Troubled, but in control

Gen Musharraf can deal with his problems (with a little help from India and the United States)

The Cynical Nerd points to two apparently contradictory reports on Gen Musharraf: from the field, Amit Varma contends that Musharraf is in a strong position; The Economist reports that troubles are piling up for Pakistan’s president. Surely, both cannot be true at the same time?

Yet they are. The Acorn has long argued that Gen Musharraf has used the Islamists’ sound and fury to project a degree of his own vulnerability and employed this as a device to resist American pressure. Indeed, on several occasions, the ISI’s role in orchestrating anti-American protests has been palpable. Uppity leaders of the Islamist political combine have found themselves unceremoniously put in their places whenever they made too bold to challenge Musharraf’s will. That the MMA leaders may dislike Musharraf or his foreign policy does not in anyway make them less dependent on his dispensation to retain power and influence. Their relationship is at best a pragmatic co-habitation. More likely, it is one that Musharraf is firmly in control of.

But what about the civil war in Balochistan? The pressure building up in Gilgit and Baltistan? Or the growing alienation of the tribal areas on the Afghan frontier? The Economist is correct in pointing out that these should worry Musharraf. What it did not say is that he also has methods of dealing with them. These methods are most effective when newspapers like The Economist are not looking. The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t bother to look anyway. As long as Musharraf enjoys the support of the United States, the institutional interests of the Pakistani army will remain vested in keeping him in power. Unless Washington too decides that the brutal military campaign in Balochistan should tickle the international community’s conscience, it is unlikely that Musharraf will fail to crush the rebellion. Given its remoteness and importance to China (the Karakoram Highway connects the Chinese mainland to the Arabian sea), bringing Gilgit to heel will be even easier. The tribesmen of the Afghan frontier may chafe as they have been chafing for decades, but are unlikely to disturb the power equations in Islamabad.

And the conventional opposition? Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have already been reduced to bit players in the political setup. The only real other centre of power is the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). From his seat in faraway London, Altaf Hussain controls some important political cards in Sindh. It was he who forced Musharraf to beat a humble retreat on the controversial Kalabagh dam project. It took the MQM’s street-level political power in Karachi combined with the deepest Sindhi suspicions of Punjabi intentions to do the trick. There are few other issues that can bring about such an alignment. The MQM will be content to let Musharraf be.

Like the Cynical Nerd, The Acorn believes that Musharraf is still a part of India’s problem with Pakistan. There can be no hope for peace until Pakistan becomes an institutional democracy — an Islamic nation perhaps, but one that is internally reconciled and focussed on its own development. The United States, given its support for the Musharraf dictatorship, has a large part to play if this is to be fashioned. But India can hardly ask the United States to do differently when, for its part, it goes about accomodating the General in the naive belief that this will somehow solve its problems.

This post also appears on Winds of Change

9 thoughts on “Troubled, but in control”

  1. Nice post, especially on GoI’s appeasement. And thanks for the plug!

    Though I have a minor contention:

    What it did not say is that he also has methods of dealing with them. These methods are most effective when newspapers like The Economist are not looking. The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t bother to look anyway.

    The thing is they’ve starting looking at it. There was an article on Balochistan in WSJ and also on Newsweek. Now, I believe there is a detailed report from the Carnegie Endowment (will locate it later).

    Clearly the American strategy community is not happy about his (lack of ) co-operation on WoT. Last week many edits in U.S. papers chided him for not doing enough against foreign terrorists and domestic Islamists, at the same time using US weapons in the brutal campaign against the Balochis.

    I believe there will be more scrutiny from Western media/think-thanks lest Musharraf delivers a ‘high value target’ or something. In any case it ai’nt rosy for him as Amit says.

  2. Cynical Nerd,

    Newspapers and thinktanks at best exert an indirect pressure on Musharraf, signaling that Washington may be compelled to ‘stop ignoring’ their calls. I would think this sort of pressure is directed at forcing him to deliver on the FATWAT commitments, not really to get him to stop his assault against the Baloch rebels.

    Update: See what I mean

  3. Exactly Nitin. U.S. media start applying pressure when Musharraf falls short of his co-operation in FATWAT (GOAT as I call it). When will Indian media start behaving on similar lines instread of the perpetual love affair with the General?

  4. Musharraf 17th in list of ‘world’s worst dictators’
    http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=20061\22\story_22-1-2006_pg7_25

    WASHINGTON: President General Pervez Musharraf, who continues to be an admired figure in the Bush administration, is not so lucky with the mass-circulation Parade weekend magazine, which, just as it did last year, includes him among 20 of the “World’s Worst Dictators”.

    The Pakistani military leader is placed at No 17, with the pack being led by Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who was No 1 last year as well. He is followed by Kim Jong-il of North Korea who is “credited” with running the world’s “most tightly controlled society”. Than Shwe of Myanmar takes the third position, with the fourth going to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the fifth to Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.

    The rest of the places in the order in which they have been awarded go to Hu Jintao of China, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, Syed Al Khamenei of Iran, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya, King Mswati III of Swaziland, Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea, Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Boungnang Vorachith of Laos, and Tran Duc Luong of Vietnam.

    The oldest on the list is King Abdullah at 82 and the youngest King Mswati III of Swaziland at 37.

    Too bad we have to deal with this leader of “enlightened moronship moderation”.

  5. See Vikram Sood’s op-ed

    In today’s Pakistan, with each province involved in its own unhappiness, they have little time for Kashmir or the peace process, which is increasingly a Punjabi phenomenon — on both sides of the fence.

    Musharraf says he has thrown some bombshells at us. Later, as the visit of President George Bush approaches, one would not be surprised if a few bombs are thrown around to draw attention to Kashmir while the US is offered some more important al-Qaeda terrorists, presumably kept in Pakistan’s safe custody as pre-visit gifts. At the same time, more highly publicised but vague offers of quick-fix solutions that do not take into account the trust deficit would be made to show to his mentors Pakistani flexibility and Indian rigidity. In reality, these are smokescreens to be used till the Americans lose interest in the region and go home. Till then, Pakistan’s leaders will continue to pretend to be under extremist threat for external consumption and external (Indian) threat for internal consumption. [ORF]

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