Pervez Musharraf under pressure

The Tribune | Dec 26, 2004

Pakistan is living through turbulent times and General Musharraf, its self-styled President, is under tremendous pressure. Pakistan's proxy war with India will go on because the Pakistan army will not allow Musharraf to change its fundamental policy towards India.

Pakistan is living through turbulent times and General Musharraf, its self-styled President, is under tremendous pressure. The United States-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan has shaken Pakistan’s polity like no other event in its troubled history. The ignominious defeat of the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda guests, the self-appointed foot soldiers of Islam, was in reality a military and diplomatic defeat tor Pakistan as it was fighting a “proxy war” in Afghanistan, just as its waging a proxy war against India through its mercenary Islamists. Though the Pakistanis failed to see it, this denouement was inevitable. It was about by several decades of the adverse overarching influence of the Pakistan army on the nation’s polity and its foreign policy.

Mired in a virulent madrasa-Kalashnikov-Narcotics smuggling-terrorism culture, looted by its wily and corrupt politicians and ruthlessly trodden over by the army’s jackboot, Pakistan was on the verge of becoming a failed state when the terrorist strikes in New York and Washington DC. in September 2001 gave it a chance to redeem itself. General Pervez Musharraf quickly saw the advantages of joining the international coalition against terrorism. He grabbed the opportunity, jettisoned his nation’s long-standing Afghan policy and threw in his lot with the US.

This expedient step shook the nation and created deep fissures among the Corps Commanders who now guide Pakistan’s destiny. Today, American troops have firmed-in for what is quite obviously a long-term military presence on Pakistani soil and Musharraf has been left with no-choice but to launch a crackdown against Pakistan’s Jehadis. With two assassination attempts on his life behind him, the General finds himself in a most unenviable position — Pakistan’s polity has been torn asunder by recent events, the mullahs are up in arms, his support base within the army is being gradually eroded and US troops are lined up in full battle gear across Pakistan’s western border.

Musharraf has made no attempt so far to build bridges with the politicians. He has gone on record to state that he would never hand over power to Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto. Completely ignoring the politicians is another mistake. Though the politicians are in disarray at present, the emergence of a broad alliance cutting across the political divide remains a possibility now that Asif Zardari has been released. Nawaz Sharif’s PML and Benazir Bhutto’s PPP may yet find it expedient to put their political differences temporarily aside and come together to oppose the military regime. Along with 17 other political parties, they have formed an “Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy”. At the same time, a number of politicians from both parties are willing to cut private deals with the military regime.

If there was any section of the Pakistan elite that appeared to be satisfied with the Musharraf regime’s initial performance, it was the Muslim clergy and the numerous terrorist outfits spawned by it. Because of the remarkable convergence in the Pakistan army’s and the clergy’s anti-India posturing and actions, the so-called Jehadis were the only ones who received the military regime’s active support. However, in view of Musharraf’s strong support to the US for launching attacks against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the imprisonment of several Jehadi leaders, the Islamist parties have fallen out with the Musharraf regime. Musharraf’s promise to put an end to Islamist fundamentalism within Pakistan and the recent crackdown against the Jehadis in Waziristan has further infuriated the Jehadi outfits.

By rebuilding bridges with the US. Musharraf has gained a lifeline. Consequently, almost all US sanctions have been waived, IMF loans have been rescheduled, Pakistan has been allowed to buy US weapons and, from a pariah state, Pakistan has once again become not only a front line state but also a major non-NATO ally (MNNA). However, the US is acutely conscious of the double game that Pakistan is continuing to play by covertly supporting the Al- Qaeda and Taliban remnants through its various Jehadi outfits and the ISI while overtly professing a change of heart. It is no secret that most of the hardcore Taliban and Al-Qaeda mercenaries who survived the war are now in Pakistan. In the long run, the US will not let Pakistan off the hook for its complicity with the terrorists. It will continue to accept Pakistan’s support as long as such support is crucial to its own national interests and will have no hesitation in once again discarding Pakistan when its own requirements have been met. Quite obviously, there is more trouble ahead for General Musharraf.

General Musharraf’s long-term plans for his country have not been formally articulated but are definitely not a mystery. He will ensure that power is handed over only after the army is given a formal role in governance — a long-standing army demand. In-the unlikely eventuality that Musharraf will heed the call to step down as COAS, he will follow in Zia’s footsteps and continue as Pakistan’s de facto ruler However, dissension in the higher ranks is simmering just beneath the surface and Musharraf’s first priority is to keep his own flock together.

Whichever course Musharraf chooses there is unlikely to be any change in Pakistan’s hostility towards India and its covert support, even sponsorship, of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism in India.
Musharraf has already made it clear that Pakistan will continue to provide diplomatic, moral and political support for what he insists is a “freedom struggle” in Kashmir. While Pakistan might appear to stop the overt infiltration of so-called Kashmiri “freedom fighters” across the Line of Control, it will continue to do so covertly by finding smarter methods of inducting more Jehadis; for example, through neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. Pakistan’s proxy war with India will go on because the Pakistan army will not allow Musharraf to change its fundamental policy towards India. Hence peace in Kashmir and between India and Pakistan will remain a distant dream.