Pakistan's bleak future

17 Jan 2008


Prem Shankar JhaWhen society goes into a blind panic, it invariably looks for a scapegoat on whom to pin the blame for its problems. Not just Pakistan, but the entire world has elected Musharraf to take the blame for the onrushing disintegration of the Pakistani State.

Nothing demonstrates this better than his utter failure to convince his own people that neither he, nor any arm of his government had anything to do with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Notwithstanding the suspicious confusion over the cause of her death, as Musharraf himself pointed out in an interview, the government had given her the heaviest security cover it was capable of. She was in a car that was bullet proof and, as it turned out ,  bomb proof. Nothing at all would have happened to her if she had stayed in the car and waved to her adoring fans from inside its safe confines.

 It was she who chose to defeat all these security measures and rose out of the car into the open air. The government could have planned to assassinate her; it could even have hired assassins from among the Jihadis to kill her. But it could neither have made her defeat all security precautions, nor chosen the time when she would do it. Even if they were sure that she would break the security cordon sooner or later, the assassin (or assassins) would have had to follow her and stay close to her all the time. Had he (they) been doing that it is inconceivable that he (they) would not have been noticed and challenged by her regular security detail.

The West is also in panic, but this is reflected by the way in which the media there is turning her death into a requiem for democracy. According to them Musharraf had lost the support of the people because, in his anxiety to retain his uniform, remain the head of state and forestall any challenge to his plans that could be mounted through the judiciary,  he began to flout both the  letter and the spirit of Pakistan's frail constitution with a contemptuous disregard for public opinion. The anger this aroused in the public destroyed his legitimacy and turned him into a liability. This opened the way for the resurgence of the Jihadis.

The only hope of preventing their further rise lay in the restoration of democracy to Pakistan. Western educated (and therefore democratic) Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan's only political party that had remained immune to Musharraf's blandishments was therefore Pakistan's last hope of stemming the rise of Jihad and the disintegration of the State. Her assassination could therefore prove a mortal blow not only for Pakistan but also for the "war on terror" that the West is currently waging in Afghanistan.

The truth is that Benazir was anything but a democrat. Her past history apart, her treatment of the PPP in her will as her personal chattel to be bestowed upon whomsoever she wished to favour, laid bare the feudal and authoritarian core of her being.

And Musharraf did not begin to lose his popularity when he flouted the canons of democracy, but   four years earlier when it became apparent to the Pakistani people that the war in Afghanistan was not going to end anytime soon, and that the killing, mostly of civilians, would not stop, that Pakistan had been forced into becoming a party to it, and that Musharraf was unwilling or unable to extricate it from the lethal quagmire in which it was caught.

Musharraf began to flout the constitution not because he had fallen in love with power but because Pakistan's involvement in the Afghan war was destroying the army from within, and the army was, and still is, the final dyke of the Pakistani state against the floods of chaos. 

Since 2004 some of Pakistan's most eminent retired policy makers and generals, such as Shafqat Mehmood, Najmuddin Sheikh, and former chief of the ISI Asad Durrani, had been writing in the newspapers warning the government to get out of the Afghan quagmire because the army did not consider it to be 'our war', and was therefore increasingly unwilling to fight it. 

But the fissures came into the open in September last year when a handful of Taliban were able to capture a detachment of 214 Pakistani solders including a Major and a Lieutenant Colonel, without firing a shot. What has not come into the limelight is the increasing number o desertions that are taking place from the Pakistan army. Radio chatter picked up by Indian intelligence agencies suggest that as many as 150 soldiers deserted to the Taliban in a single week in October.

Every mistake he has made in the past two years,  from ordering the killing of Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006 to his attempt  to keep his uniform, be elected by the outgoing parliament,  and change the chief justice of the supreme court, has been triggered by an increasingly desperate bid to keep the army behind the state in this supreme moment of crisis.

Benazir's assassination has finished Musharraf, and will certainly bring a PPP government to power. But instead of ending Pakistan's problems it might exacerbate them by making it more difficult to keep the army under the throne instead of upon it. The fact is that the drift into chaos and Jihad will not stop till Pakistan pulls out of the Afghan war. Since the war cannot be fought without Pakistan's active cooperation, the choice before NATO and the US is stark: pull out of Afghanistan or turn Pakistan into the next, the largest, and the most virulent recruiting ground for the jihad against the West (and of course, against India).

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