WASHINGTON, Aug 18: The coalition government used Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s visit to Washington last month for convincing US President George W. Bush to stop supporting his old ally, Pervez Musharraf.
Diplomatic sources in Washington described President Bush as Mr Musharraf’s “last holdout” in the US capital. Others in the Bush administration — including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — had long given up on Mr Musharraf. But Mr Bush remained faithful to the person he considered a close ally and a personal friend.
The person who played a key role in persuading Mr Musharraf’s supporters in the Bush administration to stop backing the Pakistani leader is the US ambassador in Islamabad, Anne W. Patterson.
Ambassador Patterson argued that if Washington continued supporting Mr Musharraf it would end up stoking massive anti-American feelings in Pakistan.
She also held a series of meetings with coalition leaders, particularly PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari, and received assurances from them that Mr Musharraf’s departure would not undermine primary US interests in Pakistan and that Islamabad would continue to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Fata, as it did before.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen also stayed engaged with the Pakistanis, making three trips to Pakistan after the Feb 18 elections, including a secret visit in July.
In his meetings with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Admiral Mullen sought, and received, direct assurance from him that Mr Musharraf’s departure would not reduce Pakistan’s role in the war on terror.
In Washington, Pakistan’s Ambassador Husain Haqqani used his contacts on Capitol Hill and in the US administration to win over influential lawmakers and key officials.
Mr Haqqani received considerable support from his friends on the Hill and in Washington’s think-tanks “in convincing Americans that no hell will break loose if Mr Musharraf goes”, as a think-tank expert who worked with him told Dawn.
“The Pakistanis argued that the US should not be seen as interfering in Pakistan’s domestic political disputes as it would hurt America,” the expert said. “And they succeeded in mustering enough support on the Hill and in the administration to counter Musharraf sympathisers.”
By the time Prime Minister Gilani met Mr Bush on July 28, Pakistani lobbyists were satisfied that they had neutralised the pro-Musharraf lobby in Washington.
“President Bush was the last holdout,” said the expert. “But after a good luncheon at the White House with people who had their hearts in the right place, Mr Bush also realised that he can no longer save Mr Musharraf”.
The prime minister took a team of “Musharraf experts” with him to the luncheon and they played a key role in persuading Mr Bush to stop supporting the Pakistani leader.
“Once this was done, the Pakistanis knew that the Americans will no longer try to save Mr Musharraf, so they made their move,” the expert said.
While Mr Bush had accepted the argument that Mr Musharraf could no longer be saved, he still wanted to make sure that the Pakistani leader was not penalised.
Besides sending his own ambassador to the coalition leaders to negotiate a safe exit, indemnity from penalisation and a secure stay in Pakistan or abroad for Mr Musharraf, Mr Bush also asked two key allies — Britain and Saudi Arabia — to help.
The British sent their former ambassador in Islamabad, Mark Lyall Grant, to Pakistan and the Saudis sent their intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz to negotiate the terms for Mr Musharraf’s departure.
The Saudis played a particularly important role in convincing Nawaz Sharif to tone down his rhetoric because of their close links with the PML-N chief.
Once the negotiations had been completed and the Americans were assured that Mr Musharraf would not be arrested, prosecuted or punished in any other way, they endorsed the deal for his departure.