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Pakistan's Last Chance?
|by Rajinder Puri|
The crisis in Pakistan will not go away unless its fundamental cause is recognized. Namely, that it is an artificial state with irrational borders. From day one it suffered from a crisis of identity. This problem can be addressed only if its leaders summon the courage to accept this truth.
In the current squabbling between the petty politicians of Pakistan, who act like clones of their Indian counterparts, there lies an unspoken cause of the schism. Consider briefly the sequence of events. In the general election President Zardari's party derived its strength from Sind. Nawaz Sharif's party dominates Punjab. Overall Zardari's party with its allies got the majority to govern the country. Yousaf Raza Gilani, a Punjabi belonging to Zardari's party, was made PM. This was intended as a sop to Punjab where Zardari's party is in a minority. Gilani was reckoned to be a political light weight expected to act as President Zardari's puppet.
The coalition between Zardari and Sharif collapsed due to the government's failure to reinstate judges who had been sacked earlier by Musharraf. Now, the courts have ruled to bar the Sharif brothers from holding political office. That paved the way for Zardari's unfettered rule ' or so he thought. It was a miscalculation as fatal as former President Musharraf's decision to order the Emergency. Punjab is up in arms. The call to restore the sacked Pakistan Chief Justice has been revived, and the lawyers with a vengeance have resumed their agitation which had crippled former President Musharraf.
The Sharif brothers have launched a long march from all corners of Pakistan to reach Parliament House in Islamabad. After the Sharif brothers were debarred from politics Zardari swiftly ordered Governor's rule in Punjab. This further inflamed the situation. What made matters worse for Zardari was that the simmering discontent of Prime Minister Gilani burst into the open. He denied that he had advised Zardari to impose Governor's rule in Punjab. He informed Parliament that he would ensure that a popular government led by Sharif's party would be restored.
Army Chief General Kayani had given an ultimatum to Zardari to defuse the situation before March 16 by when Sharif's Long March is expected to reach Islamabad. Now a formula is being worked out. Gilani and Sharif are cooperating. General Kayani is apparently backing Prime Minister Gilani. Zardari could be marginalized and defanged. If this arrangement lasts people hope that the crisis in Pakistan will be defused.
Will it? This arrangement might deepen the crisis. Gilani, Sharif and Kayani are all Punjabis. In the days to come they will have to summon utmost tact to assuage public resentment in Sind where Zardari's party rules supreme. NWFP is all but lost to the Taliban. Baluchistan is in the grip of a decades old separatist movement. How will Pakistan remain intact?
Pakistan will have to create a genuine national consensus to fight the real threat ' global terrorism. Regional differences and rivalries in India get submerged because the nation is so large. No bilateral or trilateral animosity between states gets out of hand because there are many other states to dilute resentments. Pakistan lacks that advantage. So can Pakistan avoid balkanization?
There is one way that suggests itself. Pakistan can stabilize if it throws its lot with India without inhibition and mistrust. For starters the war against terrorism is the obvious basis for a sincere joint Indo-Pak cooperation. Contrary to popular perception in the West, Pakistan's strategy in Swat and Bajaur is working. When critics ridicule good Taliban and bad Taliban they betray their ignorance. The division is between Pashtuns, who mostly comprise the Taliban, and the Al Qaeda, who are mostly Wahabi Arabs of foreign origin. There are clear indications that with patience and tact the two can be separated.
The Pashtuns will require a tangible political deal that offers genuine autonomy and self rule. Alongside that military operations would have to continue. This carrot and stick approach that has been consistently advocated by this scribe will work. It is quite silly to talk about women's rights and other social parameters in this context as many commentators tend to do. If confining women to the veil and to indoors is considered immoral by the West, the sight of half naked women in lingerie walking the ramp for the benefit of millions of TV viewers is considered immoral by the Pashtuns. The world's concern should be to ensure that narcotic mafias cannot obtain drug supplies from the Pashtuns. It must also be to ensure that Pashtuns stop offering sanctuary and logistical support to the Al Qaeda. Other objectives such as encouraging Pashtun society to enter modern international mainstream can wait.
It is encouraging to note that President Obama has announced intention to open a dialogue with Mullah Omar in Afghanistan. The Pakistan army is doing the same with the Taliban inside Pakistan. The weak chink is the bitter infighting and intrigue among Pakistan's political class. Cannot Pakistan's politicians drown their differences by reaching out to India? Confronting a real threat to its existence Pakistan must learn to bury the past in order to survive. Now it can deal with a different India, a different world and a different generation.
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