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The new Musharraf dispensation

December 11, 2002

My Pakistani friends have lamented for years that they are not masters of their own destiny. Their future is, instead, determined by the three almighty ''A''s -- Allah, Army and America. Most of them no doubt now lament that Allah appears to have been rather indifferent to what the Army and America has done recently.

The Army indulged in an exercise of rigging and manipulating the electoral process. The Army and the Americans then prevented the political parties that emerged from General Pervez Musharraf's "elections" from forming a stable government, by securing defections from Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The anti-Musharraf forces had formed a coalition called the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD). With the People's Party securing 81 seats, Nawaz Sharif's PML (N) 19 seats and the alliance of Right Wing Religious Parties the Muthahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) securing 60 seats, an ARD-MMA Alliance would have had no difficulty in securing a parliamentary majority in the 342 member National Assembly. The ARD and the MMA were, in fact, on the verge of forging such an alliance when the Army and America intervened.

The Army establishment passionately distrusts and dislikes Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf himself could under no circumstances countenance a situation in which his arch foe Nawaz Sharif's PML (N) party would team up with the PPP and then proceed to cut him to size. The Americans were concerned because the MMA had virtually swept the polls in the North West Frontier Province and performed strongly in Baluchistan (both provinces bordering Afghanistan) on a strongly pro-Taliban and anti-American platform.

Benazir Bhutto was ''invited'' to Washington even as the election results were being announced, where she met Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca and a middle level White House official. Following these meetings, Benazir backed off from the understandings the ARD had virtually concluded with the MMA, under which MMA leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman would become the prime minister and a PPP nominee, the Speaker. In the process, she eroded her own credibility because of the growing perception within Pakistan and within her own party that the none too popular Americans were unduly influencing her.

Following these developments, the Army and its protégés in the PML (Q) had little difficulty in securing the defection of PPP legislators and creating the majority required for a PML (Q) nominee, the relatively unknown Baluch politician Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali, to be elected as prime minister.

Two PPP defectors Rao Sikandar Iqbal and Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat were duly rewarded with the defence and interior (home) portfolios respectively. It is now becoming increasingly apparent that while the Americans may have concerns about the MMA, these concerns are not necessarily shared by the military establishment or its PML (Q) protégés.

There have been extensive negotiations between the PML (Q) and the MMA seeking a political accommodation and compromise at the national and provincial levels. These negotiations have not succeeded at the national level thus far because of the aversion of the MMA to General Pervez Musharraf continuing as the army chief even as he holds office as president. But at the provincial level, the Musharraf protégés have forged an alliance with the anti-American MMA, for government formation in the strategically located Baluchistan province.

There is little doubt that in the immediate future the unstable coalition government of Prime Minister Jamali is going to be entirely guided by the wishes of the president/army chief, General Musharraf. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed was personally ''interviewed'' by General Musharraf before Jamali could appoint him. And when the MQM threatened to withdraw support to his government, the first thing that Prime Minister Jamali did was to rush to the president's residence to seek his advice and guidance on how to deal with the situation.

In order to keep General Musharraf, the Americans and the IMF happy, Musharraf's Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz has been appointed as adviser to the prime minister in charge of finance, revenue and economic affairs. Shaukat Aziz will no doubt be elected to the senate with the support of the PML (Q) and made the finance minister. Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada who has the dubious distinction of having advised successive military rulers including General Musharraf on how to seek legitimacy and stifle the Supreme Court, has been appointed as Prime Minister Jamali's ''senior adviser'' (which denotes a rank senior to even cabinet ministers) and given charge of foreign affairs, law, justice and human rights.

All these political developments are taking place at a time when more and more revelations are being made about how successive governments in Pakistan, including that of General Musharraf have transferred nuclear enrichment technology and equipment to the rogue regime in North Korea, in exchange for missiles that could target virtually all major cities and population centers in India. Even though the ever-obliging Colin Powell may seek to underplay the significance of these revelations, the fact remains that Pakistan has now given the North Koreans the capabilities to threaten American forces in the Korean peninsula.

As Benazir Bhutto initiated these developments when she was prime minister, during a visit to North Korea in December 1993, even her credibility as an ''ally'' is now being questioned in the United States. But most observers of Pakistan recognise that on issues of nuclear and missile development the driving force is the army and not the political leadership.

The political direction that Pakistan and particularly the provinces bordering Afghanistan are taking is now becoming clear. Prime Minister Jamali has announced that in keeping with Islamic practices, Fridays will now be public holidays. At the same time, the MMA chief minister of the NWFP, Akram Durrani has commenced banning videos, films and even decreed that buses plying on the roads must stop and wait if any passenger wishes to get down and offer prayers. The MMA has made it clear that it does not want the FBI and CIA to operate on Pakistani soil. It is only a question of time before the little support that the Americans are now getting in locating Al Qaeda and Taliban supporters in the NWFP significantly dries up.

More importantly, the constituent members of the MMA have close links with the Taliban and with the virulently anti-American and fundamentalist Afghan leader (once a protégé of the CIA) Gulbuddin Hekmetyar. There are already reports emerging about efforts of the ISI to forge and alliance between Hikmetayar and the Taliban to challenge the government of President Hamid Karzai. It is significant that in the message of greetings that he sent to Prime Minister Jamali, President Karzai pointedly alluded to the need to adhere to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

New Delhi has to take careful note of these developments. Just as the constituent members of the MMA have close links with the Taliban and other fundamentalists in Afghanistan, they also have links with Jihadis in Pakistani groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen operating in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

General Musharraf has publicly alluded to his support for Jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. While General Powell may claim that he is one who can hear no evil, speak no evil or hear no evil when it comes to the doings of his good friend General Musharraf, neither India nor the international community can afford to be sanguine about the implications of recent political developments.


The War in Afghanistan

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy

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