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What if Musharraf loses power or dies?
January 16, 2004
It is not for nothing that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee praised Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for he is the closest we have to an ally in that country, uncomfortable as it may sound.
Since 9/11, he seems to have adopted a more conciliatory approach towards India.
Agreed, millions of Indians still do not trust him because he led the Pakistan army during the Kargil conflict and even now refuses to take his evil eyes off Kashmir. But everything he has been doing since 9/11 indicates he may be India's best bet for a solution to the Kashmir issue.
What does India need to talk to Pakistan about Kashmir?
1. An end to using terrorism to armtwist the Indian government to talk on Kashmir.
2. A democratically elected government in Pakistan, or at least a leader who can carry the country along.
Let's consider the first point:
Cornered by the US, terrorists and India, Musharraf's days are certainly numbered. He has survived two major attempts on his life but...
It is quite clear that he cannot overnight shut down all the training camps opened by fundamentalist Muslims in his country and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The consequence of simply cracking down on them has been the terrorists shifting their focus from targeting America to fighting for survival, which includes attempts on Musharraf's life.
If he were to go all out against them, Musharraf might have to deal with a civil uprising of epic proportions that will necessitate withdrawal of the army from the borders, which he can ill-afford even if India swears to keep off Pakistan.
But from all accounts so far, it does appear that terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir have lost their sting.
Consider the second point:
Musharraf has shown that he is in control of the country. There have been several hiccups, including the attempts on his life, but he has managed to hold Pakistan together.
Being under intense international scrutiny, Musharraf has been unable to use strong-arm methods to silence the opposition within his country. Instead, from recent accounts, it appears that from the few options before him, Musharraf has chosen to set his country on the path to real democracy.
In Pakistan, power is concentrated in the hands of two powerful blocs: the army and the politicians. The former has always enjoyed the advantage over the latter, who are a divided lot constantly fighting among themselves.
If the infighting among the politicians were to get out of hand, some general takes over in the 'interest of the nation.'
The threat of an army takeover is constant. So, anyone in power needs the army's backing to stay there.
Musharraf currently heads the army and it is he who has installed an elected government to pacify the international community.
Hence, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali need not fear an army takeover unless he steps out of line. But why would he?
Reportedly handpicked by Musharraf to be prime minister, Jamali owes his position in the big league to his political liabilities. He does not have nationwide appeal in Pakistan. His home province, Baluchistan, has neither the economic might nor the population to make its leaders stand out in the nation's political arena.
Jamali seems aware of his limitations. Musharraf appears to have a hand in major decisions. Note his active role in issues concerning talks with India and on Jammu and Kashmir.
When Jamali met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he appeared more like a ceremonial head of state while Musharraf's body language was all about a man in charge of his country.
There is little chance of Jamali asserting his non-existent authority, which suits Musharraf fine as he can set the agenda for the prime minister to implement.
So, we have some degree of compliance on both points: a drop in terrorist activity in Jammu and Kashmir and we have identified a person who is in firm control of Pakistan.
Earlier elected governments did try to confront the Kashmir issue. But whenever they seemed to be getting close to entering into a serious dialogue with India, they were either dismissed or put under pressure by the army to back off.
Then prime minister Benazir Bhutto made an attempt to discuss Kashmir with India but succumbed to pressure from within her country to back off. She finally ended up making conflicting statements.
Then prime minister Nawaz Sharif's attempt ended in tragedy when he tried to cut down the army to size. He was deposed by Musharraf.
Unless Pakistan's elected government enjoys the army's support, it is difficult for India to expect any serious discussion on Kashmir.
At this point, Jamali seems to enjoy that support.
There is an added bonus. In recent times, the army has been seen to enjoy a cosy relationship with Islamic fundamentalists. But post 9/11, army chief Musharraf seems to have put his weight behind the moderates in his country.
Note the number of people-friendly measures like renewal of transport links and the constant stream of delegations from both countries criss-crossing the border.
Could there be a better time for India to talk to Pakistan about Kashmir, and other issues?
There is no guarantee that the Kashmir issue will be solved but at least India will be talking to someone who enjoys the backing of the all-powerful army.
