|#24||980||January 26, 2008||By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi|
When well formulated plans go awry because of unexpected developments, even astute leaders and analysts are stumped for a short time. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is one of those events that hit everyone with the force of a sledgehammer. Consequently, there is some diffidence in predicting the course of future events. Although issues like how Benazir was killed and by whom, and whether the now postponed elections will be held at all, are important, the issue of how stability will be restored at the earliest in Pakistan is of greater relevance.
Without recapitulating the events of the last few momentous months in Pakistan, we could start with the deal that was struck with Benazir. It included cases against her being dropped and facilitating her return to take part in the promised elections.
As the plan unfolded, it was clear that it had the tacit approval of the . Essentially, the plan was to create a troika of power structure, wherein the Army would hold all the aces, President Pervez Musharraf the kings, and a pro-US Benazir the minor cards. Together, they would do what the wanted. Broadly, the US had two expectations. The first was a major crackdown on the jihadis operating along the border, for which the US would provide funds and military assistance, as it had been doing in the past. The second was a reduction of Islamic radicalism in civil society, with Pakistan emerging with a moderate Islamic face sometime in the future. According to US calculations, both could be achieved. At the same time, Pakistan would have a democratic face.
The US has always relied on the Pakistani Army, even when a so-called democratic government was in place in the country. Therefore, it stands to reason that once again the US will rely mainly on it. The next plan, in my view, will be similar to the earlier one, the only problem being replacing Benazir. Unfortunately, there is no one in Benazir’s party who has the charisma or the appeal she had. The immediate members of her family are either unfit (Asif Ali Zardari) or too young. Even Benazir was not as popular as she was made out to be, but under the earlier plan, she would have served the purpose.
The biggest danger at this time, particularly for India, is continued instability and chaos in Pakistan which may lead to the situation spinning out of control. The Pakistani Army has the capability to establish control and hence is the obvious choice to do so, including of the US. However, the US is in election mode and the primaries have started. Hence, the contenders will utter every word after weighing it carefully and must appear to be politically correct. They will all call for early, free and fair elections in Pakistan. Early elections — February 18 — suit Musharraf and the Army too, for the political parties are in disarray and there will be more chances of ensuring wins for the candidates that suit their purpose.
With the Army firmly in control under a new and pro-US Chief of Army Staff, and with a trusted ally in the President, all the US would now want is an election in which Musharraf’s "king’s party," the PML(Q), forms a coalition government, ensuring that the strongest political party, PML(N), headed by Nawaz Sharif, is kept out. In this plan, the only jokers in the pack are the religious groups and the jihadis. They have already spoiled Plan A by killing one member of the proposed troika, but Plan B can always be formulated.
Let me elaborate on the religious groups. The ubiquitous religious groups are the ones which have the ability and perhaps the wherewithal to queer the pitch for the troika, as well as the larger civil society. Religious groups and leaders in Pakistan are not there for propagating religion. They do not need to, as there is already a surfeit of religion in that country. In addition, Pakistan is an Islamic state, and so Islam faces no threat there.
Broadly, there are two types of religious groups. The actions of religious groups and leaders of the first variety are in actuality for the enhancement of their political power and retention of "control" by instilling fear by their interpretations of the scriptures.
The second category comprises the jihadi groups, whose aim is to spread chaos, confusion and instability, as they thrive in such an environment. Control over a country or a province or an area is incidental, for they have no desire to govern or administer, with the intention of improving the lot of the people, economically, socially, educationally and so on. They only want power for power’s sake. They do not believe in civil liberties, independence or the peaceful pursuit of day to day living. In short, a return to the dark ages tops their agenda.
The modified troika that will emerge will have no choice but to deal with the jihadis with an iron hand, as they are of the greatest danger to the government, the polity and the existence of Pakistan. The Pakistani Army is already assigned this job, but its scope will have to increase substantially in the coming months. The effort will be supported, goaded, funded, armed and equipped by the US. As I see it, the Pakistani Army’s cup of woe will be overflowing, with operations escalating in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and in the border regions abutting Afghanistan. In addition, despite the ongoing peace process with India, the baggage of the past will compel them to keep a wary eye on their eastern border too. For the same reason, Pakistan is unlikely to abandon the terrorist card against India, but nurture it mainly as a hedge against the future.
In the present situation, both Indian diplomats and the military have to work overtime to ensure that the fallout of the increasing instability in Pakistan does not affect us adversely. India needs to convince that India neither had nor has any evil designs on Pakistan. In fact, our interests are best served by a stable and prosperous Pakistan.
A stable government — of any variety — with which Pakistanis are happy, and some serious introspection by Pakistan should set the stage to restart the near-dormant peace process.
(Courtesy: The Asian Age, January 11, 2008.)
Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi