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Saving Pakistan from Pakistan

For the country not to fall prey to jehad and the Taliban: a few, quick miracles Pakistan today faces a crisis that is more serious than in 1971 when a fallback was available, writes Vikram Sood.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2008 23:17 IST

For the country not to fall prey to jehad and the Taliban: a few, quick miracles Pakistan today faces a crisis that is more serious than in 1971 when a fallback was available. An emirate of Waziristan is a reality, the Baloch continue to interdict supply lines, the Sindhis are angry, and the political movement is Punjab-centric this time. The people simply have to vote with their feet if they want to try and save their country. If they do not come out in their numbers or are intimidated from doing so, they will get a dispensation comprising the Taliban and the army. Mere voting in numbers may not be enough because Pakistan’s problems are not simply a matter of electing a government. It will take several miracles to save Pakistan from Pakistan.

It would be a miracle if a national government were installed in the run-up to the elections. Such a national government would naturally have to exclude all the jiyalas and the lotas that constitute the present government. But it would need to represent all the regions and main political parties.

It would need another miracle to hold free and fair elections and not be an exercise hijacked by the army and its Punjabi henchmen. This, in turn, needs other miracles. The Election Commission will have to be made independent all the way down to the nazims, the judiciary has to be cleansed of Musharraf appointees, the media are to be left free to report, political rallies must be permitted, and those in custody for daring to speak should be released. By all accounts, a tough task as neither is there time nor perhaps the inclination to do all this.

There is another complication here. It is not enough that the elections are perceived to be free and fair by European Union observers. They must be seen to be free and fair by the electorate. Any result that declares the PML(Q) as the victor will be seen as a managed result. And any result that shows the PPP and the PML(N) as the victors will not be acceptable to the ‘King’s men’. A series of bomb blasts now could postpone the elections further. This means continued instability because having mutilated institutions for years there are no shock absorbers left to absorb multiple tremors.

All these miracles are possible only if the miracle of miracles takes place. That would be if General (Retired) Musharraf were to realise that he was now the problem and not the solution. Blessed with an outsized ego, Musharraf describes his autobiography, as “a biography not only of a man, but of Pakistan as well”. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Musharraf declared that “on the day I think the people, the majority, don’t want me any more and the day I think I have no contribution to make to this country, I will not wait a second. I will quit.” But many of those who oppose him have been locked up and silenced. Recently, a hundred retired generals and others got together and sent him a letter asking him to quit. Eventually, what might happen is on the fated Night of the Generals, they will come to him and tell him, politely perhaps, that to save the army, and therefore Pakistan, he must step down.

It is also naïve to expect that a man who spent his entire adult life plotting, planning and executing schemes to undo India and who referred to India as enemy country even in 2006, has suddenly become an enlightened peacenik. He has been forced to adopt this line for the present, and the moment the US loses interest in Pakistan he will revert to form; unless the US finds a replacement for him.

Three other miracles are required. The US must stop mollycoddling dictators in Pakistan. The manner in which Pakistan was allowed to go nuclear, acquire warheads and trade in nuclear technologies by successive regimes, including the present one, is a tragic testimony to failure of policy or mindless pursuit of self-interest. And almost simultaneously, Pakistan was allowed — or even encouraged — to become jehadi. Pakistan’s hopelessly misconstrued policies have only converted the unemployed young of Pakistan into terrorists who have now returned as unemployable jehadis to haunt their former masters. This now leaves the world petrified about Islamist terrorists armed with nuclear weapons. Statements from Washington and Islamabad have tried to assuage this fear. This evades the larger issue that the Pakistani State has systematically proliferated for decades which constitutes by far the bigger danger.

There is more to follow with an impatient Washington, unable to control Afghanistan, now contemplating active intervention in Pakistan which will further inflame passions in the country. Yet, the Taliban advance eastward into the NWFP and beyond must be rolled back. But how does Islamabad organise retreat from a mindset that is far more pervasive than is imagined?

Finally, the Pakistani army, accustomed to fostering terrorism but not trained to counter it, must tackle this new threat. And yet, it must retreat not just physically but metaphorically from the lives of the people of Pakistan. General Ashfaq Kiyani’s instruction to the army to pull back from civilian appointments is a beginning. But the military’s multi-billion dollar corporate interests are far too large for it to pull out soon or completely.

Unfortunately, if neither the army nor the Taliban retreat, we are staring at an abyss as Pakistan is consumed by its own creations — jehad and the Taliban.

Vikram Sood is former Secretary, R&AW