Pakistan is in a crisis of legitimacy. General Pervez Musharraf is in talks with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who he drove out of the country, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom he ousted from his chair and is back heading the judiciary, and in between all this, the General is busy cavorting with Islamic clerics he doesn’t really like.
A balance between the four players in the political equation—the military, the political class, civil society and the Islamic sector—needs to be re-established once again.
That will happen, but with results that cannot be presaged. What can be safely said is that the pattern and repertoire of military-political affairs in that country repeats itself, time and again. Generals becoming presidents and the latter harassing and dismissing prime ministers has been a constant feature there.
India, too, needs to take a relook at its policy towards Pakistan. If championing democracy is a sound principle, it is equally facile to expect better results from its return to Pakistan. For India to expect any reasonable progress with a democratically elected head of government, is to give in to woolly expectations. Musharraf represented a better bet to secure peace than any of the self-serving politicians of recent memory.
Bhutto is a hardened, cynical politician of the South Asian variety. India never made headway in resolving outstanding issues during any of her tenures as prime minister of Pakistan. The belief in certain quarters that she represents a better chance to tame insurgency along the Afghan border and in Waziristan, is misplaced. She neither has the resources nor the incentive to do this. Pressure from the US alone will not work.
Consider the facts. From establishing control over an organization such as the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to an institution such as the army and then enforcing societal changes, things have never been easy for politicians in Pakistan.
Firstly, any prime minister has little control over the director general of the ISI, the agency that sustains Islamic radicals along the Afghan border. To expect Bhutto to change this pattern is naïve.
Then comes the army. With Musharraf gone, any of the nine corps commanders and the assorted generals in Rawalpindi could become chief of army staff. Little is known of these men. Given that any general with an Islamic inclination will be unacceptable, this facet will remain hidden, until too late. The usual mechanisms of enforcing civilian control over an army are almost non-existent in Pakistan, a factor complicated by the lateral structure of the general cadre in that army.
The third factor, the large sector comprising Islam-based political parties, the clerics and the tribes on the Afghan border in their grip, remains as unruly as ever. Here again, Bhutto can do precious little. In fact, it can be expected that she will use them to shore up her legitimacy. This dalliance between clerics and politicians goes back all the way to the nascent stage of the Pakistani state. Then, as now, this represented an effort to legitimize a state that was not organically linked to society. It failed.
While Islamic parties have, historically, been weak in legislative strength, they make up for this by a solid presence in society. Musharraf’s troubles stem from wanting to appease the clerics but at the same time curb their popularity. In doing so, he’s lost the ear of the nation to their voices, which in turn is now being wooed by the general’s opposition. Musharraf may lose his uniform, if not his presidency.
By the time that happens, India would have incurred huge opportunity costs. From regional stability to Kashmir and the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, a large number of issues will remain unaddressed.
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