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Advantage: No One

Advantage: No One

Author: Rahul Shivshankar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: December 11, 2001

Introduction: Misplaced Hopes of 'Moderate Pakistan'

A day after Terrible Tuesday and before anyone in the US administration had even thought about "hunting down" Osama bin Laden, an Indian security expert had predicted that events after 9-11 would impact on Pakistan the most.

"Pakistan will undergo monumental changes as a result of the terror attacks on the US", he said, "the international community will oversee the potentially most destabilising changes of all - the dejehadification of Pakistan", which he likened to the allied "denazification" of Germany after World War II.

Now almost three months since the attack on the US, with the military campaign in Afghanistan seemingly drawing to an end, that expert has proved prophetic.

In Pakistan, braving sectarian violence General Musharraf, admittedly under intense US pressure, has been cracking down on Islamic fundamentalists, closing down madrassas and sacking members of his regime linked to extremist Islamists. In fact, a few weeks ago the general publicly stated - something he wouldn't have turned into a refrain before 9-11, that - "the nation is sick and tired of them (fundamentalists). They are driving us into the pit of ignorance, when the nation does not want to fall back into that pit again".

Of course, despite the insurmountable nature of the task he is presented with, General Musharraf knows that shaking off the jehadis and moving towards a more representative and liberal system of governance would be in keeping with the stated principles of the "enduring freedom" campaign and would, more than anything else, help in winning over the international community, whose support he needs to legitimise his position in Pakistan.

And though the international community and, in particular, India appear to be very pleased with General Musharrafs efforts, it shouldn't assume that a 'dejehadi-fled' Pakistan will be any more "dependable or amiable" than it was before the attacks on the US.

There are many in Pakistan who believe that the jehadis are only part of the problem. Though General Musharraf has taken the trouble of distancing himself from them, conditions in Pakistan do not lend themselves to stable and liberal governance which is necessary for ensuring peace in the region.

First, civil society in Pakistan remains feudal and highly militarised. Without any meaningful reforms - even the widely publicised nazim elections were reportedly rigged and with numerous restrictions on mainstream political parties, and non-governmental civil institutions, marginalised elements have few options but to join undemocratic single-leader ethnic or sectarian parties to articulate their demands. Very often, because of the availability of arms, these groups resort to violence. This polarises society, creates unrest and perpetuates political instability forcing governments to act overbearingly - which usually entails seeking the army's help - to assert their authority. This invariably gives birth to a vicious cycle of repression and subversion.

Unfortunately, for Pakistan's neighbours, till civil society evolves in Pakistan the country will continue to face problems. As Pakistani security expert Shireen Mazari points out, "the internal dynamics of Pakistan become a vital factor in defining its external security parameters and policy".

Second, no one can say with any degree of certainty if General Musharraf has been able to effect changes in the traditional power structures in Pakistan. In fact, by all accounts, his position remains tenuous. An opinion piece in a leading Pakistani daily points out that as US intervention in Afghanistan and the West Asia is intensifying, the moderates and liberals that have backed the general thus far "are beginning to soften" and warns that, "an amazing configuration may arise, soon the moderates and extremists in Pakistan may find themselves on the same platform". On her visit to India, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto said, "the general is as hamstrung as he was when he visited India, he has not been able to, despite US support, neutralise elements within his regime, loyal to the jehadis or the ISI. They are only biding their time".

The danger, of course, is that these elements could always assert themselves sooner rather than later. For one, they have a clear motive to do so. There is reported resentment in the military over the general's reversal of Pakistan's Afghan policy without any attempt on his part to first secure its political and security interests or negotiate the withdrawal of hundreds of Pakistani army regulars from Afghanistan. Apart from this, hardliners are upset with the general for signing an agreement with the US on September 17 which they feel has betrayed the Kashmiri cause.

More important, there is the problem of US support. The general is as good as gone without the US. And as the US achieves its military objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan loses its 'frontline state' status - there are signs that this may already be happening - General Musharraf will feel more isolated and consequently will be more pliant. Undoubtedly, the hardliners will move swiftly to cash in. One can only guess what concessions the military might extract in exchange for his continuance in office.

In the past, whenever Pakistan has been ruled by weak political leaders, they have always tried to buy peace with the ISI and the army by allowing them to define and operationalise external policy. And as we have seen, the policies adopted by the army bureaucracy toward India have supported subversive activities in Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly, then, even a "dejehadified" Pakistan is not likely to make much of a positive difference to India's interests.

In fact, if recent events in Jammu and Kashmir are anything to go by - there have been over half a dozen large-scale militant strikes in the state over the past one month alone - the general might already have begun to make concessions. Unfortunately, however, the Indian government has chosen not to factor this into its Kashmir policy, post-September 11.

Freeing the Kashmir movement from the clutches of the jehadis must be the first priority of the Indian government if it desires peace in Kashmir. In the past, the Central government's efforts towards establishing peace have been repeatedly thwarted by Islamic fundamentalists. They not only hijacked the Kashmiri movement, but also derailed any peace process, by not allowing secular Kashmiri groups, fighting to preserve their ethno-cultural identity, to negotiate with the Central government.

But instead of taking advantage of the anti-terrorism sentiment prevalent in the world and moving to free (read "dejehadify") the Kashmiri struggle from the clutches of Islamic fundamentalism, the Indian state is enforcing laws like POTO seen as being aimed at the minorities - which will only further alienate the Kashmiri people.

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