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Musharraf to Resign

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Eric Margolis
Foreign Affairs Analyst; Contributing Foreign Editor, Toronto Sun
Friday, August 15, 2008; 1:00 PM

Foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis was online Friday, Aug. 15 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the push to impeach Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and the rumors he'll resign soon. He also can address questions about the Georgia-Russia conflict.

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The transcript follows.

Margolis is the author of "War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Asia and Tibet." He is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media in Canada and American Conservative Magazine, and also has a regular column in Dawn, a widely read English-language newspaper in Pakistan.

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Eric Margolis: Hello, Eric Margolis, Contributing Foreign Editor Sun National Media/Quebecor Canada, and a weekly columnist for DAWN Pakistan here.

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Tracy, Calif.: Relevant or not this is a bomb shell that is about to explode. There is a view in Pakistan -- especially in the light of of Charlie Black, McCain's adviser, who said Benazir Bhutto's death helped the U.S. -- as well as what is is in Ron Suskind's new book -- that the U.S. was in cahoots with Musharraf in getting Bhutto assassinated. This is what Gen. Hamid Gul asserted in a talk show, and so are many analysts of the Inter-Services Intelligence. I think we need to come clean on this -- otherwise Musharraf may face the same fate as Zia-ul-Haq, who had murdered Benazir's father.

Eric Margolis: I knew Benazir Bhutto for many years, and was consulting with her on her party's strategy until she was assassinated.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no evidence the U.S. was involved in her assassination. I disagree with Gen. Hamid Gul's claim that Washington was behind the murder. I have great respect for Gen. Gul -- he is a true Pakistani patriot, and very well-informed -- but I just don't see Washington's hand in this. Au contraire, the U.S. plan was for Musharraf to keep ruling as dictator while Benazir would be mostly a figurehead prime minister, giving the regime democratic window dressing.

Having said this, many if not most Pakistanis believe the U.S. was behind the 1988 assassination of President Zia-ul-Haq, who was well-known to me. His murder was covered up, and investigations were quashed.

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Washington: Feel free not to answer this, but isn't this a signal to every other undemocratic leader in the world that they're only a friend of the U.S. for as long as the U.S. needs them, but the U.S. no longer needs them, they should seek refuge? It's interesting to me that virtually all of them have family in the U.S. in case that happens. Pervez Musharraf's a sad case -- if only he'd had a vote since 1999, he might have survived. But he couldn't risk losing, and now he's lost.

Eric Margolis: Henry Kissinger quipped that "it's even more dangerous being a U.S. ally than enemy" -- think back to Diem in Vietnam, Somoza in Nicaragua, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Mobutu in Zaire, the Shah of Iran, Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, and now Musharraf.

The U.S. has a sorry record of disposing of worn-out dictators when they are no longer useful. The old Soviets at least showed some loyalty to their stooges.

I'm not saying we should go on backing Musharraf. The sooner he is gone the better. But the manner of his going reflects on America's honor, or lack thereof. Mush was a loyal servant of the U.S. to the end.

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Atlanta: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Two pivotal questions: Who is in line to follow Musharraf, and how much authority can he be expected to have to act on his own? Second question: With Sharif in as the prime minister, and with a new president, will Pakistan have any appetite for acting against al-Qaeda, even though the Islamists have moved from the traditionally "autonomous" Northwest Provinces to areas like Peshawar that have been under central government control?

Eric Margolis: Good questions.

Who follows Musharraf is so far uncertain. Asif Zardari, People's Party chief and widower of Benazir Bhutto, wants to become president. His coalition partner, and political rival, former PM Nawaz Sharif, may agree provided the presidency is downgraded to it former ceremonial role. I don't think Zardari will agree.

Meanwhile, Nawaz wants to become prime minister, a position he formerly held. There will be a lot of horse-trading, possibly even a coalition break-up over this issue. Or the current prime minister, Gilani, be be retained.

The most important point: most Pakistanis bitterly oppose the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and Washington's arm-twisting and bribing Musharraf, the military and intelligence service into using Pakistani soldiers against Pashtun tribal insurgents in the tribal belt.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan could not be sustained without use of Pakistani air bases and supply depots and land routes. Both coalition parties say they want to cut back on supporting the U.S. and its NATO allies. Public opinion in Pakistan is totally against pursuing the war in Afghanistan or against the tribes.

