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

Will Musharraf survive and succeed?

November 05, 2007

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The declaration of Emergency and the abrogation of the 1973 constitution by General Pervez Musharraf [Images] is in the long line of similar instances in Pakistan's turbulent history of the last 60 years.

Before we Indians feel smug it needs to be pointed out that in 1975 Indira Gandhi [Images] similarly used the Constitution to nullify the court verdict and had declared emergency to save her power. For despite all the gloss put on the declaration, it is clear that Musharraf feared an adverse court verdict against his election as president and decided to pre-empt the judgement.

It is almost axiomatic that the Americans must have had a priori information about this move and accepted it, all the noise about 'democracy' not withstanding! For right from the earliest days of Ghulam [Images] Ahmed and the self styled Field Marshal Ayub Khan, no change of government in Pakistan has taken place without the American knowledge and support. The American need for a support for its war in Afghanistan is so desperate that constitutional niceties are farthest from their concern.

But what ought to be of great concern to India and the world is will Musharraf succeed and stem the tide of Talibanisation of Pakistan? It needs no reminder that Pakistan has a nuclear weapon arsenal and the stability and security there could impact India and the world. The latest destruction of Buddha statues in the Swat valley of Pakistan shows the irrationality that the Taliban are capable of.

Algeria and Turkey as a model for Pakistan

When Musharraf first took power in 1999, he openly proclaimed his admiration for the Turkish model of a 'secular State' and its founder Kemal Pasha. But as opposition mounted, Musharraf quickly backtracked.

In 1999, Musharraf was still basking in the glory of the Kargil operation, and most Pakistanis believed that but for a 'weak' prime minister like Nawaz Sharif, they were on the verge of wresting Kashmir from India... howsoever bizarre it may sound (in terms of ground reality) but that was the perception in Pakistan.

If a strong Musharraf could not do it then, what chance of a weakened Musharraf being able to carry out the much needed 'moderation' of Pakistani Islam?

The Americans (and Indians) seem to pin their hope on him. In two Islamic countries, Turkey and Algeria, the army has been waging a successful battle against 'Islamisation.' The example of Turkey is well known and the secular and Kemalist army there has even banned headscarves and any over display of Islam. But the example of Algeria is more recent and relevant since unlike Turkey, Algeria has witnessed bloody confrontation between the secularist army and popular Islamists.

Right up to the 1970s, Algeria was governed by former revolutionaries who wrested independence from the French. While the liberation movement used Islamic symbols as a source of mobilisation, the leadership was clear that Islam was not the part of governing template. Oil wealth and covert Western support saw the continuation of this authoritarian regime. But as oil revenues declined and forces of globalisation disillusioned the middle classes, the Islamists gained popularity.

Violence in Algiers has been on the increase since 1992. That year Algeria held its first free election since it gained independence from France [Images] 30 years earlier in a long and brutal struggle. The Fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, won a stunning victory in the first round of the vote. But the army-backed government cancelled the second round and installed its own president.

In response, the Islamic militants mounted a terrorist campaign, massacres, decapitations, slaughter in the villages, and bombings in the city. Government-sponsored militias have used their own tough methods, including air raids and torture in their efforts to crush guerrilla groups. Journalists, foreign workers, priests, and nuns have been murdered by Islamists in the bloody conflict. An estimated 60,000 people have died since 1992.

The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) has lost much of its clout, partly due to indiscriminate killing and partly due to effective counter insurgency operations by the Algerian army. It is believed that from a peak strength of 28,000, it now numbers only some hundred. A new report from North Africa points to a recent resurgence in terrorist activity by several local Islamist movements, the most prominent of which is the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). An Algeria-based Sunni group that recently renamed itself Al Qaeda [Images] in the Islamic Maghreb. The internationalisation of its agenda and subservience to Al Qaeda are signs of its weakness and not strength.

Comparing chalk and cheese!

It seems that the Americans have pinned their hopes on an alliance of moderate factions of civil society under Benazir Bhutto [Images] and the army will perform the Algerian- type miracle in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the situation in Pakistan and Algeria or Turkey is very different. Both the Turkish and Algerian army can be credited with having created a nation by force of arms, and thus have great prestige in the minds of its people.

While Pakistan is essentially a creation of British imperialism (MI5) that was sustained as an imperialist outpost during the Cold War. Its army is mercenary and 'had' its cohesion based on the regimental system. Possibly the only well organised group within the Pakistani army is that of the 'Islamists.'

But all this is a matter of speculation only. For any weakening of army support would spell doom for Musharraf. The Pakistan army's image is much dented and it is doubtful if it can withstand a civil war with the Taliban.

Two recent events, not much commented upon in the media, need to be noted. About two months ago close to 250 Pakistani soldiers surrendered to the militants in Waziristan. A few days ago another 48 soldiers similarly laid down their arms. These are danger signals indeed.

In the entire history of the Indian subcontinent of the last 60 years, instances of regular soldiers surrendering to militants in such large numbers has never happened. It is indicative of a very low morale of the soldiers of the Pakistani army. The recent video footage of the storming of the Lal Masjid, vividly showed the Pak soldier's reluctance to use force against their own citizens.

Islam has been plagued with problem of succession throughout its history. The very major division in Islam, between Shia and Sunni, stems from the conflict over succession after the Holy Prophet. Even in the days of monarchy, the Islamic world always had bloody successions, though there were some exceptions. The most brutal succession battles were fought by Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal. Pakistani school textbooks extol him as a hero and role model. Musharraf's fate may well follow the example of the Mughals.

Whether Musharraf will be succeeded by another general or by a mullah is the million dollar question. It would be in India's interest to be alert to the threat that would be posed if Taliban-like leaders come to power in Pakistan. It has also been experienced time and again that whenever there is domestic crisis in Pakistan, the rulers engineer communal riots in India to frighten their own population into supporting them. Time and again some Indian citizens have fallen prey to this Pakistani design and foment trouble. It is for the sane elements in all communities to be forewarned of this danger and refuse to get provoked.

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

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