Pakistan: Recovering From the Abyss
Pakistan has been in the eye of the storm for the past many months. With assassination of Benazir Bhutto there is speculation of the nation being on the brink of a failed state. Some even predict that a combination of terror and nuclear weapons makes Pakistan the most dangerous place in the World. Somehow reactions in India which is impacted the most by an unstable Pakistan have been muted. What has been the reason? Are Indians naï¿½ve or do they have sympathy for the rulers and the ruled in Islamabad?
At the end of a week after assassination of Benazir a rational view of Pakistan is essential. Here is a birdï¿½s eye view of the military, political and internal security situation in Pakistan from the Sub Continent. These are being discussed in decreasing order of stability in the country.
Firstly the military has regained composure to an extent after many apprehensions of a break down including some by this author in these columns a few months back. There was anxiety of major turmoil due to large scale desertions and kidnapping of soldiers of the Frontier Corps in the past few months. However it appears that the Pakistan Army has crossed that hump.
Army troops are extensively deployed in counter insurgency operations in FATA, NWFP, and Balochistan and for a short duration in some parts of Sindh. The total deployment is approximately 100,000 which is roughly one sixth of the Pakistan Armed Forces and is not causing any pressure at present. This is because the Army is benefiting from a Cease Fire on the Eastern border/LOC with India. India has taken a calculated policy of not causing any disruption in Pakistan. The External Affairs Minster Mr Pranab Mukherjee said recently, ï¿½We wish them all success in their endeavors because we believe that a strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan will be helpful to us." There are reports of the Cabinet Committee on Security in New Delhi having deliberated on ways to provide support to Islamabad in this hour of crisis. Thus Pakistan Army will continue to benefit from peace in the East.
The military situation in the West is however grim. While it has succeeded in overcoming the initial resistance of the radical leader Maulana Fazlullah heading the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat (TNSM) in Swat, the rebels have melted in the mountains. There is a strong possibility of militants engaging the Army in a guerrilla war in the days ahead. On the other hand, the Taliban have coagulated into a single unit, the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) under the leadership of Behtullah Mehsud, who has close links with the Al Qaeda and is alleged by the Pakistan government of being behind Benazirï¿½s killing. Taliban and Al Qaeda are dominant in Waziristan and some areas of NWFP as well as Balochistan. The army will have a tough time to engage the guerrillas in the days ahead.
General Pervez Kiyani seems to have firmly assumed power and declared 2008 as, ï¿½Year of the soldierï¿½. The Nuclear Command Authority has also firmed up under President Musharraf. However media reports continue to speculate of terrorist organizations gaining control of Pak nuclear weapons, there is no reason for these fears at present. US Pakistan military relations continue to be good. Though Pakistan is accused of mis-utilizing the large tranche of aid provided by Washington, it is likely to continue to find favor with the US army brass as they need Islamabad for their mission in Afghanistan. There are also firm indications of the army continuing to support President Musharraf.
Given that the army is supporting President Musharraf there is not much threat to his position in the near term, till Kayani assumes greater control over the military and the Pakistan administrative structure. Thus unless there is a calamity, there Musharraf will continue dominate the political scene in Pakistan.
Against this constant and with elections slated to be held on 18 February, the following scenarios can be envisaged in Islamabad with all major political parties having already announced that they will participate in the elections:-
Scenario 1. Pakistan Peopleï¿½s Party (PPP) gains majority in the Elections due to sympathy wave. This possibility will recede by 18 February as by then peopleï¿½s memory would have reasonably overcome images of the ghastly assassination of Bhutto. However PPP will gain a sizeable vote share in the elections and will be able to call the shots in a post election coalition scenario.
Scenario 2. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) gains a majority in Elections. This is unlikely as the PPP has gained considerable sympathy and will take away the vote share. However in case the PPP is split due to mismanagement by Asif Zaradari who lacks political experience and has been known to be corrupt, the PML N may well gain a majority.
Scenario 3. PML Qaid (Q) gains a majority. In case elections are rigged or partially rigged as was being indicated by Benazir, the PML Q may well gain a majority, given that the elements which were expected to split and join Benazir or Nawaz may well have a rethink given the latest situation. Under the situation PML Q along with the present coalition of MQM and MMA Fazlur may well gain a majority and come to power. However this will result once again in political instability as other parties are not likely to accept this result.
Likely Scenario. As of now indications are not very clear as to which way the mood swings. More inputs are necessary which will come about as the electoral battle progresses provided there is no major disaster again as elimination of another prominent political leader. One thing is very clear, like in India, it is the smaller political parties as the MQM or the MMA Fazlur group which will be calling the shots after the elections. Thus the shrewd politician that Fazlur is, he has been opting for participation in elections what ever be the dispensation.
Coming to the internal security situation, it continues to be a matter of grave concern. The internal security situation as far as rioting is concerned has been brought under control. However there is a threat of suicide attacks in all major cities particularly close to the cantonments. The internal security situation in FATA, Swat and some parts of NWFP and Balochistan is critical. The TTP and the Al Qaeda are in full control of these areas. No outsiders are being permitted. Sectarian conflict is also likely to erupt with the Moharram mourning approaching. This will be intense in many cities including Karachi and also in NWFP agencies such as Khurram. Balochistan continues to suffer from a slow burning militancy of sporadic attacks on energy assets, government buildings and intelligence and police operatives.
While the Pakistan military and the Frontier Corps are attempting to regain control in these areas, it will be a long and tough battle ahead. On the whole Pakistan seems to be surely recovering from the abyss of a failed state, though it will continue to remain on the edge of instability.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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