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Falls Church, Va.: How do you see Pakistan's strategic position in its region? It seems like there's a concert between the U.S., India and Afghanistan. Do you think they're working to make Pakistan "behave better"? Or are they trying to reduce the country's influence in the region -- risking a major backlash and regional flare-up?

Eric Margolis: You are right. The U.S., India and the U.S.-installed Afghan regime are collaborating to oust Pakistani influence from Afghanistan. India has spent $1 billion in Afghanistan over the past 16 months and sent in hundreds of intelligence agents in an effort to implant its influence and oust the Pakistanis.

Iran is expanding its considerable influence in the western region around Herat.

The revivified Afghan Communist Party, aka the Northern Alliance, is the power behind the throne in Kabul and a cat's-paw for Russian intelligence. In fact, much of northern Afghanistan has become a Russian sphere of influence. Quite an irony after the U.S. helped oust the communists in the 1980's. The Afghan Communists, many of them war criminals and leading drug dealers, are now America's close ally.

Pakistan has always see Afghanistan as its "strategic hinterland" giving it strategic depth in the event of war with India. Fifteen percent or more Pakistanis are Pashtuns, first cousins of Afghanistan's Pashtuns. Pakistan fears that instability in Afghanistan may spark Pashtun nationalism and rekindle calls for a "Greater Pashtunistan" made up of Pashtun from both sides of the border.

The U.S. has allied itself with minorities in Afghanistan while alienating the majority Pashtuns, from the ranks of which comes the Taliban.

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New York: It has been reported in Europe, and in Israel, that the Israel Defense Forces was intimately involved with Georgia's invasion of South Ossetia. U.S. newspapers have refused to report any of this. Is the whole Russia-Georgian conflict another sorry farce scripted by the guys you support?

Eric Margolis: Israel indeed was involved deeply in Georgia. Israeli arms dealers, Mossad agents, businessmen and technical experts came in after Saakashvili took power. Some reports in the Israeli media say Israel sold millions worth of military equipment to Georgia. You will see photos of Georgian troops wearing Israeli body army, webbing, gear and helmets, with Israeli assault rifles.

Israeli military advisors (and U.S. ones) may have been involved in planning the invasion of South Ossetia.

Many of the Israelis in Georgia are leaving. There was concern in Israel that its prominent role in Georgia would jeopardize future Israeli military sales to Russia.

Israelis also were involved in the oil pipeline across Georgia.

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Washington: Eric -- obviously your association with Bhutto colors your judgment about the PPP and the coalition, so tell us, if Musharraf's sacking of certain judges for national security reasons was so egregious and worthy of impeachment, then why hasn't Mr. 10 Percent (aka the felon Zardari) and his Islamist partner Nawaz Sharif restored the judges to their positions? Could it be that the Zardari/Sharif axis is using the sacking of the judges as a pretext to remove Musharraf, and thus it simply wouldn't do to put them back too soon?

Eric Margolis: I uncovered a number of financial scandals involving the Zardaris during the 1980's. Many corruption charges still dog Zardari and worry thoughtful Pakistanis who do not think he is fit to be president.

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Arlington, Va.: How secure are Pakistan's nuclear weapons? What happens if al-Qaeda seizes power in Pakistan? Are there any protocols in place to keep them from being used at random?

Eric Margolis: Pakistan's nuclear arsenal -- estimated at around 40 weapons -- are highly secure. They are guarded by elite army units and intelligence personnel and equipped with permissive links and locks that make it unlikely unauthorized people could activate the devices.

Al-Qaeda never had more than 300 men. It is most unlikely its few remaining members could seize nuclear weapons. Equally important, nukes are useless without the means to deliver them.

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Seattle: Shouldn't our policies towards such leaders distinguish between those leaders who acted as they did explicitly on our behalf and those leaders whom we paid for acting as they would have anyway? Musharraf was going to be autocratic regardless of U.S. payments toward his nominal anti-terrorism efforts, so we reward him?

Eric Margolis: According to Musharraf, Washington gave him a choice: Face total war and national destruction by U.S. bombing, or lease the Pakistani army and intelligence service to the U.S. for use in Afghanistan and the tribal areas.

