreated.

      The strike underlined tensions in the anti-terror alliance between Pakistan
      and the US, which has also been strained by Washington's nuclear deal with
      India, its insistence on democratic reforms, and alleged American meddling
      in the sprawling south-western province of Baluchistan. "The strike was an
      infringement of our sovereignty and I condemned it," said Gen Musharraf.

      Pakistan also faces criticism from the US and Afghanistan for not doing
      enough to flush extremists from its tribal areas. Mr Bush said he had come
      to Islamabad "to determine whether or not the president is as committed as
      he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice".

      Gen Musharraf insisted yesterday there was no question of Pakistan
      submitting to American scrutiny and said claims that his government acted at
      Washington's bidding were nonsense. "There is no need of any checks - that
      is the reality," he said.

      Gen Musharraf, who faces revolts in Baluchistan and along the Afghan border,
      admitted to feeling embattled. He added that there was a growing problem of
      "Talibanisation" in Waziristan, a troubled tribal area where several hundred
      al-Qaida suspects have been killed.

      The battle against al-Qaida was almost won in Waziristan, he said. "Because
      of our successes in the cities where we got 600-700 of them, and then in the
      mountains where we occupied their sanctuaries, thankfully they are on the
      run."

      But a new form of local fundamentalism was taking its place in Waziristan,
      which is ruled directly from Islamabad under colonial-era laws. "Extremism
      in a Talibanised form is what people are now going for. Mullah Omar and the
      Taliban have influence in Waziristan and it's spilling over into our settled
      areas."

      This week militants occupied a market in the regional capital, Miran Shah,
      for several hours, burning newspapers and threatening local people. Two taxi
      drivers accused of collaborating with coalition forces in nearby Afghanistan
      were found beheaded. More than 150 pro-government elders and officials have
      been killed in the past year.

      Gen Musharraf defended his tactic of using military force instead of
      negotiation to quell the violence and said some collateral damage was
      inevitable when militants' hideouts were attacked.

      "We take extreme care to be 100% sure of the target from all sources of
      intelligence ... There is minimum collateral damage. If someone happens to
      be very close to [the target], that somebody is an abetter and they suffer
      the loss. Sometimes, indeed, women and children have been killed but they
      have been right next to the place. It's not that the strike was inaccurate
      but they happen to be there, so therefore they are all supporters and
      abetters of terrorism - and therefore they have to suffer. It's bad luck,"
      he said.

      Gen Musharraf also played down unrest in the resource-rich province of
      Baluchistan, where nationalist militants are blowing up gas pipelines and
      trains and attacking army positions. He described the rebels as
      "mercenaries" and their attacks as "pin pricks", and said the disturbances
      were confined to one-twentieth of the province's area.

      "So what revolt are you talking about? People talk about an East Pakistan
      situation," he said, referring to the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. "I
      understand strategy. These people are pygmies."

      Criticism of his military-driven strategy came from "people who sit in
      drawing rooms and talk", he said, but added that a political solution was
      also being sought.

      Gen Musharraf has survived two assassination attempts but elections
      scheduled for next year are expected to pose the greatest threat yet to his
      grip on power. Overt and behind-the-scenes US and British pressure for a
      free poll has become another friction point in the west's relationship with
      Islamabad.

      The leaders of the two main opposition parties, Benazir Bhutto of the
      Pakistan Peoples party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, are
      in exile and face arrest if they return home. Meeting in London this week
      they launched a fresh political alliance and called for western support.

      Gen Musharraf said his mission was to democratise Pakistan. "My popularity
      has gone down ... but at this moment my country needs me. I've put a strong
      constitutional democratic system in place. That will throw up a successor.
      I'm a strong believer in democracy."

      Backstory

      Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 when he was head
      of the country's armed forces, forcing the country's elected prime minister,
      Nawaz Sharif, into exile in Saudi Arabia. Initial international condemnation
      faded after September 2001, when Gen Musharraf dropped his support for the
      Taliban and threw his weight behind the US-led "war on terror". He has since
      become a key ally in the west's hunt for al-Qaida extremists but his
      popularity has plummeted due to widespread anti-American sentiment. In
      December 2003 he survived two al-Qaida assassination attempts in two weeks.
      Gen Musharraf attempted to legitimise his rule through elections in 2002
      that observers described as deeply flawed. A self-described liberal, he has
      introduced some social reforms but also allied himself with hardline
      religious parties when necessary. Last year he advanced the peace process
      with India through "cricket diplomacy".
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