The power struggle within Pakistan

16 Feb 2009


After seven  nerve-racking weeks, the tension between Pakistan and India has broken. Pakistan's response to the Indian dossier has been all that India had hoped it would be. Judging from what President Zardari's  interior adviser, Rehman Malik,  revealed, Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency has not only made full use of New Delhi's dossier, but collected sufficient additional evidence  to  frame  cases against eight of the principal  accused.

Many more arrests are  reportedly in the offing. Its request for additional information from Delhi on 30 issues therefore no longer looks like an attempt to stall, or to manufacture excuses in advance, for a predetermined failure of its investigation. India's response, that it  will assist to the extent possible is a clear, if cautious, acknowledgement of Pakistan's sincerity.

If Pakistan is able to be so forthright now, what was the reason for its earlier obduracy? Why did  President Zardari not send the ISI chief to Delhi after promising to do so? Why did  Islamabad  first offer full cooperation and then  start denying  that  Ajmal Qasab was a Pakistani without even meeting him?  Why  were its intelligence, police and  local officials  putting Faridkot, Qasab's village  in Punjab, under wraps even while it was promising full  cooperation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and secretary of state Condoleeza Rice ? 

Why did  Zardari  sack his  National Security Adviser, General Mahmud Durrani, when he admitted  to the Hindustan Times that Qasab was a Pakistani national, and why, for that matter did Gen Durrani admit this so openly when he knew that it would almost certainly lead to his dismissal?  Finally,  why did Pakistan  make light of the Indian dossier  even while its agencies were carrying out, as it now turns out, a thorough and professional investigation of its contents?

 The only credible explanation is the  bare-knuckled conflict that broke out on 27 November, after the terrorist attack on Mumbai, between Pakistan's entrenched military establishment and its fledgling democratic government. The struggle would not have erupted if  the Mumbai attack had followed the prescribed script.

Had all the terrorists either been killed  or managed to escape, the cover story that they were members of an indigenous  group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen that was  bent upon taking revenge for the atrocities committed on Indian Muslims in recent years, would have been sufficiently plausible to  hide the Lashkar -e-Tayyiba's tracks.

But three  things went wrong: the terrorists failed to sink the hijacked fishing trawler Kuber: Qasab was captured alive and, sometime after they holed up in the Oberoi and Taj hotels, the terrorists  began to realise that they were never meant to escape and that the plan they had been fed, of taking hostages to negotiate their way out of India, was bogus.

Qasab and the recovered trawler provided virtually incontrovertible proof that the attack had originated in Pakistan. A flurry of discussions between the terrorists and their handlers on the fate of the hostages enabled  the IB to trace the handlers and conclude that, as in the case of  the  attack  on the Indian embassy in Kabul last July, serving officers of the ISI were  involved in the attack on Mumbai.

The dossier India gave to Pakistan did not contain any evidence that directly implicated  the ISI and the army. But  had New Delhi's suspicions been unfounded  there would have been no dog-fight within the Pakistani state.  The Zardari government's immediate and unconditional offer of cooperation on 27 November was powerful evidence that it had had no hand in the attack. But by the same token, the army chief's unshakable determination to deny the  involvement of any Pakistanis and, later, to prevent  any  investigation that it could not control, provided equally strong evidence of its complicity.

Gen Mahmud  Durrani's decision to throw the glove down before his former colleagues reflected the intensity of his resentment. As a key adviser to Zardari, Durrani felt all of the pressure the latter was under. But as a military man  and  an ardent nationalist, he was not prepared to  remain party to a set of lies that were making Pakistan look increasingly ridiculous and putting it in dire peril. 

The  conflict between the civil and military state in Pakistan  is not, however,  the only reason for  the stiffening of the Gilani  government's stand after its initial eagerness to cooperate. The other is the hawkish cries that were let loose in India  by the media and its talking heads, and  echoed by some in the government who should have known better. These gave the Pakistan army just the shield of fear and nationalist fervour  that it needed to deflect the Pakistani public's attention away from what it had done.  The media-stoked reaction in India therefore ended by weakening  India's friends and potential allies in Pakistan.

If the Gilani-Zardari government persevered nevertheless, a large part of the credit goes to the extraordinarily courageous support it received from the most liberal and democratic elements in Pakistan's civil society. The Pakistani media were the first to  welcome their decision to send the ISI chief to India and their  offer to  cooperate  in the investigation. They were  the first to criticise  the government when it went into its mercifully short period of blind denial.

And it was Pakistani and Pakistan-born journalists who exposed, at considerable  risk to themselves, the attempt to make Qasab and his parents  'un-persons'.

New Delhi now faces a stark  choice: it can continue to treat the Pakistani state as an undifferentiated  whole  and  mistrust its motives, or it can recognise the epic struggle that its civil society is waging  against the military establishment, not to do India a favour but to save the kind of country they want Pakistan  to be. That should also be New Delhi's aim.

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