The situation in Pakistan is rapidly changing each day and every hour. From the hand shake with Benazir to and intent for and then retraction of emergency, President Musharraf is seeming less and less the firm commando that he has been throughout his life. Torn between forces of fundamentalism spread in the lawless tribal areas of Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the broad movement of assertion by civil society, post reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry, Islamabad will have to decide if it wants to join the moderate Islamic mainstream represented by South East Asian states as Malaysia or become a lawless fundamentalist state ruled by radical mullahs.
This decision will not be easy and will involve a bloody battle of assertion between the radical bombers of Miran Shah, Wana, Malakand and Dir and the Pakistani Army, Rangers and the Frontier Corps. News reports indicate that 600 fundamentalist activists described by an Islamabad police official Shahid Baloch as, ï¿½ready made suicide bombersï¿½ are lurking in the capital. Even if 5 percent of this is factual, this amounts to 30 kamikaze fighters, enough to cause mayhem especially with a large non Pakistani population in Islamabad.
The government is taking extraordinary precautions with deployment of Rangers in the capital, extra pickets and electronic surveillance at critical locations. Orders have been issued to all army, para military and police personnel not to travel in uniform in bazaars and off duty, fearing reprisals. Punjab police personnel deployed in the capital are to continue in Islamabad indefinitely to maintain law and order at the same time orders have been issued to restrict movement of Punjab Constabulary personnel to avoid targeting by fundamentalists.
A worst case scenario may be civil war between the extremist and moderate forces divided on provincial lines. It could well be a battle between Punjab and Sindh on one side and the NWFP- FATA tribal on the other. This would forever give lie to the theory of strategic depth espoused by the Pakistani Army over the years, for with a rebellious Western border along the Durand Line, the idea of Pakistan will be reduced to the plains of Punjab and the Indus. May be the wily general that he is, Pervez Musharraf could manage a reprieve with the help of fair weather friends as the MMA chief Fazlur Rehman but it would be a temporary one and there is no doubt that the battle will be long and painful
India's reaction to Pakistan's crisis has been characteristically hands off, perhaps awaiting some clarity and given the involvement of the strategic decision making community on other weighty issues as the 123 Agreement. However New Delhi cannot afford to remain on the side lines any longer as the situation in Pakistan will affect two key issues over which substantial negotiations are on going, terrorism and Kashmir. Some hawks may find it convenient to gloat over Islamabad's discomfiture and suggest stratagems which would weaken the ruling regime, what ever emerges in the months and years ahead. After all Pakistan has not hesitated in stoking the embers of dissension in India be it in Kashmir, Punjab or in Assam and North East. Pakistan's alleged complicity in 7/11 Mumbai blasts is too fresh for any sympathy towards Islamabad. Some elements across the border even suggested that events in Lal Masjid had an Indian tenor, but the second upsurge on 28 July soundly refutes such an allegation.
India's response no doubt will be dictated by national interests rather than any vicarious pleasures being drawn out of the piquant situation faced by Pakistan. This interest lies firstly in ensuring closure of terror infrastructure across the border both in terms of ideology as well as training and collusive support. The second issue is resolution of Kashmir without disrupting the country's present geographical, secular or ideational fabric. Past experience reveals that liberal governments alone are willing to accommodate inclinations and allay fears of their neighbors. In Pakistan a radical or fundamentalist inspired government has always supported the so called, 'jihad' on Kashmir, witness, Benazir Bhutto's ranting of, 'azaadi' in her previous avatar. Bhutto could well be Pakistan's next Prime Minister, and hopefully a chastened one. A moderate, democratic government in Islamabad is in India's interest which should lead New Delhi to proffer its support tacit or otherwise to the establishment in Pakistan fighting the radical hotheads. What form this backing takes will be dictated by the unfolding situation, nevertheless it should be clear that there is no comfort in other options be it of vacillation or covertly supporting the fundamentalists limited though the capabilities of our intelligence agencies is to do the same.