General Kayani will let the crisis fester until Obama’s Af-Pak strategy is clear
Across India’s Western border rages a conflict that pits a multitude of radical Islamist militant organisations against the decrepit machinery of a tattered, incapacitated state. The Pakistani state is not only in retreat, but also in denial. It does not help that the Pakistani society is largely in denial too—choosing to see imperial projects and foreign mischief instead of the cancer that emanates from within its midst. The few Pakistanis who do see the reality for what it is are too weak to play any consequential role in challenging the radical Islamist onslaught. Worse, instead of consolidating last year’s democratic transition by hammering the necessary truces, Pakistan’s politicians are engaged in partisan combat even as Pakistan’s ship is going down.
The traditional Pakistani solution to the problem of bickering politicians is the military coup. While it remains within the domain of the possible, an overt military take-over is unlikely at this time for a number of reasons. First, the army has not fully recovered from the beating its image received in during the second half of General Musharraf’s rule. Second, the country is staring at economic collapse and is highly dependent on the kindness of its foreign friends. It would still have been possible for General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to set up a “caretaker government” like his Bangladeshi counterpart General Moeen U Ahamed did in January 2007. But unlike General Moeen who had only to face down warring politicians, General Kayani would also need to confront the Taliban. The evidence of the last year indicates that this is something that General Kayani is loath to do.
The Obama administration might have calculated that the current civilian crew is unlikely to be able to hold Pakistan together. It could ask General Kayani to support the Zardari government, but since he is also being asked to fight the Taliban, there’s only so much he could be asked to do, especially if the objectives end up contradicting each other.
This brings us to the General Moeen option—some kind of a national caretaker government. But General Kayani might not want this yet, pending the outcome of Barack Obama’s Af-Pak policy review. If Pakistan is happy with its recommendations, then General Kayani is likely to exercise the Moeen option soon. However if the recommendations are not to his liking, General Kayani is likely to let the bad Taliban to continue to hurt US forces in Afghanistan. The military-jihadi complex will carry out more attacks like those in Mumbai and Lahore to keep the region in crisis. Pushing Pakistan to the brink to extract concessions from the United States is, after all, an old trick.
Meanwhile the Talibanisation of Pakistan proceeds apace as these games are being played out. How much India can do to contain its spread is uncertain—right now, it is not even making serious attempts. But unless India puts in place domestic policy measures to insulate itself, the jihadis are bound to think Ab Dilli Door Nahi. (Thanks Rohit, for correcting the wrong Farsi phrase)