The Politics of Pakistan

The period since the start of the cease-fire on the Line of Control on Nov. 25, 2003 has been highly eventful in Pakistan.

Four major trends are discernable. First, there has been a steady movement toward putting the Kashmir dispute aside and moving to cooperate with India on other issues. The ceasefire itself is the vital step since it has halted covering fire for terrorist infiltration. The willingness of Pakistan to play down the Kashmir issue in the SAARC summit and subsequent peace rhetoric have set the direction. What is particularly interesting is the mildness of criticism this movement is generating in Pakistan.

Second, there appears to be a coalition of “jihadi” terrorists and senior army officers doing their best to kill Gen. Musharraf. One should notice that Musharraf’s security arrangements are being sabotaged in Rawalpindi, presumably by high-ranking army officers, yet the ceasefire on the Line of Control is holding. The 10th army corps, headquartered in Rawalpindi, some of whose members must have been accomplices to the bombers, is responsible for Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. It is reasonable to suspect that some officers who want Musharraf dead do not want to break the ceasefire with India.

Third, while jihadis attempt to assassinate Musharraf, their mentors, the religious leaders of the fundamentalist political alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), have cut a deal with him. They agreed to the Legal Framework Order (LFO). The MMA permitted the parliament to endorse Musharraf’s presidency while he promised to retire as army chief before the end of this year. Musharraf also promised to take the permission of the pliant Supreme Court before dismissing the parliament. The promise to vacate the army chief position is important. Breaking this promise would offend not only the MMA, but also other generals who are awaiting their turn as army chief. President Musharraf will retain the right to hire and fire generals.

Prior to retiring from the army, Musharraf will try his best to arrange the top army appointments so as to perpetuate his effective authority as president. But Pakistani generals have a long track record of turning on those who appointed them. Musharraf himself did that, of course. He has no political resources within Pakistan to fall back on after leaving the army. The U.S. will likely embrace the next army chief. The current vice-chief is Gen. Yusuf; he is friendly to the U.S.

Finally, Pakistan’s former nuclear customers are now ratting it out. This is proving highly embarrassing. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has paid more attention to Pakistan’s nuclear program but has taken only incremental steps. Two years ago, Abdul Qadir Khan, the father of Pakistan’s bomb and national hero, was forced out of his position as head of the nuclear program. Then, in December, he was publicly humiliated. He was interrogated and accused of selling nuclear secrets out of greed. While the accusation is obviously false, the spectacle of Musharraf having to treat Khan disrespectfully is humiliating for Pakistanis at large. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will continue to tolerate Pakistani transgressions for fear of a fundamentalist takeover.

What we are witnessing in Pakistan is more the breakdown of an old order than the rise of a new one. The breakdown is necessary for the rise, but does not assure the rise. The army-jihadi combine that had been rising for last eight or nine years has come apart. Promoting terrorism against India in Kashmir has backfired on Musharraf. A terrorist from the Kashmir-oriented Jaish-e-Mohammad was one of the suicide bombers in the Dec. 25 assassination attempt and several Jaish members have been arrested. Even the jihadis are growing disillusioned with their efforts in Kashmir. America is still at a loss on how to deal with Pakistan, but the cost of its confusion is becoming more apparent.

In Pakistan, the Kashmir cause and military rule have always supported each other. Now the army is moving to abandon the Kashmir cause. Yet the LFO deal perpetuates a modified dictatorship. The dictatorial president will have neither mass support nor direct command of the army. His power will rest on a cheap deal. His right to dismiss generals will soon elicit bitterness in the army. Further, slow, hidden, but tough negotiations with America on Pakistan’s nuclear assets are inevitable.

The only real hope for Musharraf to avoid an ignominious end is to move decisively toward democracy and civilian supremacy. He will lose his job in the beginning, but has a chance to return later in some capacity. Both the LFO deal and the assassination attempts reveal the insecurity of his dictatorial position. He will have to bring the politicians he hates, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, back and let them compete in new elections. If the two politicians cooperate with each other and continue the peace process with India, they can bring a modicum of civilian supremacy over the army. Musharraf can gamble that the old political class will quickly generate enough resentment that he can return to power through democratic means.

Many states have conducted successful fundamental reforms. But when Gorbachev initiated reforms, the U.S.S.R. disintegrated. Pakistan’s position is close to that of the U.S.S.R. Without enmity with India, Pakistan has little to fall back on. The next step will be to build a new Pakistani nation. If that fails, many possibilities are open.

Sanjoy Banerjee teaches international relations at San Francisco State University. He writes about India, America, and the world.



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