DR FARZANA SHAIKHis an Associate Fellow of the Asia Programme at Chatham House.
THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
support in Pakistan – an error similar to the one many hold responsible for precipitating the 1979 Iranian revolution.
TALIBANISATION However, Musharraf’s record as an indispensable ally in the war on terror, on which these calculations are based, is chequered. Closer scrutiny of his performance on the three main areas of central concern to the west – the anti-Taliban campaign; dialogue with India and intelligence-sharing on the movements of Al Qaeda suspects – all point to a less than dependable performance. Military operations against pro-Taliban groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas – though extensive and involving some one hundred thousand troops – of whom one thousand have been killed in action – have been compromised by his readiness effectively to cede vast swathes of territory to tribal militants in exchange for questionable peace settlements. They have paved the way for the so-called ‘Talibanisation’ of much of the tribal districts of North and South Waziristan and emboldened militants to stamp their authority over key urban centres in the picturesque Swat valley in northwestern Pakistan. It was no surprise that Musharraf’s troops should suffer at the hands of local Pashtun tribesmen in these restive border zones with their long history of resistance to outsiders. It is also clear his reluctance to press ahead with political reform in the tribal areas – begun in 1997 with the introduction of votes for all – and lift the ban on political parties to empower elected representatives, worked against the development of institutional channels of dialogue that could have limited the influence of local militant groups. Their ascendancy was assured by the patronage of the country’s main religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA-United Council of Action) on which Musharraf also relied to shore up his legitimacy. In Balochistan province, for example, where the Taliban are said to have regrouped in large numbers, the pro-Musharraf party, the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) has worked comfortably alongside the MMA as part of the ruling coalition even as Musharraf continued to make a public show of casting the MMA as the main opposition to his regime and policies. Ambiguities have also coloured Musharraf’s otherwise bold initiatives since 2004 to end his country’s dispute with India over Kashmir. They have included abandoning the demand for a referendum in the former princely state and an undertaking to curb ‘cross-border terrorism’ by banning Islamic militant groups, whose activities almost brought the two countries to war in 2002-2003. The question here is whether these initiatives are designed to mask powerful countervailing pressures. For there is no sign yet that Musharraf intends to forfeit Pakistan’s long established policy of ‘bleeding’ India through dangerous low-intensity conflicts such as the clashes in Kargil in 1999 – of which he was the chief architect – or abandon support for Kashmiri militants he still applauds as ‘freedom fighters’. On the vital matter of intelligence-sharing, many would agree that Musharraf’s cooperation has been crucial, if not
indispensable. But while there have been notable successes in the capture of wanted Al Qaeda suspects, the hunt for senior Taliban leaders has proved less rewarding. It has fuelled suspicion that, despite his formal repudiation of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, Musharraf remains committed – as are his intelligence agencies – to the installation of a friendly government in Afghanistan that could eventually neutralise the threat of a ‘pincer movement’ against Pakistan, involving India and Afghanistan.
Many concluded that the west, and especially the United States, had unrealistic expectations of what Musharraf could reasonably deliver in the war on terror. However, the danger to Musharraf was less the risk of a militant backlash than the assumption that he could proceed with his controversial venture without the support of a genuinely negotiated political consensus. It was this belated realisation that spurred the US and Britain to hastily craft a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, the country’s largest political party. Their solidly pro-western credentials, it was hoped, could yet salvage liberal opinion in Pakistan while effectively seeing off the threat of a fundamentalist take-over. This threat is a vital concern to the west, because of Pakistan’s emergence as a nuclear weapons state with a disturbing record of nuclear proliferation. Neither Musharraf nor Bhutto can expect to win the struggle against Islamic militancy without a clear mandate to do so. This entails urgently restoring civilian rule – however flawed – through free and fair elections, to help Pakistan embark on its long delayed transition from martial to constitutional law. Pakistan is entitled to a better deal than it has so far had in the service of a war not of its making. The way ahead may well be rocky but there are no grounds yet to believe that stability and democratic government need be mutually exclusive in Pakistan as elsewhere.
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