Musharraf had a gun put to his head, but was too quick to agree -- and too ready to take billions in payoffs. His people call him a traitor and U.S. stooge. We did the same thing with Anwar Sadat in Egypt, who also was hated and called a U.S. puppet and crook.

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New York: How does Musharraf leaving office affect the proposed natural gas pipeline between Iran and India? I can see one story where the pipeline is helped because Iran is strengthened by Musharraf leaving (the U.S. opposes the pipeline), but I can see another where a weakened central government makes any pipeline less safe physically.

Eric Margolis: Uncertain. The U.S. backs the pipeline to India, but opposes its western arm to Iran. But the long-planned pipeline -- the main reason for the continued U.S. occupation of Afghanistan- won't be built until its planned route through Pashtun tribal territory -- Taliban country -- can be "pacified." That is not happening -- quite the contrary. Noted author and thinker Kevin Phillips calls U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan "pipeline protection troops."

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Hong Kong: Assuming President Musharraf steps down, where would he go? Would he stay in Pakistan, and likely be subject to suits against him (despite any step-down agreements)? Would he go to the U.S. as the late Shah of Iran did (even, perhaps, if only for "medical reasons")?

Eric Margolis: Musharraf grew up in Turkey, speaks Turkish, and has great affection for that country and its generals, so Istanbul is a good guess, but so are London and the U.S.. He is trying to resolve questions of his personal security and finances. The Pashtun tribes that he bombed and shelled are notorious for revenge -- no matter how long it takes.

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Alexandra, Va.: Eric -- you seem to suggest in your book "War at the Top of the World" that there would be a great war between Pakistan and India in the future. How does Musharraf stepping down affect that opinion, especially given that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilliani has been quite pro-peace between the two nations?

Eric Margolis: Musharraf was forced by the U.S. to back down on Pakistan's claims and involvement in Kashmir. When he's gone, new governments are likely to revive this burning issue because of public pressure. In recent weeks, Kashmir has been hit with riots, bombings and shootings. There has been fighting between India and Pakistan along the line of control.

Hope you found my book useful. My new one, "American Raj: American and the Muslim World" comes out this fall.

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Denville, N.J.: My question is, why do we have Asif Ali Zardari now rule Pakistan? Can't the U.S. see that he was the most corrupt and dishonest man on the planet Earth? Could the U.S. encourage Pakistan to pick a man with vision ... like Imran Khan?

Eric Margolis: Imran Khan has refused to support the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and calls for the U.S. to get out. Washington is so obsessed by this no-win conflict that it is ready to see Pakistan burn down in the process.

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Washington: Will it be a sad or happy day for Pakistan when Musharraf steps down from office? Why?

Eric Margolis: A good day for Pakistan. Musharraf was hated by almost everyone, viewed as a traitor by many who sold his nation's interests out for power and money. No one will mourn him except his patrons in Washington. I interviewed him in 1999 and found him lacking in almost every measure.

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Re: Atlanta: If the Pakistanis don't want to use their troops crack down on the tribal areas, any idea if they will support U.S./NATO troops actually doing things to terrorists across the imaginary line that is the border?

Eric Margolis: Pakistan's troops and spooks were arm-twisted by Washington or bribed into fighting pro-Taliban Pashtun tribesmen inside Pakistan and supporting the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Many senior Pakistani officers and spies are Pashtuns; most Pakistanis want the U.S. out of Afghanistan and a peace deal with Taliban -- formerly a Pakistani ally in the war against Communist forces.

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Washington: I cited "War at the Top of the World" for a graduate school paper on southern Asian conflicts. Besides reporting, have you written anything more substantive on the topic since?

Eric Margolis: My new book, "American Raj," comes out in late September. It covers U.S. relations with the Muslim world and what can be done to improve them. You can read my other articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan at my Web site.

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Houston: Forgive my ignorance, but can you lay out in general what is prompting the calls for his impeachment? Is it Islamic fundamentalists driving it, thus leading possibly to closer ties with the Taliban/al-Qaeda, or is it more benign forces at work that are trying to undo corruption? Thanks!

Eric Margolis: Not primarily fundamentalists -- all Pakistanis are opposed to dictatorship.

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