Pakistan's future under Musharraf

Musharraf's reaction to the crisis of internal instability can only be viewed as strategic folly.
General Musharraf’s swearing in as a civilian President, his decision to lift the emergency on December 16th and his offer to work together with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto for restoring democracy in Pakistan have, to some extent, redeemed his earlier mistake of once again pushing Pakistan under the military jackboot. 

However, the events of the past few weeks have clearly brought home the point that short-term expediency overshadows any sense of long-term strategic thinking in Pakistan. The imposition of emergency rule had undermined rather than strengthened the General’s waning support base within the army, the national assembly, the Urdu press and among the people of Pakistan.

Ever since he dismissed Iftikhar Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan in March 2007, General Musharraf has come under immense pressure. The lawyers’ agitation is embarrassing and the extremists are becoming increasingly more menacing. 

Revolt in the army
It is now known that some corps commanders within the army had disagreed with the General's decision to storm the Lal Masjid. The two suicide attacks near the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi on October 30th and November 24th demonstrated the incompetence of Pakistan’s security apparatus. The ugly situation in Swat and Qurram in the North West Frontier Province, with the radical Mullahs in actual control of several towns, is a blot on the face of a once professional army. 

From the General’s tunnel vision perspective, perhaps it made sense to declare emergency and suspend a much abused Constitution that could have been used to reduce his authority. However, strategically the move is unbelievably short-sighted and has several pitfalls. By declaring martial law and packing the Supreme Court with hand-picked cronies, Musharraf has irreversibly damaged whatever little credibility the judiciary enjoyed. 
By refusing to heed the advice given to him by the US Secretary of State, Musharraf has put Pakistan’s aid-dependent economy on the back foot. The US may continue to support Musharraf in the short-term as the Pakistan army is a major ally in the so-called global war on terror. However, a new democrat-led US administration may come down hard on Pakistan if democracy has not been restored by then. 

Senior political leaders in Pakistan have openly opposed martial law. After some initial vacillation, even Benazir Bhutto has threatened to boycott elections. With Nawaz Sharif back in Pakistan, a tentative coalition of opposition parties may soon emerge to oppose army rule. 

The dissent
There is already a great deal of dissent among grass roots political workers. They do not see any merit in collaborating with a dictator who has done everything possible to crush Pakistan’s struggle for democracy. The gagging of the media has also led to a backlash by prominent intellectuals. All of these aggrieved parties may eventually come together to oppose General Musharraf now that he has doffed his uniform and taken oath as a civilian President. 

Musharraf's knee jerk reaction to Pakistan's crisis of internal instability can only be viewed as strategic folly and a struggle for personal survival. His commando-like approach to complex political issues and his zero sum solutions have aggravated Pakistan's tensions and its multiple crises. Thanks to the Pakistan army’s misrule, the country is once again on the verge of becoming a failed state like at the time of Musharraf's first coup in October 1999. 

Finally, Musharraf is now the problem and cannot be part of the solution. Even if “guided” elections are held as declared in January 2008, Musharraf is unlikely to continue for long as President as he has become an embarrassment for the Pakistan army. Will Pakistan survive the crisis that Musharraf has brought upon it through his ineptitude and megalomaniacal zeal for continuation in power? Only time will tell. In India we must keep our fingers crossed. 

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Additional Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. Rudra Chaudhuri is a Research Associate in the Asia Security Programme at the Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall, London.)