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Musharraf's Katrina

The impact of recent earthquake has to be measured in both the short and long term, writes Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta.

india Updated: Nov 04, 2005 18:24 IST

It was a tragic natural disaster in Pakistan administered Kashmir in which more than 50,000 people were killed and Sikandar Hayat Khan saying, "I am a ruler of a graveyard", bitter cold, rains, infrastructure demolished, no transport facilities. Trying times indeed for Pakistan and our hopes and prayers are with the victims and survivors of this earthquake. Besides the outpouring of aid, in one of the corners of the media chattering classes, the question was asked, is this earthquake Musharraf's Katrina? Obviously this is referring to the severe damage done to President Bush's standing and reputation through his ham-fisted and utter incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. The impact has to be measured in both the short and long term.

In the short term, his popularity has taken a dump and that is because of two factors, one avoidable and one unavoidable. Pakistan has always been ruled directly or indirectly by the army and in all cases, the reason given for this is that the army is the only national, non-corrupt, effective, efficient institution and the only one guaranteeing "national security". So far so good! (at least from the army's perspective). So here comes a gigantic earthquake, and I have to admit that even democracies would have struggled to handle a disaster of this magnitude - hence the unavoidable factor. But the problem is, banging the drum for fifty years about being the only solution to all of Pakistan's problems, when you are unable to handle the earthquake; questions arise about your competence to do other things as well. In the greater scheme of things, the army is supposed to be protecting Pakistan, having emasculated all the other national institutions such as the judiciary, legislature, local government, educational institutions et. al, the buck (or rupee) stops at the army's desk and it is now hoisted on its own petard. It is because of these two reasons, Musharraf's slow and incompetent response is damaging in the short term.

But to understand what may happen in the long run, Generalissimo Musharraf would be advised to read up on what happened in Mexico City in the aftermath of the earthquake of 1985. The slow, bumbling response by the Mexican authorities lead by PRI caused an explosion of civil and political rights, and the old order collapsed with a strong opposition and a seriously changed political landscape. Kashmir is one of the pillars of Pakistani identity and is an even more important reason for Pakistani Army's continued parasitic behaviour over the state. The earthquake has exposed the Army's incompetence. Nobody else will be blamed but the army. When people talk about the authorities, they mean the Army. And if the Army couldn't protect and offer succour to the Kashmiri's, what hope is there for the oft hoped for Kashmiri independence?

While the earthquake did not materially affect the two other major pillars of the Pakistani Army (its nuclear programme and the whole foaming herd of bearded jehadi's), it will have an impact in the longer term. Nuclear assets are usually very well protected and the earthquake wouldn't have made a whit of a difference to them, being hundreds and thousands of miles away from the epicentre. The terrorist camps were damaged and some jehadis are now eating raisins, but frankly, recreating a terrorist camp or recruiting some more jehadi's is very easy, hardly take a few weeks to be operational again.

This is where the problem lies for General Musharraf. His army's incompetence has created a problem in the minds of the Kashmiri's. On the other hand, if he tries his level best to eliminate the problem by pouring in funds, rebuilding infrastructure (anticipated to be in the billions of rupees), the Pakistani's themselves will moan and groan (again, read what the West Germans think about the billions of Euro's poured into East Germany). As is quite commonly reported from the drawing rooms of the Pakistani intelligentsia at home and abroad, Pakistan has paid heavily for Kashmir and will now have to pay significantly more. General Musharraf is now stuck between a rock and a hard place. So is this earthquake General Musharraf's Katrina? The answer is yes.

All this to be taken with a grain of salt

(The opinion expressed herein are strictly the author's and do not reflect the positions, official or otherwise, of any firm or organisation, that the author is associated with at the present or has been in the past or may be in future. Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta, currently lives in the City of London and works there in various capacities in the Banking Sector.)

First Published: Nov 04, 2005 00:00 IST