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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Frederic Grare

'The West should call Musharraf's bluff'

July 16, 2007

Frederic Grare, a leading expert and writer on South Asia, tells Aditi Phadnis the West has to decide how it wants to view Pervez Musharraf [Images].

How important is the storming of Lal Masjid for the future politics of Pakistan? What are its implications on the jehadi elements, political parties and the Army?

It is too early to analyse what the Lal Masjid incident will imply for the future politics of Pakistan. On the one side, it is likely to create more trouble with the radicals. But on the other hand, it does give President Musharraf some breathing space. There was apparently a consensus in Pakistan on the need to do something about the issue and to some extent, it will be relatively easier for the Opposition to conclude an agreement with him, if there should be an agreement.

The incident has put the entire future strategy of Gen Pervez Musharraf in a quandary. His supporters are saying he could have done it earlier; his detractors are saying if he has done it once, he can do it again...

Once again, the incident highlights the ambiguities, to say the least, of the relations between the regime and the radicals. The Red Mosque is not just any mosque. It is located in the middle of the capital city, very close to the ISI headquarters, very close also to the diplomatic enclave, in a place where it was simply impossible to ignore the activities which were going on in and around a mosque that has been known for years to be a radical one. So undoubtedly, things could have been done earlier.

In your report, you argue that Pakistan has for long used the threat of jehad as a way of keeping the West engaged in Pakistan and in Kashmir. Was Lal Masjid a part of this plan � a plan that went hideously wrong?

No, I don't see any link between the two. However, it is quite obvious that the regime will benefit from it, appearing once again to be the last rampart against extremism. This argument is increasingly challenged by a number of people who are gradually realising that it is, at the very least, questionable. But it (the argument) still works in some circles.

On so many occasions, the West, more specifically the US, has said that they would like to see Gen Musharraf contest elections as a civilian. As it is, he has 'won' one election, getting 98 per cent of the votes. So, do you think he will continue to be Chief of Army Staff when he contests elections?

To my knowledge, the US has essentially said that if it wanted free and fair elections, it was Musharraf's decision to remain Chief of Army Staff or not. My understanding is that, left to himself, Pervez Musharraf will contest the election as Chief of Army Staff. He has no constituency but the Army. Even his links with the PML(Q) are no longer solid. So, he has to keep his uniform if he wants to be re-elected.

What if the election legitimises outfits like the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) which already has 11 per cent of the vote?

The question is not whether the MMA will be legitimised through the electoral process. First of all, they represent part of the polity and as such should be represented. The problem is, both the constant manipulation of the political game by the military, which gives them a representation larger than their actual constituency, and their co-operation with the military in conducting some operations for the benefit of the latter.

The US, willy-nilly, has become a factor in Pakistan politics. What should the US role be, once elections are over in Pakistan?

If there should be a role for the US, it should be before the elections, not after, to ensure that they are free and fair, which means the normal sequence of events be respected (first the parliamentary elections and then the presidential one, the President having left the uniform before the beginning of the entire process). After that, it will be too late and things will be even more complicated.

Even if there is an election in Pakistan, this doesn't mean democracy. Moreover, Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan � especially the backing of jehadi elements � will not vanish overnight. Those whom Nato forces hunt down in Afghanistan show up in Waziristan or Balochistan a couple of weeks later. So Pakistan is a strategic ally of the US in the war of terror, but is helpfully providing the people the war on terror is supposed to be hunting down. Can you ever see this process ending?

Not until we keep accepting it. This situation is understood and even increasingly acknowledged but everybody fears that should they pressure Pakistan too much, it will stop its co-operation in the war on terror. So, until we realise that (a) the present situation is not without risk and (b) eventually decide to be tougher on Pakistan, there is no prospect for a change in Pakistan's regional policy.

All the conditions point to Gen Musharraf arguing his country needs him and that this is not the right time for him to step down. If that happens, what should the West do?

The Pakistani military � and General Musharraf is no exception � is like the fire fighter who sets off fires himself. The argument that he is indispensable will therefore be used once again. The West should call his bluff and base its co-operation on results.

What do the events of the past week have in store for India?

The last incident is not India-specific and one should not try to read too much into it in this regard. Should the situation degenerate in Pakistan, this may have an impact on India, but there is no direct link with the Lal Masjid incident.

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