Pakistan’s drop to the abyss

By December 31, 2007Article, Atlantic Eye

MALMO, Sweden, Dec. 31 (UPI) — “Musharraf will bring us to the brink,” Pakistan’s Ambassador Asif Ezdi said to me privately in Berlin in December 2002. I looked doubtfully at Ezdi. It was a year after Sept. 11; Musharraf was an ally of the United States. I did not recognize how prescient Ezdi’s words would be.

Five years ago I hosted a good-bye dinner in Berlin’s venerable Brandenburger Hof for the dean of the Diplomatic Corps, New Zealand’s Winston Cochrane. Cochrane had previously been ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. From Berlin he covered Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland. I jokingly called him “the viceroy” — something that didn’t humor him, but which he grimacingly put-up with.

Joining Cochrane and his wife as my guests were Ezdi and his wife, the Czech ambassador; Germany’s former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger; Christoph Kannengiesser, the director of the German Confederation of Industry; Horst Schaettle, the director general of Sender Freies Berlin; the medical equipment mogul Wolfgang Bauer; and Immo Stabreit, the executive vice president of the German Council on Foreign Relations and former ambassador to the United States, France and South Africa.

Our discussions focused on Afghanistan, the Taliban, U.S. foreign policy, New Zealand’s possible role as a mediator, North Korea and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Ezdi spoke briefly of Pakistan, in respectful but cautious terms.

Ezdi is not a man of many words. He plays his cards close to his vest. He is quiet and unassuming. I liked him. It would be the first of many meetings in Berlin.

In an Op-Ed on Dec. 28 in Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s finest, and cited in the well-known weekly der Spiegel, Ezdi publicly and uncharacteristically blasts Musharraf’s grab for power. He lambastes the alliance of the feudal class and officers’ corps who rule Pakistan. He criticizes the U.S. blind support for this coalition and its unflinching support for Musharraf, “who presents himself as the only alternative to Islamic fundamentalists.”

“The United States will invest in this coalition as long as it supports U.S. global political goals — even at the expense of Pakistani democracy.” He continues that the only two groups who can fight this feudal coalition are the religious fanatics — who he rejects, but who are supported by the poor — and the city-based middle classes, who have Western values and reject the feudal-military alliance.

Ezdi writes that democratic forces are fighting for democracy supported by Pakistan’s civil society, its judges, attorneys, civil servants, journalists and students. “We are calling for the constitution to be followed, a rule of law which puts the civilian authority above the military. … All of us,” Ezdi writes, “want the West to help us. But the West must stop helping Musharraf cling to power at all costs.”

This week, I called my condolences to Mustafa Kamal Kazi, a ranking Pakistani diplomat and former under secretary and now Pakistan’s ambassador to Russia. Kazi is a personal friend of Benazir Bhutto and the Bhutto family. They hail from the same ancestral area. Kazi and I met some years ago after the sudden death of Frans Lurvink, a Global Panel benefactor. After the funeral, Kazi offered me a lift to the wake. We became steadfast friends and have become political sounding-boards for each other ever since.

Our last intense debate had been some months earlier, when we jointly visited Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov, the Russian government’s Asia expert and chief envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea. A slotted time of 10 minutes became an hour. Losyukov signed Pakistan’s condolence book in Moscow on behalf of the Russian government.

In August I needed a break from the U.S. presidential campaign and other work. On my way back from Azerbaijan, I stopped in Moscow. There, Kazi and I tangled hairs about Pakistan and Asia. Mustafa was even more concerned than normal about U.S. policy toward Pakistan.

In Pakistan the military elite is primarily Punjabi and the feudal elites — like Bhutto — mostly Sindhi; they have been feuding for their share of power. A source close to the administration told me the United States urged Bhutto back to Pakistan in the hope that her presence would help Musharraf, who is part of the military elite though he is a mujahir, a migrant from India. The same source said Saudi Arabia sent back former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the same intentions — to bolster Musharraf. But neither the military elites nor the jihadists were comfortable with the plans imposed upon them. It seems clear that one of these chains of command killed Bhutto.

Most recently, Kazi was consternated by current U.S. unilateral foreign policy approaches. “Does the United States government understand spatial and temporal thinking?” he asked me. Kazi had just been to dinner with Bhutto in London; I had met her some years ago in Oxford. At the dinner, Bhutto expressed similar concerns about the United States.

The Bush administration’s policy of only supporting Musharraf is bad for Pakistan, bad for the region and extremely bad for the United States.

It is unwise and bad policy for the U.S. government to force foreign leaders to do what they perceive to be “good” for the United States to the detriment of their own countries — to choose between U.S. interests and the interest of their own people.

This must not happen in a new administration — it will not if I have a role to play.

(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he was a visiting fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford. He is a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party.)