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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 48

Pakistan : Repeat of 1971?

Sunday 25 November 2007, by Sreedhar


Since the declaration of Emergency on November 3, the developments in Pakistan indicate that the country is slowly drifting into a civil war. General Musharraf’s rule is being opposed by two groups—Jehadis on the one hand and defunct political parties and activists of civil society on the other. The latest reports indicate there is even an under- ground movement opposing General Musharraf. According to unconfirmed reports, the Jehadis have captured large parts of the Swat area and Waziristan and they are moving in two directions—some are moving towards Peshawar and some others towards Islamabad. The initial reports indicate that the police and Pakistani paramilitary forces, numbering over 900 in these areas, have surrendered to the Tehreek Nafaz-e-Shariet Muhammadi (the Movement for Enforcement of Islamic Laws) with their weapons.

According to Western intelligence assessments over the past few years, the Pakistani armed forces are vertically split into pro- and anti-Jehadi forces. According to some assessments, around 40 to 50 per cent of the armed forces are sympathetic to the Jehadi cause and support them. The pro-Jehadi armed forces argue that they have fought along with them against the Red Army during the 1980s and facilitated their training in the subsequent years. Over the years, these Jehadis have become part and parcel of the Pakistan establishment. In addition, this more than two decades long association between the armed forces and Jehadis makes it clear that each support the other in their cause like the Jehadis facilitating Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear proliferation. With a majority of Jehadis being locals, now the rank and file of the armed forces are also asking the question: why should they fight against their brethren?

Meanwhile there is a tussle between the young lawyers of the Pakistan Bar Council and Benazir Bhutto to lead protests against General Musharraf from next week onwards. There is no trust among many young Pakistanis about Benazir’s credibility. She is being seen as a politician who colluded with General Musharraf and managed to come back to Pakistan.

In this backdrop, the immediate question that is being debated among various Pakistani friends is: what will be the future of the Pakistani polity? It is no longer being described as a failing state or failed state or withering state. They perceive the present developments as the beginning of the end of Pakistan. In this context one can visualise four scenarios.

THE first could be that General Musharraf will continue to rule Pakistan for some more time to come with a rag-tag coalition like Hamid Karzai is doing in next-door Afghanistan. Many observers feel that people like Benazir Bhutto may join the government any time. Some reports coming from Dubai indicate that Benazir has been offered the post of Prime Minister in the new dispensation by General Musharraf and she accepted it. At this stage one is not too sure how long such an arrangement can continue. Besides, seeing the opposition to General Musharraf which is increasing by the day, the ambitious Benazir may be looking for greener pastures and may even try to settle scores with the Pakistani Army. Some observers even feel she will ditch General Musharraf at at a time opportune to her and only the timing is not known.

The second scenario could be that the present breakdown of law and order will force some other General to step in and replace General Musharraf. Unconfirmed reports coming from Pakistan indicate that General Musharraf is under house arrest (!) and the Corps Commanders are debating about the modalities to be followed to change the head at the top. These reports gained further credence when the US State Department announced that they are not keeping all their options on one person—General Musharraf—alone.

Since most of Pakistan’s donor countries have expressed their displeasure about the declaration of Emergency, in the next few weeks the external aid inflow into Pakistan will considerably slow down. The Pakistani economy is sustaining itself during the past five years on external aid only. The present estimates point out that between 2001 and 2006 around $ 20 billion of aid had come to Pakistan. Thus if the aid inflow stops, the Pakistani economy would collapse. Already the Karachi stock market index is tumbling down indicating that there is a crisis in the Pakistani economy.

All this necessitates some quick action by the Pakistani armed forces, who are at the helm of affairs now, to turn the tide against these negative trends.

The third scenario could be that General Musharraf will hold elections as scheduled in January 2008 and restore democratic rule in the country. Already there are reports in the media saying that the Emergency is for two months only and elections will take place in January 2008.

However, this scenario seems to be highly unlikely for two reasons. At one level, in spite of pressure from allies like the US asking General Musharraf to give up his office as Chief of the Army Staff and allow the elections, General Musharraf is aware that he is indispensable to the United States in the latter’s war on terrorism. Therefore, whatever may be the friendly advises from the US, his support in Washington D.C. will not come down. At another level General Musharraf feels that the political vacuum created by him in the country and the influence enjoyed by the Jehadis will continue for some more time. Therefore, by doing a balancing act by pleasing the Jehadis and giving some incentives to people like Benazir, he can survive.

The last scenario could be that different socio-political forces in Pakistan pull the country in different directions. Already the Taliban-Al-Qaeda combine rule most of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and parts of NWFP. Many observers who visited these areas during the past few weeks say that these areas have declared themselves as independent from Islamabad. A Taliban type of rule is in vogue in these areas. In many government offices in the Jehadi occupied areas, the Pakistani National Flag has been pulled down and replaced by black and white flags reminiscent of Taliban-type of rule. A local private FM radio in the Swat area started announcing the areas captured by Jehadis from November 5 onwards.

There are reports saying that even the Pakistani Army, deputed by Islamabad to gain control of the area and establish its authority, has surrendered to the local tribal leaders loyal to the Taliban-Al-Qaeda.

In this dicey situation, the unfolding events indicate that two provinces, Baluchistan and NWFP, are tilting towards separation from Pakistan. In the past both these provinces felt that they are being exploited by the Punjabi dominated Pakistanis. Over the years the world has witnessed the demand for separation from Pakistan from these two provinces. In the past, the demand for the creation of Pakhtoonistan by Pashtuns and separate Baluchistan by the Baluchis (by people like the Khan of Kalat) was crushed by brute force. Now all these sub-ethnic forces are ganging up together again and are fighting against the Pakistani state. The coming months will show whether Pakistan is going to experience another 1971 type of situation.

THE territorial integrity of Pakistan is of immedi-ate concern to two major powers—the US and China and to the immediate neighbours of Pakistan. The US considers Pakistan as a front-line state in its war against terrorism. In fact the US has stationed more than 25,000 troops in Pakistan permanently. The US strategic community is divided over the division of Pakistan as a last resort in its war against terrorism. Some feel that a divided Pakistan will not be able to provide safe havens to the Jehadis. And managing smaller states would be much easier in the emerging geo-political order.

The Chinese consider that Pakistan provides an important outlet for them to reach the Indian Ocean. Their investment in the Gwadar port in Baluchistan is one example. The thriving bilateral trade by road via the Karakoram highway connecting both the countries is another example of the Chinese stakes in Pakistan. Till now the Chinese have refused to comment on the unfolding civil war like situation in Pakistan.

Many observers feel that neither of these two allies of Pakistan has any control over the events happening in Pakistan.

From the Indian perspective, the develop-ments in Pakistan are unfortunate and where they will lead to is being debated by the mandarins in the South Block. If the disintegra-tion of Pakistan becomes inevitable, this civil war among the new nation-states will continue for some more years to come. In this new situation what will be the position of Jehadis operating in J&K? In the new situation the Jehadis cannot expect any support from the Pakistani establishment as in the past.

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