Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pakistan Today

If Musharraf couldn’t do it, who could?

From The Statesman
ND Batra
Pakistan and its humongous problems won’t go away. In fact they are spilling into neighbouring countries and beyond.

In its six decades of bloody history, one of the country’s prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged like a thug and two others, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, were unceremoniously booted out from power and forced into exile. When under the pressure of “friendly persuasion” by outside powers, the two political rivals, with no love lost between them, were allowed to return to Pakistan, Mrs Bhutto, a darling of the West, was killed in an election melee and the other returnee, Mr Sharif, has been plotting revenge against the (ex)General who humiliated him in a 1999 putsch.

ince the 1980s when General Zia-ul-Haq seized power, Pakistan has been gradually turned into a nation with a fundamentalist mindset. In varying degrees, every institution, including the Pakistan armed forces and the ISI, has been infused with the fundamentalist virus that spread from Saudi-financed Wahabbi schools. Islamic fundamentalists and the US-financed Afghanistan armed resistance ultimately drove the Soviets out and also factored into the final collapse of the Soviet Union.

When the United States withdrew its presence from Afghanistan leaving well-armed guerrillas behind, the ISI in collusion with Al-Qaida and its financial resources raised the Taliban that overran the country, imposing brutal order on the war-ravaged nation. By any historical standard the ISI-Taliban control of Afghanistan was a remarkable achievement of the Pakistan armed forces. No less significant has been the development of nuclear weapons, which made Pakistan a nation that could not be ignored in the light of proliferation threats and Islamic militancy.

On Christmas Day in 2003 when suicide bombers hit Mr Musharraf’s motorcade ~ certainly not the last attempt to kill him~ many analysts wondered what good was the mighty General to the United States in its global mission of fighting terrorism if he could not protect himself. Against all odds, Mr Musharraf put up a face of being a steadfast ally of the United States in its fight against Al- Qaida terrorism. He cautiously responded to peace overtures from India. But many in the West began to be impatient with him. Some wondered whether Mr Musharraf was fully committed to fighting Al-Qaida; or had another agenda.

But the United States saw no alternative to the man who seemed to control both the military and civilian life.

In the beginning, Mr Musharraf had an aura of “exceptionalism” about him, as if he were a man of destiny. He led a bloodless coup in 1999, promising to end political corruption and take Pakistan into a new direction. He conjured the vision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as to how he had liberated Turkey from Islamic orthodoxy and made it a modern country. But Mr Mushrraf’s dream died too soon.

When the events of 9/11 forced him to reluctantly break away from the Taliban (whose control over Afghanistan had created an illusion of strategic depth for Pakistan) and join the US war against Al-Qaida, Mr Musharraf invoked the Prophet Muhammad’s political alliances and strategies (even with the enemies) and the Prophet’s final triumph.

Unfortunately, Mr Musharraf’s opportunistic alliance with Islamic parties to build a political base to keep his secular rivals, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), out of power backfired; he unwittingly allowed extremism to grow. In 2002, Mr Musharraf assumed wide-ranging powers, including the power to amend the Constitution and dismiss Parliament. Under the new deal, which Parliament approved with the help of the ruling coalition and the Islamic alliance, the Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Mr Musharraf’s seizure of power, including all orders and ordinances, could not be questioned “in any court or forum on any ground whatsoever.” Not even the US President has so much immunity for his actions.

The General who would become a civilian one day would continue to have the power to dissolve Parliament ~ though with the subsequent approval of the Supreme Court ~ until his term ended in 2007. The Supreme Court seemed the last best hope for democratic aspirations in Pakistan but he fired the Chief Justice and several judges who might have gone against him and overturned his election as President in 2007 for another five years. Out of fear, like Richard Nixon, he over-reached himself. The lame duck National Assembly passed the constitutional amendment in three days and the Senate rubber-stamped it. Transition to democracy seemed safe for Mr Musharraf’s continuation as a powerful head of the state. But the February parliamentary elections brought his political enemies, the slain Bhutto’s PPP and Mr Sharif’s PML-N, into power.

Initially, Mr Musharraf’s goal might have been to pursue his grand vision of making Pakistan a modern progressive Muslim nation. Apart from developing working relations with the secular parties whose leadership remained exiled and barred from political participation, Mr Musharraf kept up the momentum of building peaceful relations with India through dialogue, trade and cultural exchanges.

Even the Kashmir problem seemed solvable.

But Mr Musharraf failed to comprehend and control two contradictory forces in Pakistan, the militant Islamic extremism that is not only prevalent in the tribal belts of the Northwest but also in the main street as well as the barracks; and the so-called growing legal-eagle educated classes who benefited from the 6-7 per cent economic growth but who saw their last best hope for freedom and democracy in the judiciary not in his authoritarian rule.

On Pakistan’s Independence Day, Mr Musharraf, under the threat of impeachment, begged his political enemies for reconciliation. “If we want to put our economy on the right track and fight terrorism then we need political stability. Unless we bring political stability, I think we can’t fight them properly… Political stability, in my view, can only be brought through a reconciliation approach as opposed to confrontation,” Musharraf said.

During most of the nine years since he seized power, Mr Musharraf exercised absolute power; nevertheless, Pakistan saw little peace and stability. Now with the return of chaotic democracy, Pakistan is still “the most dangerous country in the world,” which the United States cannot ignore. Nor can India.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

No comments:

Post a Comment