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Not the general picture today

The Pakistan army stands isolated. This can help the country move towards normalcy.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2012 22:12 IST

At first glance, Pakistan's political crisis is a slightly more protracted and unusually messy version of the sort of power struggle that often takes place inside India's western neighbour. The military tries to overthrow the civilian regime. The democratic parties are at each other's throats. Everyone wonders what the US is going to do about it. These are old Pakistani themes. Yet there is reason to believe that this time it is different. And the reason for that is the surprising weakness of the Pakistani military in this political drama. This fact alone makes the present crisis in Islamabad one worthy of more than the usual degree of watching by the Indian system. After all, if there is one thing that is accepted across India's policy spectrum, it is that the source of the political cancer that is crippling Pakistan and the carrier of the jihadi fever that afflicts Pakistani society is the army.

The inability of the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, to exploit the present crisis is remarkable. For decades, the military could count on controlling the Pakistani presidency, getting the support of the US and playing the democratic parties against each other. The Supreme Court was an ignored cipher. Today the military is alone. The president and the prime minister are united against the army. The Supreme Court, while hostile to the president, is an independent centre of power. The US has almost replaced India as the country's bogey. And the army has had to virtually create a new party, led by a retired sportsman, to constrain the political parties. The fact that the crisis will continue into February is unusual - removing a civilian government was something the generals used to do between lunch and tea. That General Kayani does not know whether he will win this battle of wills is even more remarkable. The lack of central control has meant a free rein to local terrorist groups. India has, at least, tried to prepare for this eventuality. However, an alternative view may have sufficient basis to be taken seriously. This argues that the Pakistani template has changed. The country's militant organisations have been largely passive during the present crisis. They have, in fact, done almost nothing against India since the terrible Mumbai attack. The alternative viewpoint argues that there is a reason. One is that groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba are finding it difficult to keep their foot-soldiers focused on Kashmir. The new generation see the Western soldiers in Afghanistan as much better fulfilment of their jihadi calling.

Two, the Pakistani military has become so engrossed in the violence on its Afghan border that India seems almost a diversion at this point. Finally, a military isolated domestically and a Pakis-tan isolated internationally means that terrorism as an instrument of statecraft is becoming increasingly blunted. In the same way as the army is suddenly unwilling to stage a coup, it may becoming chary of involvement in a crime whose consequences it fears it cannot handle. India can only watch as events unfold in Pakistan. And hope that it will push that country even a few unsteady and chaotic steps closer to normalcy.