two years the doors to a lasting peace in Kashmir and
an end to six decades of hostility with Pakistan had been
held open for India by the most unlikely of persons
Pervez Musharraf. For all of those two years Indian policy
makers spared no effort to find reasons not to go through
it. Last weekend those doors began to swing shut. India
will need to act decisively and show exceptional foresight
to keep them open.
doors began to swing shut in Karachi last Saturday.
There was nothing quiet about what happened there
34 people paid with their lives for a piece of political
theatre that many in Pakistan believe was engineered
by Musharraf through the MQM to give him an excuse to
call off the October presidential election.
so great has been its impact upon Pakistan''s domestic
politics that its implications for Indo-Pak relations
and the future of Kashmir have gone completely unnoticed.
In Karachi the democratic opposition, which had muted
its criticism of his regime for years, has shed its
inhibitions and came out against him in force. With
that the moderate, centrist coalition that Musharraf
had forged after he seized power in 1999, has finally
idea that Musharraf, a military dictator, set out to
forge a centrist coalition is not easy to digest, because
the word is normally used to describe arrangements between
political parties. What Musharraf set out to forge soon
after he came to power was a coalition of centrist forces
within the country. And in that he was eminently successful.
gave his authoritarian rule a distinctive flavour from
the very beginning. He got rid of his main political
opponents not by executing, assassinating or imprisoning,
but by exiling them. He tried, and to some extent succeeded,
in forging a tacit agreement with the Pakistan Muslim
League and the Pakistan Peoples'' Party to tone down
political conflict in the national interest. Most important
of all, far from muzzling the press he gave it a degree
of freedom that it had not known since the early ''50s.
It is in his time that private television came to Pakistan.
virtually his first days in office Musharraf sought
to discourage religious extremism, and build a modern
Islamic state. His initial attempts to prevent militants
from carrying arms in public and raising donations for
Jihad were half-hearted, but that changed after 9 /
with a virtual ultimatum from the US to join the invasion
of Afghanistan or face the destruction of vital security
installations Musharraf decided to turn crisis into
opportunity and launch a grand project to turn Pakistan
into a modern Islamic state on the lines of Ataturk''s
Turkey. He turned his back on the Taliban, delivered
Al Qaeda cadres in the hundreds to the Americans, banned
a round dozen sectarian organisations and announced
an ambitious programme to close down Madrassas that
were turning out terrorists and modernise education
in the remainder.
also tried to bolster Centrist forces in Pakistan by
adopting a consensual style of governance. A strong
believer in the power of persuasion, he developed the
habit of prefacing or, when that was not possible, explaining
his decisions on crucial issues to representative groups
from the political parties, religious organisations,
think tanks, and journalists.
also sought to minimise conflict and expand the area
of consensus by bringing some of the most restive elements
in the country into parliament and making them part
of his ruling coalition. He was especially successful
in this with the MMA and the MQM. He tried to balance
this by also, using his powers of nomination to bring
staunch liberals into it. These include some of the
most independent women activists in Pakistan and the
unrelenting critics of military rule in the media.
terms of concrete achievements he has not a great deal
to show. The organisations he banned, like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba
and the Jaish-e-Muhammad, have continued to thrive under
different names. His government has made at best limited
progress in reforming the madrassas.
failed to enact minor but important reforms in the blasphemy
law and he all but backed out of his commitment to reform
the infamous Hudood laws, enacted by Gen.Zia
ul-Haq in 1979: The amendment that the Pakistan parliament
passed in November last year kept all of their iniquitous
provisions applied almost exclusively to women
intact. All it did was to make it possible for
the accused to post bail.
these failures, Musharraf came as a breath of fresh
air to Pakistan''s people and its demoralised intelligentsia,
for he was the first military ruler to turn his back
on the fundamentalists and reached out to the liberal,
moderate elements in Pakistani society. By doing so
he empowered them to an extent that no previous Pakistani
regime had been able to do.
the centrist consensus that he built has been unravelling
for some time. This is partly because of his own mistakes,
but mainly because of the extreme unpopularity of the
war- without-end in Afghanistan. The former have unleashed
a spate of criticism in the media and the public that
has sown the seeds of uncertainty in him and made him
withdraw into a small circle of trusted advisers. Isolation
has increased his tendency to miscalculate and make
decision to rely mainly on force to deal with the insurgency
in Balochistan was one such mistake. This was highlighted
by the reaction across the entire western part of the
country from Quetta to Karachi after the killing of
Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti.
attempt to push the chief justice of Pakistan out of
office was a second. There have been other, less conspicuous,
errors of judgment.
opposition''s decision not to back down on the chief
justice issue has no doubt been influenced by the approach
of the presidential election, which Musharraf is determined
to push through with the existing parliament instead
of after a fresh parliamentary election.
this been the only challenge that Musharraf faced he
would have surmounted it with relative ease, because
the opposition would have found it far from easy to
explain to ordinary people how the removal of one person,
or the transgression o a single convention, can alter
their lives. But for more than a year Musharraf''s coalition
has been fraying because of growing anger in Pakistan
against the endless killing of Pashtoon civilians by
and growing world-wide discrimination against Muslims
has fed an insidious resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism
that has begun to affect life even in Islamabad. Two
firebrand clerics have attracted a number of banned
militant organisations to a mosque known as the Lal
Masjid,. Next door is the Jamia Hafsa
a self-styled Women''s Islamic University, which is sending
burqa-clad brigades to invade children''s libraries,
close down alleged brothels and kidnap their inmates
and children. Students from the capital''s many Madrassas
have ransacked dozens of music and video stores and
made bonfires of their wares. Pakistan has experience
three suicide bombings in the past three months, two
of them in the past two weeks.
liberals suspect that Musharraf is letting all this
happen in Islamabad to justify re-imposing martial law
if the need arises. But it is equally likely that he
has been weakened by his involvement in the protracted
Afghan war to the point where he no longer feels strong
enough to tackle the resurgent fundamentalism head on.
Either way, the peace talks are the last thing on his
mind just now. This does not necessarily mean that they
will have to be put on hold till after the elections.
But to bring them to fruition New Delhi will have to
take the initiative in a way that it has signally failed
to do so far. It does not have much time left.
author''s articles can be read at www.premshankarjha.com)