Barring a miracle President Musharraf on Saturday will successfully bulldoze his way to another term as President through a vote by an assembly largely depleted by angry legislators who resigned in protest against his constitutional violations. Earlier the Benazir-Musharraf drama was followed by the Nawaz-Musharraf melodrama. The drama was directed by the US administration, the melodrama most likely by President Bush himself who has close family ties with the Saudi Royals.
The evolving Bhutto-Musharraf arrangement is in jeopardy after Musharraf failed to waive the law forbidding a third term for a prime minister. Bhutto has already served two terms. At the same time Musharraf indicated pardon for cases pending against Nawaz Sharif. Not surprisingly Bhuttoï¿½s attitude immediately hardened. She claimed her deal with Musharraf was stalled. It should not surprise if eventually a formula surfaces allowing power-sharing to the Bhutto and Nawaz parties to create something close to a national government that could back the armyï¿½s fight against insurgency. That would put in place an arrangement to confront the real crisis facing Pakistan. The real crisis is not about who will be President or who will be Prime Minister. It is about defusing the Talibanï¿½s growing militancy. The war on terror is fatally bleeding Pakistan. It is upsetting Americaï¿½s plans.
The Pakistan government and the Taliban are proxies in this war. The US government and Al Qaeda are the principals. America is putting in place politicians and army generals they expect will deliver results on the war against terror. President Musharraf has appointed the former Corps Commander Rawalpindi, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, as army chief. He has also appointed the former head of Military Intelligence, Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj, as the new ISI chief. Both generals have had close links with America and are considered very professional. It is unlikely they will rock the democratic boat being set to sail this Saturday.
Analysts give prime importance to the armyï¿½s role as it intensifies military operations against the Taliban. The politicians are considered mere decoration to keep the notion of democracy alive. However, the real challenge will eventually be political and not military. Total victory in such conflicts is generally ruled out. At most the Taliban will be sufficiently mauled to encourage it to walk towards the negotiating table. So what kind of peace formula will be offered to them for resolving the conflict?
Clearly, the main precondition on the US-Pakistan side will be for the Taliban to abandon Al Qaeda and opt out of Osama bin-Ladenï¿½s global terror plans. The fact that Mullah Omar in 2001 was prepared to surrender his son-in-law, Osama, to a third country ï¿½ an offer foolishly rejected by the US then -- provides hope that this goal is achievable. But for it to fructify the deal offered to the Taliban would have to be unprecedented and generous. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has already offered the Taliban a share of the government. It is unlikely to satisfy them.
The Taliban problem is primarily the Pashtun problem. It is a seemingly intractable problem bequeathed by colonial history. The Pashtun tribes inhabit both Afghanistan and Pakistan. An estimated 40 million are in Pakistan, 10 million in Afghanistan. Contiguous ethnic populations cutting across international borders are not uncommon. What makes the Pashtun crisis unique is that for the last 150 years the bulk in Pakistanï¿½s tribal belt has de facto ruled itself without allowing outside control. Pashtuns on both sides of the border have freely intermingled. They have lived like a nation within nations. So how is this problem to be resolved?
The Durand Line Treaty was signed by the British and the Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rehman Khan in 1893. The treaty was to stay in force for 100 years. According to Afrasiab Khattak, a specialist on the subject, the areas north of the Khyber up to Chitral remained undemarcated. These areas were to be returned to Afghanistan in 1993, similar to how Hong Kong was returned to China. Kabul refused to renew the Durand Line treaty when it expired in 1993. Pakistan did not cede the areas to Afghanistan. Subsequently Pakistan vainly tried to get Pashtun tribal chiefs and Taliban warlords to sign a renewal contract of the Treaty. This is the core of the problem to be resolved.
Four possible solutions exist. The first is to create an independent sovereign Pashtunistan as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan demanded. A sovereign Pashtunistan would alter the borders of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The second option is to implement the Durand Line Treaty. President Daoud Khanï¿½s government in Afghanistan tried to exploit Pashtun sentiment by seeking a greater Pashtunistan through claim to Pakistanï¿½s NWFP region. If this were done it could destroy the very existence of Pakistan. The third option is that all Pashtun areas be made part of Pakistan. This is wholly impractical because the Taliban and most Pashtuns inside Pakistan would bitterly oppose this.
The only option with promise of a lasting solution is for Afghanistan and Pakistan to arrive at an arrangement that legitimizes free intermingling of Pashtuns without altering international borders. That would presuppose some kind of confederal arrangement between both nations. Will their leaders, and the Bush administration itself, be able to summon the requisite degree of statesmanship to achieve it? Pakistanï¿½s present political maneuvering will result merely in creating an instrument to conduct an operation. Much will depend on how the operation is carried out.
That might be known by the end of this winter.