allies have him by the neck. his people think he is an American puppet.
The Taliban are rising again and Musharraf is clueless
Former prime ministers
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif once vowed to chop each other up and
throw the pieces into the sea. Now they are best friends, having just
signed a pact in exile to overthrow the “tyrannical regime of
General Pervez Musharraf”. And why ever not? They have much in
common. Both have been spawned and spurned in turns by the Pakistani
father ZA Bhutto was plucked out of obscurity by Field Marshal Ayub
Khan and made foreign minister of Pakistan. He then went on to become
prime minister over the political carcasses of Generals Ayub and Yahya
Khan but fell foul of General Zia-ul-Haq when he overarched into Bonapartism.
His daughter has been on this or that side of the generals ever since.
Nawaz Sharif was
nurtured in the backwaters of old Lahore by General Gilani, the Punjab
Governor and a former isi head, and gifted to General Zia. But as pm
from 1990 to 1993, the ungrateful fellow stepped on the toes of two
Army chiefs and lost his job. Given a second chance in 1997, he sacked
Army chief General Jehangir Karamat in 1998, but was dispatched by General
Pervez Musharraf in 1999 just as he was readying to sack him and crown
himself Amir ul Momineen, or Grand Ruler of the Faithful.
Thus, both Bhutto
and Sharif must thank Pakistan Army generals for their good fortune
in ruling Pakistan and their own bad politics in being exiled from it.
But their self-inflicted
tragedy is nothing compared to the love-hate relationship of the fundamentalist
parties, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan, with the
Pakistan Army. The ji got the rough end of the stick from the secular
General Ayub Khan in the 60s but was embraced by the Islamist General
Zia in the 80s. Since then, the Army has mollycoddled the ji and the
Jamiat-e-Ulema for doing its strategic bidding in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
But now Musharraf is running with the hare (the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal
or six-party religious group comprising the ji and Jamiat-e-Ulema that
rules in the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan and supports
Al Qaeda and the Taliban) and hunting with the hound (the US), so trouble
is brewing. The mullahs have decided to join forces with Bhutto and
Sharif to overthrow Musharraf.
If this is remarkable,
so too is the disarray in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid)
(PML-Q), or King’s Party. Having shed two pms since the 2002 elections,
there is now a Forward Bloc of oppositionists within the ruling alliance
that is led by Farooq Leghari (a former Bhutto-appointed president who
switched, sacked her government and later joined hands with Musharraf)
and an Outside Block of oppositionists within the alliance comprising
turncoats from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Last week, the Muttahida
Qaumi Movement, an ally in Sindh, stabbed the PML-Q chief minister by
resigning all cabinet positions, and threatened to sit in the Opposition
with the PPP.
Pakistan could plunge into another domestic and international
But the international
scene is even more complex and dangerous. Relations with India, Afghanistan
and America are slipping. This could impact on the domestic situation
and weaken Musharraf’s hand further. Consider the contradictions
in Musharraf’s situation.
He is perceived
as a US puppet in a widely anti-American country. But America and the
international media are getting increasingly angry with him for not
leashing the Taliban and ending US losses in Afghanistan. He is perceived
as a peacemaker with India but India is making him look foolish by not
reciprocating his flexibility. He talks of democracy and free and fair
multi-party elections next year. But he refuses to doff his uniform.
He is afraid of getting legitimacy from a new parliament after elections
and has all but outlawed the two mainstream parties and exiled their
moderate and still-popular leaders. He insists Pakistan is shining because
of his economic policies but admits that people in the urban areas are
hurting because of them. Worse, Pakistan’s tribal periphery is
bristling with a quarter of the Army and a great new game replete with
foreign intervention, human assets and technical liabilities is underway
with unforeseen consequences. Now, India says that Pakistani jehadis
have a hand in the Mumbai bombings. Similarly, the US and Afghanistan
say Pakistan is responsible for the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan.
Musharraf denies these charges but counters that India, Afghanistan
and “others” have a role in creating and supporting the
Baluch insurgency. What’s the meaning of this? Where is Musharraf‘s
The scales seem
to be tilted against Musharraf’s Pakistan because America is on
the side of India and Karzai’s Afghanistan. This is because the
US is building a long-term global-strategic relationship with India
against China while trying to maintain a short-term regional-tactical
one with Pakistan because of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Thus, instead
of Pakistan benefiting from an internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute
through jehadi attacks, it has suffered by being branded a hotbed of
terrorism. Similarly, instead of improving its bargaining position vis-à-vis
Kabul owing to the Taliban card, Pakistan and Musharraf have now got
to contend with the dangerous and destabilising consequences of the
birth of Talibanism inside Pakistan as well as a potential deterioration
in its relationship with the US.
The developing “squeeze”
on Pakistan is increasing. Both the jehadis and the Taliban have become
so autonomous that they are now obstructing Pakistan’s path of
dispute settlement with India and Afghanistan. Domestically, too, they
have obliged Musharraf to stick with the mullahs rather than to share
power with the progressive parties for political survival. Are there
any signs that Musharraf is becoming aware of the pitfalls of this strategy
and is taking steps to extricate himself and Pakistan from this mess?
Over 200 Taliban
were rounded up in Quetta two weeks ago. A hundred or so Taliban refugees
have been marched back into Afghanistan recently. Pakistan has also
provided US and British troops some support to combat the Taliban in
Afghanistan. In exchange, the UK has banned the Baluchistan Liberation
Army (BLA) and the US ambassador to Islamabad has defended Musharraf
and criticised President Karzai. Significantly, Islamabad has denounced
the perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts and urged India to keep the peace
process on track. Incredibly, too, Musharraf is moving to amend the
anti-women Hudood laws and said that he wanted to make alliances with
“progressive forces”, a possible step in the direction of
forging a broader policy consensus. Is he serious about changing foreign
and domestic policies or is he trying to fob off his detractors?
It is significant
that the UK and the UAE have still not extradited the bla leaders to
Pakistan, and Washington is insisting on full democracy and civilian
control over the military in Pakistan. Questions are being asked in
India over whether Musharraf is still the right man with whom to do
business. So time is short and options are fleeting. The jehadi and
Taliban “assets” have spawned powerful anti-Pakistan and
anti-Musharraf “liabilities” at home and abroad. If these
are not dismantled swiftly and decisively, Musharraf’s Pakistan
could plunge into another domestic and international crisis again.
is editor of The Friday Times and Daily Times in Pakistan