Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Former Pakistani Army Chief to Launch Political Party

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Former Pakistani Army Chief to Launch Political Party

Article excerpt

Former Pakistani Army Chief to Launch Political Party

By M.M. Ali

"Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto holds the key to resolution of the continued crisis in Karachi," according to Pakistan's former army chief of staff, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, who is poised to enter Pakistani politics at the head of his own political party. In an exclusive interview with the Washington Report, General Beg expressed distress at the "near chaos" of the security situation in Pakistan's largest metropolis. He charged that Bhutto's government has lost touch with the people and is indulging in a "vendetta" against those who voted against her party in the last elections.

Of Karachi's 12 million residents, 70 percent are Urdu-speaking Mohajirs, immigrants who arrived from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, or their descendants. Their political party, the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), outnumbers the parties of the Sindhis, Punjabis, Pathans and Baluchis who, together, comprise the remaining 30 percent of Karachi's population.

General Beg became commander-in-chief of Pakistan's army, perhaps the most powerful position in the nation, following the death of Gen. Zia Ul Haq in a still-unexplained air crash in August 1988. In the two years he occupied the position before his retirement, Beg was accused by Bhutto's People's Party of conniving with then-President Ghulam Ishaq Khan of Pakistan to remove Benazir Bhutto from the prime ministership in August 1990 on charges of "corruption and incompetence."

Giving his version of the story, Beg explained: "Ishaq Khan sent me a long list of charges of corruption and mismanagement against the government of Bhutto. I called a meeting of my generals (corps commanders) and shared the information with them. The commanders agreed with President Ishaq Khan that the prime minister should be removed and an interim government be formed to hold new elections. So you see, I was not instrumental in Benazir's removal from office. It was the president's decision."

Beg, however, did not explain why the president found it necessary to seek the approval of the commander-in-chief in making a purely political decision. Nor did he explain why he allowed himself to be drawn into the political decision-making process.

Describing the post-Cold War situation where the United States has emerged as the sole superpower "at least for the time being," General Beg said that other countries have six options. One is to be treated on a par with the U.S., as is the case with Russia (the present phase being a mere transition) and China. The second option is to align totally with U.S. policies, with minor differences only on the handling of regional issues, as in the case of Europe. A third option is to pursue an independent economic policy but maintain a military liaison with the U.S., as does Japan. A fourth option is to associate with U.S. thinking as does Egypt. A fifth option is to identify with U.S. policies globally, but pursue an independent regional policy, as does Israel. A sixth option, which Beg recommends for Pakistan, is to find its own niche, identify its friends and enemies, build economic viability and preserve its independence.

The general called the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan a very significant development, but considered the liberation of the Central Asian republics from the Soviet grip even more important. Going down the list of Central Asian republics, he identified the natural resources of each and described the Muslim populations that finally are trying to become viable nations on their own.

General Beg wants Pakistan to develop closer links with Central Asia. "Just having diplomatic relations is not enough," he said. "Pakistan should promote trade ties, build interstate highways, open up air routes, start educational and cultural exchanges, and pave the way for the evolution of a meaningful region."

He added that "economic interdependence and reliance is the key" to such an evolution, and suggested a revival of the Regional Cooperation Development (RCD) arrangement that brought Iran, Turkey and Pakistan closer in the '70s. …

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