Pakistan: problem of failed leadership

Political turmoil, internal instability and a floundering economy make for a deadly mix.

Deeply embroiled in political turbulence, internal instability and serious trouble on its western border, Pakistan appears to be hurtling downhill despite General Musharraf’s exit and Asif Ali Zardari’s election as President.

As had been widely anticipated, Nawaz Sharif’s 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. Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani’s PPP government has been reduced to a minority in the National Assembly and Pakistan has been plunged into a serious political crisis.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is continuing to gain ground in the NWFP and FATA, and radical extremists have carried out their most destructive attack to date outside the gates of the Wah ordnance factory. They have again underlined their ability to attack at a time of their choosing.

Asif Ali Zardari’s election to the post of president has not aroused any feelings of hope among the people. His track record as an utterly corrupt politician and a known wheeler-dealer does not inspire confidence for democracy to flourish in Pakistan.

Until the Constitution is amended, the president will have 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 notionally exercise command and control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and technology and will approve all senior promotions and postings. Yet, he will wield influence only if he first makes peace with the army.

Led by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a CoAS who appears to lack both initiative and ideas to deal with the deteriorating internal security situation, the Pakistan army is facing perhaps its deepest crisis since its strategic blunder in Kargil. Despite the deployment of 1,00,000 troops and 1,200 casualties, insurgency in the NWFP and FATA is proving difficult for the army to handle. The use of air strikes and helicopter gunships proved to be completely counter-productive. Its present 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 US and allies have become 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 chairman joint chiefs of staff of the US met General Kayani twice in a month, the second time on board US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, to impress on him the need to be pro-active in counter-insurgency operations.

It has now emerged that President Bush had secretly approved unilateral US trans-border intervention against militants inside Pakistani territory not only through air strikes by also by way of ground action through Special Forces as early as July 2008. One such raid was successfully launched in early September 2008 and missile attacks from Predator UAVs have been going on since. The Pakistanis have threatened to retaliate and serious repercussions are likely.

Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but it is a state with a failed leadership. Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix. 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.

The stagnating rapprochement process with India has plummeted to the nadir after India accused Pakistan of large-scale cease-fire violations along the LoC and of masterminding the attack on the Indian embassy at Kabul. The emerging situation does not augur well for strategic stability in Southern Asia.

(The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)