What if Musharraf were to lose power or die before October when the generals considered to be hardliners retire?
There is every possibility that those generals may try to stay on and prompt Sharif and Bhutto to cause political trouble for Jamali. Even if he keeps his coalition together, Jamali will have a tough time facing the combined assault of the two leaders who enjoy good support at the grassroots.
Opposition rallies can undermine Jamali's power and without Musharraf's backing or that of the army, he will be forced to quit and call another election, which will only lead to instability.
In the event of an election, Sharif and Bhutto will once again make a bid for power. So will the Islamic parties who got their first major break in the general election in 2002.
If no party gets a majority, which is most likely to be the case, horse trading and using illegal means to capture power cannot be ruled out, which will only weaken the democratic setup.
The only two groups in the best position to take advantage of the resulting instability will be the army and the fundamentalists. No political party will be able to keep the activities of these two entities under control.
Needless to say, India will be the loser.
Another possibility is faced by a public onslaught by Sharif and Bhutto following Musharraf's death, Jamali turns to the army for help. He strikes a deal wherein he continues as prime minister in return for non-interference in the army's affairs.
This will weaken the government's ability to move away from its stated positions on Kashmir and leave democracy hostage to the whims of the army top brass.
Again, India will be the loser.
There might be other scenarios, but in both the ones described above, the army brass will immediately sideline the moderates Musharraf promoted to make way for hardliners while India will have to continue sacrificing precious financial and human resources to containing terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.
India could hence take a chance and try to solve the Kashmir issue while Musharraf is still alive and in control of his country.
His intent appears to be to hand over the reins of the nation to an elected government, at his chosen pace, while at the same time shielding his chosen politicians from a backlash from elements in the army who oppose such a move. And, there are many since it might entail losing the pre-eminent position in the country's power structure.
Basically, Musharraf is babysitting democracy in his country. He ensures that the army does not give Jamali the boot. In return, he wants the politicians to ensure his continuance in power, which is not just in his interests, but that of his country too.
Then president (and general) Zia-ul Haq too had a prime minister, but mostly as a decorative piece. He was not under any sort of pressure to make way for an elected government.
Musharraf does not enjoy this luxury what with the international community breathing down his neck. Every visiting Western official wants to know the progress democracy has been making and how much has he done to curb terrorists.
But this transfer to a full-fledged democracy depends on Musharraf's hold over the process. Lose control and he will lose his life and the country will miss another date with democracy.
Now that he has gone so far as to announce a time frame for stepping down as army chief, his main concern is to stay alive. For which, he needs allies. At present, he has the army.
Everything hinges on him holding the reins of power and control of the army, which is the single largest, influential entity in Pakistan right now. He is slated to retire in December after some hardliner generals retire. To ensure that he continues to hold sway in the powerful institution, he has promoted some moderate officers one of who will eventually occupy the top post.
Even after the moderates are in charge of the army, it will continue to be a powerful entity with the ability to influence major decision-making in the country.
And once he retires, it will become difficult for Musharraf to have direct access to the army top brass, weakening his ability to guarantee the army's complete backing for any major proposal on Kashmir, or others concerning the nation.
Hence, the Indian leadership is keen to speed up the dialogue process.
Another problem is that after December, Musharraf will need an equally dependable and powerful ally in place of the army to protect his position and his life. His best option is Prime Minister Jamali and through him the government.
Hopefully, by the time Musharraf retires as army chief, Jamali would have a better grip on the executive setup. In the absence of Sharif and Bhutto, he can try to occupy the vacant slot of a nationally acceptable leader without much opposition.
A democratic Pakistan, with a democratically elected leader in charge would only be a source of comfort to India.
However, despite all this, it would be difficult to simply write off the Pakistani army. Indians and Pakistanis will have to live with the threat of an army takeover till politicians gain the upper hand in Pakistan's power structure.
So, from India's point of view, it is very important that Musharraf stay alive, continue to back moderates and keep Pakistan firmly on the path to real democracy. At present, it appears that Pakistan is united behind him. There is no national level alternative anywhere in sight.
Ironical but true. If India is to ensure peace on its western border, its most hated enemy must not die.
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