Uneasy lies the head | india | Hindustan Times
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Uneasy lies the head

Islamic or dictatorial, Pakistan’s future and Pervez Musharraf’s longevity look uncertain today, writes Vikram Sood.

india Updated: May 31, 2007 19:53 IST

Conventional wisdom has it that Pervez Musharraf is in a spot of bother these days with so many troubles erupting simultaneously. Even the mentor in Washington is uneasy at the way things are not working out in Afghanistan and wants Musharraf to do more. There has been violence and killings in Karachi and Peshawar, Balochistan remains restive, the Islamists continue with their protests in Islamabad, while Waziristan simmers with surface calm. Even democracy was rearing its head in unexpected ways.

The Taliban ideologues have spread to the ‘settled areas’ of NWFP like Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu. In Charsadda, the home of the legendary Badshah Khan and his heirs Wali Khan and Asfandyar, the Taliban have burnt CD video shops and music shops demanding that they show the CDs they want to be shown and a strict observance of Islamic laws. Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, who belongs to Charsadda, escaped an assassination attempt. The bastion of the liberal secular Pathans is under attack. What we have is a highly Talibanised belt on the unstable and porous Afghan-Pakistan border spreading outwards from there. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are getting closer to Kabul. In Pakistan, they have strongholds in northern Balochistan and the NWFP and have reached Islamabad.

The General would like the world to believe that all is under control in Balochistan. It is just that the media have been frightened into silence after six journalists were shot dead last year. The arrests of numerous over-ground activists have not led to the arrests of the underground activists. Attacks on government troops, bomb blasts and mine explosions continue. Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal, the veteran Baloch leader, a most prominent leader of the Baloch struggle, confirmed in an interview recently that the Baloch were not willing to live under the tutelage of Punjab-Pakistan. The Baloch were struggling for complete independence and an armed struggle was the only way, he clarified. These are strong and brave words even if made to an English language magazine.

Musharraf is aware that his career is at a crucial point as it is ‘election year’ in Pakistan. In the US too, the Republicans know that they need an exit from Iraq and Afghanistan ahead of next year’s presidential elections. Musharraf can render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, like a prominent Al-Qaeda leader (maybe, al Zawahiri) at an opportune moment. This could help the US declare victory in the war on terror and go home. Musharraf can also pursue his proposal for a Muslim peace-keeping force in Iraq, making himself indispensable to the Americans.

Many Pakistanis believe that the Lal Masjid episode was meant to be Musharraf’s insurance and his price for a secure future. He was the 21st century Casabianca who stood on the deck while the fires of radical Islam raged around him. The dangers he faced for carrying out instructions from his American allies and the risks he was taking had to be compensated. Unfortunately, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s obduracy was not part of the script and the drama went awry.

Suddenly, Pakistani politicians discovered that they had a rallying point and the massive demonstrations in Lahore sent Musharraf into a panic. The Chief Justice’s march had to be stopped because a similar demonstration in Karachi would challenge the army’s supremacy, which would be blasphemy, especially now. How long this defiance lasts and how it faces up to the inevitable radical Islamic response is debatable. But with more than 50 (mostly Pathans) — killed in the MQM-led violence in Karachi, one wonders if the price paid for taking succour with fellow mohajirs may be too high for Musharraf in the long-run. There is seething anger against the MQM in the Punjab and NWFP and revenge attacks by Pathans are par for the course. Musharraf may have stopped Chief Justice Chaudhry’s rally in Karachi but it has left him floundering for answers.

The demonstrations in Lahore and killings in Karachi were more an expression of anger against years of colonisation by the army. Ayesha Siddiqa, in her latest book Military Inc, highlights how the army has developed a stranglehold over all aspects of life in Pakistan, corporate and political. From the early days, the civil bureaucracy, the feudals and the politicians used the army to balance each other out, until a serving General Ayub Khan was invited to take over as the Defence Minister. The rest is history.

Over time, the armed forces became a predatory force with an unrestrained and unauditable transfer of public assets and funds to private coffers mostly for the senior echelons of the armed forces and their favourites. The Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust are two of the largest conglomerates in Pakistan. But no one really knows the financial assets controlled by Pakistan’s military business enterprises. The armed forces have been involved in massive land grabs all over the country — usually the most fertile or most profitable. And they have access to all lucrative civilian assignments.

Such a force will want to preserve its primacy in perpetuity. In fact, it has to do all it can to preserve this; otherwise, the reaction could be devastating. And primacy requires a threat. At the same time, such a force is unlikely to be willing to fight a real war as it has far too much to lose. This fighting would be left to the jehadis — misguided and foolish but effective and dispensable. For India, it means that the jehadi option is a permanent part of the Pak army’s plans.

Pakistan, thus, is not a victim of terrorism, as the Americans would have us believe. But it is a recipient of American largesse of about $ 1 billion annually, ostensibly for fighting America’s war on terror. Pakistan is a victim of its own crony politics, crony economics and sponsored jehad. Years of warped politics have left the State with an imbalanced power structure heavily in favour of the military and its hangers-on who have vested interests in the continuance of the present system. This has created a society sharply divided on ethnic and sectarian lines and deeply suspicious of one another.

There are implications for India. It is virtually certain that before the vote in the US in November 2008, the Americans will declare victory and leave a Talibanised Afghanistan under Pakistan’s supervision. It would not be important at that time if Musharraf were weakened so long as the army remains paramount and is able to exploit any domestic political arrangement worked out in its favour. Pakistan will hope to formalise the Durand Line and exercise unfettered control over Afghanistan. It is unlikely that the Pushtuns will accept a formalisation of the Durand Line. Instability could exacerbate. This would not bring peace to the warring factions in Afghanistan.

This could mean Indian consulates in Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad would be closed and a loss of many good friends in Afghanistan. We will have very little to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Afghanistan. We should be prepared to see the revival of terrorist camps in Khost and resurgence of terrorism in India. Bomb attacks on the Samjhauta Express, the Mumbai metro, Varanasi and Hyderabad could be part of this scheme for mainland India.

India would have to be prepared for the inevitable departure of the Americans and a Talibanised neighbourhood. Islamic or dictatorial, Pakistan’s future and Musharraf’s longevity look uncertain today.

Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing