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Current Affairs ( 12 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Crunch time in Pakistan

By Praful Bidwai

August 12, 2008


After days of uncertainty, dramatic tension and flip-flops, Pakistan's ruling coalition has decided to ask President Pervez Musharraf to resign or face impeachment. This might not only end four-and-a-half months of political stasis, but begin what could be a decisive battle for the assertion of will of the elected representatives of the people against unaccountable centres of power.


The tortuous manner in which the decision was reached -- after much vacillation, many off-now, on-now moments, and the theatrical restoration of eight Sindh High Court judges by Musharraf amidst charges of perfidy -- raises questions about the solidity of the coalition's resolve and its ability to accomplish what is an extremely difficult legislative task even in the most favourable of circumstances in mature democracies.


It's also not excluded that Musharraf will strike suddenly to pre-empt or neutralise the impeachment move. Among the reasons that provoked the move was the apprehension that he was planning to dissolve the national and provincial governments and assemblies.


A confrontation will be averted if Musharraf himself throws in the towel in the knowledge that he may not be able to secure the backing of the United States or the Pakistan Army for a confrontationist course. After all, he is no longer in a critical day-to-day policy-making position, nor an indispensable ally of the US-led Global War on Terrorism (GWoT) in Afghanistan and Pakistan's border areas. Besides, Washington cannot relish the prospect of a massive new crisis in Pakistan during an election year.


As it appears from across the border, barely two months after my visit to Pakistan, the situation there is marked by tremendous instability and potential for retrogression.


As the divided and rudderless civilian political leadership flounders, Parliament debates no legislative business worth the name. The business of governance is in the deep freezer. Pakistan's economy is in poor shape. Pessimism and gloom rule.


The military is under enormous pressure from the US to escalate its operations against the Taliban in the badlands along the border with Afghanistan, or to allow the US-led International Security Assistance Force to undertake anti-militant raids across the border. Its Frontier Corps is unwilling and incapable of fighting pro-Taliban elements The army's authority stands greatly eroded and its popular acceptance, which has taken a beating over the past year, is plumbing new lows.


Extremist jehadi forces are growing across the length and breadth of Pakistan. The first anniversary of the Lal Masjid's storming was telling. Thousands of women pledged to raise their children for martyrdom in "holy war". Militants are torching girls' schools in the tribal Agency areas, where the writ of the state doesn't run.


There is a growing danger now that the gains from the recent trends towards democratisation could be undermined. These trends run against hierarchy and authoritarianism, negatively view the Three A's (Army, Allah and America), and favour moderation, openness and accountability.


Pakistan is regressing into a state of being a hostage to three fundamental tensions that have long determined its existence, but from which it uncertainly struggled to free itself: opposition between the imperatives of a modern, moderate state and a religion-based self-definition and identity; imbalance between military and civilian power; and skewed distribution of economic and political power between different regions.


Two recent developments have further complicated the Pakistan situation. The first was the July 26 notification placing the Inter-Services Intelligence agency under the control of the Interior Ministry, and its withdrawal within 7 hours following protests from the President's office and army headquarters.


The second is growing evidence, as believed by the Americans and the Indians that the ISI was involved in the July 7 suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, in which four Indians and 56 others were killed. This has adversely affected the already tense and crisis-ridden peace process with India. Mercifully, the process has not been suspended.


The ISI notification was timed to coincide with Prime Minister Gilani's visit to the United States and assure President Bush that the ISI under civilian control would cooperate earnestly with the US's GWoT". Its withdrawal had the opposite effect.


More important, it highlighted the weakness of the civilian government vis-a-vis the military. This is a significant setback to Pakistan's democratisation.


The second development is even more important. On July 12, the CIA despatched its deputy director Stephen R Kappes to Pakistan with evidence of the ISI's alleged links with pro-al-Qaeda militants. Along with the chairman of the joints chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen, he delivered "a pointed message" to Pakistani officials. This is the first time the CIA has confronted Islamabad with such intelligence


The CIA's reported assessment confirms what Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has publicly alleged about the attack on India's embassy in Kabul, and his identification of the ISI as the source of violent activities calculated to destabilise his country. It says the ISI has been passing to militants crucial inputs about the anti-Taliban operations planned by ISAF.


According to The New York Times, "the CIA assessment specifically points to links between members [of the ISI] and the militant network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, which American officials believe maintains close ties to senior figures of al-Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas." Haqqani is said to be the face of the resurgent Taliban in FATA.


In Colombo, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took up the issue with Gilani, who promised to order an independent investigation into the allegation. However, Musharraf has since accused India of fomenting trouble in Balochistan.


The Pakistani foreign ministry has also charged India and Afghanistan with instigating violence in its tribal areas, and held Afghanistan responsible for its failure to protect its consulate in Herat in Western Afghanistan from an attack on July 31.


Whatever the specific validity of these charges and counter-charges, there's little doubt that Afghanistan, a badly ravaged and unstable country, has emerged as a major battleground between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is not only keen to preserve its influence in that country which it has long regarded as its strategic backyard, or a region that gives it "strategic depth". It also seeks to deny India any influence in Afghanistan.


India, on the other hand, is not only keen to deepen its historic relationship with Afghanistan, which is a legitimate agenda. It also seems to be looking for a vantage point from which to launch low-intensity operations across the border into Pakistan. That purpose is less than legitimate, and risks sucking India into an ugly open-ended confrontation.


India has run one of the largest and most successful aid programmes in Afghanistan.. It has just expanded it from $750 million to $1.2 billion. Unlike Western aid projects, India routes its assistance without outsourcing it via numerous middlemen. Indian aid is far better focused than Western assistance and addresses felt needs in healthcare, education, urban transportation, and in the training of civil servants, diplomats, police and the judiciary. This has earned India a great deal of goodwill in Afghanistan.


It would be in India's and Pakistan's own interest to negotiate confidence-building measures, including joint projects, in Afghanistan as a means of defusing a new subcontinental cold war and rescuing the peace process. The alternative is competitive rivalry, which will harm of both India and Pakistan -- and above all, the Afghan people. -- end--


The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:


Source: The News, Pakistan