Pervez Musharraf: Mau-Mauing the flak-catcher

The Pakistani president exploits Western fears of radical Islamism to boost his standing at home and abroad.

James Heartfield

Topics Politics

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Without the Pakistani secret services, the West would be ‘brought to its knees’ by Islamists, says military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

He was responding to criticisms that Pakistan’s SIS was responsible for funding the Taliban in Afghanistan, and most recently for bombing Mumbai. The first allegation was made in an in-house British defence intelligence report, the second by the Indian government.

Musharraf has led a charmed life since 11 September 2001. In his first US election campaign, current incumbent George W Bush was caught out by an interviewer who asked him the name of Pakistan’s president. Since then, Musharraf has become central to US policy in the region as a bulwark against ‘extremism’. That was something of a turnaround, because the preceding US administration, cosying up to India, was putting pressure on Pakistan’s autocratic rule.

Musharraf’s democratic credentials are weak, having overthrown the elected government in 1999 and then secured a mandate through a plebiscite in 2002. Still, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, ‘he may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch’. Bush has backed him in recent visits to the region – even though the US-imposed Afghan leader Hamid Karzai also accuses the SIS of supporting the Taliban.

Musharraf’s authority, though, is tendentious. This latest veiled threat of bringing the West to its knees is a sign. The general relies on fear of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to command Western support.

Years ago the satirist Tom Wolfe described the situation after the Watts riots in America. Government funds flowed forth in an attempt to buy off the unrest. Wolfe called the US official charged with disbursing funds to dubious youth and community groups as ‘the flak-catcher’. He was catching the flak for years of government contempt for US blacks.

And Wolfe called the trick of getting money out of the government ‘Mau-Mauing’. As a would-be fund-getter, you had to hint at the terrible things that would happen if you did not. You had to present yourself as the much-feared Kenyan insurgents, the Mau-Mau, which was thought to kill its enemies in the night. The scarier you were, the better you Mau-Maued the flak-catcher, the more funds you got.

General Musharraf is Mau-Mauing the US flak-catcher. He does not directly threaten to bomb them. But his secret services are reliant on conservatives who are close to the Taliban; they did train al-Qaeda; and they have probably used Islamic militant groups to put pressure on their regional rival India.

As long as the West is scared of militant Islam, it will continue to back Musharraf’s tin-pot dictatorship – which means he has a motive for continuing to Mau-Mau the West.

James Heartfield is a writer based in London. Visit his website here.

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Topics Politics


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