Monday, August 25, 2008

MUSHARRAF GONE, PAKISTAN'S SLIDE IS ON

Just six days back, when almost everyone in Pakistan and India was celebrating the ouster of military dictator Pervez Musharraf as President of Pakistan, I had reiterated the warning that I had given just after elections earlier this year that if Pakistani politicians do not co-opt Musharraf in the country’s really serious internal war against Islamic terrorism, they may not be able to save Jinnah’s Pakistan from becoming the Pakistan of Osama bin Laden.

There must be something majorly common in the genes of Indian and Pakistani politicians. Despite knowing what happened after Indira Gandhi was defeated in 1977, Pakistan politicians have refused to learn from the Janata Party experience. That party, which came into being on a single point agenda, cracked up after it ousted Indira Gandhi, within a couple of years.

In Pakistan, the one point alliance of Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N) and Asif Zardari’s PPP, has cracked and fallen apart within a week of the ouster of Musharraf. This must count as the fastest unravelling of a national coalition anywhere in the world. Although it was evident that it was coming, the pace at which it has happened has come as a total surprise. Nawaz Sharif has this evening itself, withdrawn from the coalition and decided to sit in the opposition. His party has also decided to put up its own Presidential candidate.

Sharif and Zardari had earlier agreed that a neutral and eminent person would be made the next President. But, Zardari, displaying unbridled greed for power, unilaterally declared himself as PPP’s Presidential candidate. Tellingly, their earlier joint proposal for clipping the wings of the President by taking away his sweeping powers, including the power to dissolve the Pakistan National Assembly, has been quietly shelved by the PPP. Zardari obviously wants to call the shots as President and is not going to hold the post in a ceremonial capacity only.

The PPP has also gone slow on the reinstatement of the judges, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, dismissed by Musharraf, something which had also been agreed to by both parties. This is simply not acceptable to Sharif who has been asking for their reinstatement from day one.

Musharraf had become a hated man in Pakistan for fighting America’s war on terror against Muslims in Pakistan. Did he have a choice? Does anyone who rules Pakistan have a choice if he wants to save the nation? Nobody gave that fact a thought when the single agenda was to get rid of him. But, having got a firsthand view of the real situation , today even Zardari has gone on record to say that Pakistan faces a grave danger from Taliban and that the organisation should be banned.

For Zardari to admit this unpleasant truth publicly so quickly after the removal of Musharraf should leave no one in any doubt that Jinnah’s Pakistan is in real danger.

It is not just the Taliban which is flexing its dangerous and deadly muscles now. Other organisations which had been banned by Musharraf have also started resurfacing openly. It was reported in The Times of India of August 22, 2008 , that the Lashkar-e-Toiba has re-opened its offices, as has the Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Sipah-e-Sahaba. The Al Qaida has vowed to hunt down Musharraf. A few weeks back, Islamic terrorists had surrounded the Frontier capital Peshawar and had almost captured it before an agreement was reached with them to stay out of the city. The writ of the state of Pakistan already does not run in almost the whole of the Frontier and large parts of Baluchistan.

Despite all these grave warning signs, Pakistan’s politicians have, as always, let their pettiness and vindictiveness get the better of elementary commonsense. Perhaps they want to beat Indian politicians conclusively in this game too, no matter what the damage is to their country.

The circle is now complete. And a new one has begun. The old wine in old bottle has offered nothing new. With Musharraf gone, Pakistan’s slide into anarchy has begun in a tearing hurry. This time, things will move much faster than most people can even imagine now. General Kiyani may have to step in and take charge quickly. The Rs10 crore question is whether this time he will be able to pull his country of the quicksand of terrorism and anarchy, and save it before it is too late.

On its part, India needs to prepare itself to handle the consequences of the developments in Pakistan, including limited military options, to protect its own interests and ensure that the whole region does not become one huge ungovernable mess in the hands of assorted outfits. The call to action might come suddenly, without warning.