Post-Musharraf Pakistan: At the Edge or Over?

Pakistan’s descent into uncertainty continues inexorably and the month of August proved rather eventful for the country.
At the top of the list, General Musharraf finally realised that the leading political parties, the people and the US administration wanted him out and that even the Pakistan army found his further continuation in office embarrassing. After remaining adamant for several days that he would defend himself during the impeachment debate in the National Assembly, he eventually resigned as President. Even as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continued to gain ground in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), radical extremists carried out their most destructive attack to date outside the gates of the Wah ordnance factory and underlined their ability to attack at a point and time of their choosing.
As had been widely anticipated, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML) pulled the rug from under the ruling coalition for failing to honour its promise to restore the judges sacked by Musharraf, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhuri. Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government has been reduced to a minority and Pakistan has been plunged into a serious political crisis.
The stagnating rapprochement process with India plummeted close to its nadir as India accused Pakistan of over 20 cease-fire violations along the LoC and of masterminding the attack on the Indian embassy at Kabul – an accusation that was repeated by President Karzai’s government in Afghanistan and by US intelligence agencies.
The performance of the economy is another cause for concern. Inflation is raging at about 21 percent and is crippling the economy. The abrupt crash of the market wiped out the savings of the middle class and prompted a physical attack, in which hundreds of protesters smashed windows of the Karachi Stock Exchange.
The vast majority of Pakistan's urban population is increasingly faced with a breakdown of basic municipal services such as the provision of water, electricity and sanitation. These problems, coupled with soaring inflation and growing lawlessness, are proving to be a truly combustible mix. This time even a cosy relationship with the US has not bailed out Pakistan’s floundering economy. As economic conditions continue to spin out of control, there's a possibility of much greater popular discontent and violence spreading across Pakistan.
With both the PPP and the PML (Nawaz) having announced their candidates for the post of President, horse trading will soon begin as even a civilian President will enjoy considerable powers. Until the Constitution is amended, the President of Pakistan will continue to enjoy unimpaired powers to dismiss the elected Prime Minister and the National Assembly. The new President will be the Chairman of the National Security Council (NSC), which has the power to make decisions in all matters relating to national security. He will also be the Supreme Commander of the Armed forces, will exercise command and control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and technology and will approve all senior promotions and postings. However, he will be unable to exercise any influence unless he first makes peace with the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
Led by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a COAS who has shown no initiative to deal with the deteriorating internal security situation, the Pakistan army is facing perhaps its deepest crisis since its strategic blunder in Kargil. Insurgency in the NWFP and FATA is proving difficult for the Pakistan army to handle. Its policy of placing the Frontier Corps in the vanguard while the regular army trains and equips itself for a counter-insurgency role has been unsuccessful and casualties have been mounting. The Pakistan army has been forced by the TTP, headed by Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan, to wage a three-front "war": against the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in South Waziristan; against the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in the sensitive Darra Adam Khel-Kohat area of NWFP and the Shia-dominated Kurram Agency of FATA; and, against the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), headed by Maulana Fazlullah, and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in the Swat Valley of the NWFP.
Though it has flirted with peace deals with the militants, the army finds it impossible to meet the demands of the TTP and the TNSM. According to B. Raman, a noted counter-terrorism expert, these include the suspension of all military operations in the tribal areas; the withdrawal of army posts from the FATA; the release of all tribals arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act; the release of Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and tribal students arrested during the commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007; and, enforcement of the Sharia in the tribal areas.
The US and its allies are becoming increasingly more frustrated by Pakistan’s failure to deal with al Qaeda and Taliban militants launching raids on US and NATO troops across the Durand Line. The recent spike in the deaths of US and NATO soldiers has been attributed to the free flow of Taliban and al Qaeda cadres across the border. There is an imminent threat of unilateral US intervention against militants inside Pakistani territory not only through air strikes but also by way of ground action.
If this happens, the repercussion will be extremely serious. America retains considerable leverage over Pakistan, despite vigorous denials. It is critical for the Bush administration in its final months to try and prevent the fledgling democratic regime in Pakistan from dashing its population's hopes for a more democratic polity and a more secure economic future.

The ruling party must make determined efforts to rein in the Inter-Services-Intellgence (ISI) from continuing to appease the resurgent Taliban, formulate sustainable economic policies and restore the independence of the judiciary. The government need to initiate a consultation process with all the stakeholders for the formulation of a holistic and comprehensive national counter-insurgency strategy. At this juncture, the Pakistani military is in no shape to step into what it probably sees as a potential political quagmire. However, if historical evidence is any guide, such restraint on the part of the military may yet prove to be fleeting if conditions continue to deteriorate.

Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but it is a state with a failed leadership. Now that Musharraf is out of the way and Nawaz Shariff’s urge to avenge his humiliation in 1999 has been satisfied, the latter is in a position to adopt a statesman-like persona in the larger interests of his country. However, going by past experience, he is unlikely to do so and internal realities are unlikely to do him any favours. Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix. The only deduction that can conceivably be drawn is that Pakistan is in for even greater difficulties ahead. The emerging situation does not augur well for strategic stability in Southern Asia. 
(Also published in Sahara Time.)