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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Musharraf under siege: Endgame for Pakistan’s Military Regime

By Gurmeet Kanwal

The Pakistani people are living through turbulent times and, General Musharraf, the self-styled President, is under tremendous pressure. The United States-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan has shaken Pakistan’s polity like no other event in its troubled history. The ignominious defeat of the Taliban and its al Qaeda guests, the self-appointed foot soldiers of Islam, in 2001 was in reality a military and diplomatic defeat for Pakistan as it was fighting a “proxy war” in Afghanistan, just as it is waging a proxy war against India through its mercenary Islamists. Though the Pakistanis failed to see it, this denouement was inevitable. It was brought about by several decades of the adverse overarching influence of the Pakistan army on the nation’s polity and its foreign policy.

Mired in a virulent madrasa-Kalashnikov-narcotics smuggling-terrorism culture, looted by its wily and corrupt politicians and ruthlessly trodden over by the army’s jackboot, Pakistan was on the verge of becoming a failed state when the terrorist strikes in New York and Washington D.C. in September 2001 gave it a chance to redeem itself. General Pervez Musharraf quickly saw the advantages of joining the international coalition against terrorism. He grabbed the opportunity, unceremoniously jettisoned his nation's long-standing Afghan policy and threw in his lot with the US.

This expedient step shook the nation and created deep fissures among the Corps Commanders who now guide Pakistan’s destiny. Today, American troops have firmed-in for what is quite obviously a long-term military presence on Pakistani soil and Musharraf has been left with no choice but to launch a crackdown against Pakistan’s Jihads. With two assassination attempts on his life behind him, the General finds himself in a most unenviable position – Pakistan’s polity has been torn asunder by recent events, the Mullahs are up in arms, his support base within the army is being gradually eroded and US troops are not only lined up in full battle gear across Pakistan’s western border but also making deep forays into Pakistani territory.

Musharraf has made only tentative attempts so far to build bridges with the politicians. He has gone on record to state that he would never hand over power to Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto and has imposed a ban on them. Completely ignoring the politicians is a major mistake. Though the politicians are still in disarray, the emergence of a broad alliance cutting across the political divide remains a possibility now that Nawaz Sharif’s PML and Benazir Bhutto’s PPP finding it expedient to put their political differences temporarily aside and come together to oppose the military regime. Along with 17 other political parties, they have formed an "Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy". Present indications are that Musharraf may accept Benazir Bhutto’s return as a PPP leader if she concedes that she will not ask to be made prime minister.

If there was any section of the Pakistan elite that appeared to be satisfied with the Musharraf regime’s initial performance, it was the Muslim clergy and the numerous terrorist outfits spawned by it. Because of the remarkable convergence in the Pakistan army’s and the clergy’s anti-India posturing and actions, the so-called Jihads were the only ones who received the military regime’s active support. However, in view of Musharraf’s strong support to the US for launching attacks against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and the imprisonment of several Jihadi leaders, the Islamist parties have gradually fallen out with the Musharraf regime. Musharraf’s promise to put an end to Islamist fundamentalism within Pakistan and the prolonged crackdown against the Jihads in Waziristan before the cease-fire agreement was signed, have further infuriated the Jihadi outfits.

By rebuilding bridges with the US, Musharraf had gained a lifeline. Consequently, almost all US sanctions had been waived, IMF loans had been re-scheduled, Pakistan had been allowed to buy US weapons including F-16 fighter aircraft and, from a pariah state, Pakistan had once again become not only a frontline state but also a major non-NATO ally (MNNA). However, the US is now tired of the double game that Pakistan is continuing to play by covertly supporting the al Qaeda and Taliban remnants through its various Jihadi outfits and the ISI while overtly professing to have had a change of heart. It is no secret that most of the hardcore Taliban and al Qaeda mercenaries who survived the war are now in Pakistan. In the long run, the US will not let Pakistan off the hook for its complicity with the terrorists. It will continue to accept Pakistan's support as long as such support is crucial to its own national interests and will have no hesitation in once again discarding Pakistan when its own requirements have been met. Quite obviously, there is more trouble ahead for General Musharraf.

General Musharraf’s long-term plans for his country have not been formally articulated but are not a mystery. He will definitely ensure that power is handed over only after the army is given a formal role in governance – a long standing army demand – by amending the Constitution. In the unlikely eventuality that Musharraf heeds the call to step down as COAS, he will follow in Zia’s footsteps and continue as Pakistan’s de facto ruler. However, dissension in the higher ranks is simmering just beneath the surface and Musharraf’s first priority is to keep his own flock together.

Whichever course of action Musharraf chooses, there is unlikely to be any change in the Pakistan army’s hostility towards India and its covert support, even sponsorship, of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism across the international boundary. Musharraf has made it clear several times that Pakistan will continue to provide diplomatic, moral and political support for what he insists is a “freedom struggle” in Kashmir. While Pakistan might appear to have reduced the overt infiltration of so-called Kashmiri “freedom fighters” across the Line of Control, it is still doing so covertly by looking for smarter methods of inducting more Jihads; for example, through neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh.

Pakistan’s proxy war with India will go on because the Pakistan army will not allow Musharraf to change its fundamental policy towards India. Hence, peace in Kashmir and between India and Pakistan is door asto – a distant dream.
Gurmeet Kanwal: The author is Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.

- Asian Tribune -

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