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Home > News > Columnists > Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)

Pakistan: Some likely scenarios

June 14, 2007

In the concluding part of his column, Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) examines some possible scenarios in Pakistan and their likely impact on India.

Part I: What a visit to Pakistan revealed

The situation in Pakistan is very fluid and tense today, and a major internal upheaval cannot be ruled out.

This could be sparked off by any or a combination of the following events:

  • The capture or killing of Al Qaeda [Images] chief Osama bin Laden or the elusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
  • General Pervez Musharraf's [Images] attempt to get himself 're-elected' president by the existing national and provincial assemblies. This would pre-empt the election due in 2007.
  • Agitation by the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif) for restoration of democracy against the backdrop of inflation, leading to a popular uprising and the use of the armed forces to quell these rebellions, in turn leading to disaffection and a military coup.
  • Intensification of the insurgencies in Baluchistan and Waziristan.

My brief trip to Pakistan validated the following constants about the nation:

  • The disaffection among the elite with military rule.
  • Intense dislike of America, both amongst the elite as well as the masses.
  • Religious parties fear marginalisation in the 2007 election.
  • A sense of disillusionment over the India-Pakistan peace process, which was widely expected in Pakistan to deliver Kashmir to Pakistan.
  • A deep sense of inferiority at the individual and societal level vis a vis India.
  • Unemployed, young and fanatical youth forming over 60% of the population.
  • The army's fear of losing its grip over its men and national power.
  • Confidence in a successful deterrent strategy based on the concept of 'Mad Mullahs and stray General' that was shown to be effective during Kargil 1999 and Operation Parakram 2002.
  • Constant sense of 'victimisation' as Pakistanis and Muslims due to the media that focuses on the worldwide woes of the Muslim Ummah.
  • Population growth (the average per woman fertility in Pakistan is 5.4 children), with 60 percent of the population under 25. This, coupled with lack industrialisation and curbs in the Gulf countries on emigration, will intensify unrest among the young unemployed.
  • Perhaps the most important constant in Pakistan is the domination of that country's Punjab region.

The 1968 anti-Ayub Khan agitation as well as the 1978 anti-Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto movement succeeded only when it caught on in Punjab. The failure of the 1980s anti-Zia-ul Haq movement can be directly traced to the fact that it never caught on in Punjab.

The towns of Punjab's five divisions -- namely, Lahore [Images], Sialkot, Gujrat, Bawalpur and Lyalpur (Faisalbad) -- contribute close to 70 per cent of Pakistan's armed forces, bureaucrats and industrialists. This region is the political heart of Pakistan, and it decides who rules or does not rule Pakistan.

Some likely scenarios:

A. Worst Case: Inflation exceeds 10%. Musharraf gets another term in office from the existing legislature. The Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy movement catches on in the whole country including Punjab.

Exiled former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif return to Pakistan to Karachi and Lahore respectively, to be welcomed by huge crowds. The police trying to control the crowds are attacked and killed by the mobs.

The army is called out in both cities and Musharraf declares martial law. The Sui gas fields in Baluchistan are blown up by insurgents, and the army suffers major casualties in Waziristan.

Osama Bin Laden is killed by an American drone near a Karachi farmhouse where he has been staying for the last two years.

B. All other events are the same as scenario A, minus bin Laden's death.

C. Benazir and Nawaz Sharif land in Pakistan. While Benazir is welcomed by huge crowds in Karachi, Nawaz receives a lukewarm response in Punjab. While there is major law and order problem in Sindh, Punjab is quiet. Other events are the same as scenario A above.

Likely responses by the ruling military:

A: There is a general breakdown of society and anarchy takes over. All American establishments, its consulate and embassy are attacked and burnt. Corps commanders meet and ask Musharraf to resign and go into exile.

Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz takes over. Anarchy continues, Benazir and Nawaz refuse to recognise Aziz and ask the army to return to the barracks.

Defence colony houses in Karachi and Lahore attacked by mobs and several servicemen's families burnt to death. Retired generals Hamid Gul and Mirza Aslam Beg, with the help of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal hardliners, take over power, ask American personnel to leave Pakistan, blame India for having instigated the trouble, and threaten a nuclear attack.

In another variation of the same scenario, Musharraf addresses the nation, blames India for the troubles and orders nuclear weapons to be armed and asks the nation to rally behind him.

A rogue battalion secures an M-11 missile launcher and fires a low yield nuclear device targeting Delhi.

B: All events same as Response A, except that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal stands by Musharraf and the army and there are street battles between rival supporters. The army helps the Jamaat cadres emerge on top.

A Lashkar-e-Tayiba module in Mumbai attacks refineries, Pakistan denies involvement. Communal riots breaks out in Mumbai, and many people are killed. A Lashkar cadre in the Pakistan Air Force launches a solo attack on Mumbai with conventional weapons to avenge the Mumbai killings.

C: The army remains loyal to Musharraf. The Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy's failure generates a sense of frustration in Sindh and Baluchistan. The situation is brought under control by imposition of martial law in Sindh and Baluchistan.

An insurgency for independent Sindh begins. Pakistan annuls all Confidence Building Measures, cuts off links with India and attacks major installations in India through the Lashkar and local sympathisers.

As a reaction to the terrorist strikes, communal riots break out all over India. Pakistan alerts its nuclear forces and warns India against any adventurism in attacking the Lashkar headquarters at Muridke near Lahore.

The scenarios outlined above have a high probability only if events take place simultaneously. If the ruling Pakistani junta and their handlers, the US, can sequence the events and avoid that, a conflagration may be avoided.

The most important variables and questions are:

  • What is the mood in Punjab?
  • What is Musharraf's popularity amongst the soldiers?

These are crucial gaps in this analysis.

It is ironic that the only country actually encouraging visitors from Pakistan is India, which has been the victim of repeated terror attacks carried out by jihadi groups based in Pakistan.

Even the fraternal Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan's all weather friend China have fenced their borders with Pakistan. Worldwide, Pakistani citizens (including those of Pakistani origin) are subjected to extraordinary travel curbs and checks. Even the guardian of Islam, Saudi Arabia, had banned Pakistani citizens below 35 years of age from attending the Haj pilgrimage.

The SAFMA initiated peace process and other contacts are essentially between two civil societies. In India the civil society is all powerful and rules the country. In Pakistan it is weak, with only a marginal influence on events. Power there is held firmly by the military-feudal elite.

Thus, any hope of short term progress is doomed to failure. It is only in the long term and in the hope that eventually civil society will triumph in Pakistan, that this effort is being made, and it is thus still worth it.

More reports from Pakistan

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is the coordinator of Initiative for Peace And Disarmament, a Pune-based think-tank.


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