For the last three months Indian media has been full of speculations of General Musharraf being deposed either by the Pakistani army or by a strong democratic wave, with or without the blessings of Americans. Underlying the speculations one can sense an undercurrent of satisfaction coupled with some pedantic and perhaps justifiable advice to our ruling establishment to deal with a democratically elected Government. While they are well-meaning thoughts it would be worthwhile examining the alternatives, which may emerge.
One could arguably start with an assumption that like India, Pakistani politics too revolves around personalities.
One possibility is a conglomerate of Islam Pasand parties, which could be led either by Qazi Hussein Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islam or Maulana Fazrul Rehman, the head of Jamaat-ul-Islam and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a group of Islamist parties. He is also the leader of the opposition. Though such a possibility at present looks remote, purely hypothetically, it could happen. Even if they do not form the government by themselves, they could cobble a coalition with other smaller parties to come to power. They have to look across their borders to learn the art.
Which way would Pakistan head then? We can be sure that Western countries, led by USA would be very reluctant to deal with them. We can expect a boost to the Taliban in Afghanistan and the secessionist militants/ terrorists operating in the south ie J&K and rest of India including banned groups like the SIMI. A nuclear-armed Pakistan ruled by extremists can be a serious cause of concern not just for India and Afghanistan but the rest of the world as well. Even our diehard votaries of democracy would not want this scenario.
Bhutto and the PPP
The other alternative, which is being thrown up frequently is return of Mrs Benazir Bhutto from exile to lead the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP). With the air of an aggrieved party, Bhutto will find, to begin with, a fair degree of support. Can she then follow a foreign policy independent of what the army wants, particularly regarding India or Afghanistan? Not quite.
One cannot forget that she has been deposed earlier on the behest of Pakistani Army. Besides, she has a number of corruption and other criminal cases pending against her, which can be raked up again. So, lie in the past, starting with Zia-ul-Haq, she would willy-nilly seek support from Islam Pasand parties who will dictate such terms, which may not be in India's interest.
So, here would be a well-meaning Bhutto who would constantly be looking over her shoulders at the army on one side and the Islamists on the other ie if the latter are not already a part of her coalition. To entrench herself further she may resort to India bashing and be more shrill than before, merely to prove more loyal than "the king". One would recall her image on the Pakistan television in 1989 shouting "azadi".
The Nawaz Sharif angle
The possible return of Sharif is unlikely as his deposition by the army led by General Musharraf is too recent. Cases of attempted murder and other charges are also pending against him. Given such a hypothesis, although remote, his rule will follow the same route as that of Bhutto. In fact he is very close to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
The wild card
Those who have forgotten Lt General (retired) Hamid Gul may remember that he was the head of ISI during the regime of Zia-ul-Haq. He was very close to the USA and in particular the CIA and openly admired the ways of the West. He believes that President Ishaq Khan wanted to appoint him as army chief after the death of Zia but the USA blocked it. From that day he hates USA and describes it as the fountainhead of all evils.
He is known to be very close to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and has a sprinkling of admirers in the army. While he could emerge as an alternative, Pakistani army may not support him for his extreme views. After all, he has retired a long time back and does not enjoy any camaraderie with the army now. The Islamists will support him. India would not be very comfortable with him at the helm of affairs in Pakistan.
Potential architects of 'palace coup'
Now, the ever present rumour of a "palace coup". Over the past several years General Pervez Musharraf has handpicked the Corps commanders, who were loyal to him. The last murmur was heard about General Aziz Khan at one time the chief of General Staff but it was just a rumour and as per known facts, Khan did not come close to Musharraf as far as commanding respect of the army was concerned.
The present Vice Chief of the Army, Lt General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, an officer from the Armoured Corps, has held the appointment of commander, Karachi Corps and the Quarter Master General before. He is known to be a very humble person and completely loyal to Musharraf. He is a most unlikely candidate for a coup.
In any case Musharraf has always consulted all the Corps commanders on all major issues in their monthly conference. To my reckoning a "palace coup" is most unlikely for present.
From the army perspective, there is every reason to have a deep antipathy for him. However, the analysis of bouquets and brickbats must be done first.
To start with the minuses, he is a dictator who deposed an elected Government. In the recent past he sacked the chief justice of Pakistan and policemen ransacked the office of Geo TV, though unlikely at his behest.
Musharraf has a habit of forgetting truths on occasions and can glibly explain such memory lapses. He is (was) impetuous and can take tactical steps, which can be strategically disastrous (Kargil). He is flamboyant (is it so bad?) and may get carried away. He has not been able to control the jehadis fully.
But he is secular and modern in his outlook. In his own way he has managed to rein in the Islamists to a fair degree, though lot more needs to be done. He is a tough and competent soldier who enjoys complete respect and loyalty of his army. He believes that he is bringing about democracy in a controlled and step-by-step manner in Pakistan. Incidentally, neither the Islamist parties nor Hamid Gul is an advocate of democracy, as we understand it. He has allowed total press freedom over the last seven years except for two known occasions viz the Najjam Sethi case and the recent fiasco of Geo TV.
Barring the recent agitation for human rights, which will die out in a few weeks there has been a fairly stable political atmosphere in Pakistan. In fact one of the major complains of Salma Jahangir is that they (Pakistanis) have forgotten the politics of agitation. With massive aids and soft loans from USA and World Bank, Pakistan has had a major turnaround economically.
And last and perhaps most importantly he has had the guts, for the first time in Pakistan, to come out with some out of the box thoughts for Kashmir resolutions, which are far more liberal than the Dixon or Chenab formulas. He, for the first time has implied solution, which by implications is not demanding redrawing of borders.
If anyone can deliver a solution acceptable to India and Pakistan it is Musharraf, at least for the present.
Given the above which alternative do we want in Pakistan at least in the short term, say next five years? It is for the reader to draw his or her conclusions.
Lt Gen Shantonu Choudhry, PVSM, AVSM, VSM is the former Vice Chief of Indian Army Staff and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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