Edition 45 Volume 5 - December 06, 2024

Pakistani reverberations

A country under siege -   Anouar Boukhars

Under Musharraf's rule, the army has become an omnivorous business empire.

Politics of the borderland -   Faisal Devji

It is not surprising that Pakistan should have become the model of sectarian militancy throughout the Muslim world.

A straight line -   Simon Henderson

Do not expect any helpful Pakistani gestures on the Middle East peace process.

Musharraf's quest for legitimacy -   Irfan Husain

In a worst-case scenario in which a Pakistani nuclear device does fall into the wrong hands, Israel would almost certainly be a prime target.

A country under siege
 Anouar Boukhars

Sixty years after its invention as an imagined national community whose membership was defined by religious affiliation, Pakistan is a deeply fractured and bitterly divided society, beset with enormous political and security problems. President Pervez Musharraf's desire to maintain political power at all costs has undermined the military's image and dangerously threatened prospects for stability in the country.

As is the case with most dictators, Musharraf started as a decent man but soon fell prey to his own ambition, convincing himself that he is Pakistan's indispensable man, a national hero who transformed the country from a rogue state into a crucial Muslim ally of the United States. Musharraf likes to brag about his eight-year tenure in office, especially when compared to the record of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, two former prime ministers with tainted reputations. Since he seized power in a military coup in 1999, the economy has expanded, foreign exchange reserves shot up from less than $1 billion to $16 billion, and the stock exchange index has seen its value rise 13-fold.

But Musharraf's obsession with power and miscalculations cost him his credibility. Since his botched bid to fire the country's chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, his popularity and political capital among Pakistanis slid dramatically. His approval rating has gone from 63 percent in 2024 to 21 percent, according to a survey released by the International Republican Institute in early October 2024. Approximately three quarters of those polled opposed Musharraf's re-election as president and about the same number thought that the country was on the wrong track. The survey also confirmed what many other polls have repeatedly shown: the alternative to military rule in Pakistan is not the Taliban-like Islamic zealots. In a free and fair election, 64 percent of Pakistanis will vote for the two main moderate opposition parties while 31 percent of the vote will be divided almost equally between Musharraf's Muslim League and all other religious parties combined.

Today, the only thing that unites this country of 167 million people is Pakistanis' wish to see an immediate a-politicization of the army and its return to the barracks. This wish, however, might be unattainable despite Musharraf's decision to quit as army chief. Under Musharraf's rule, the army has become an omnivorous business empire, controlling as much as one-third of all heavy manufacturing, seven percent of private assets and 12m acres of public land. Musharraf and his comrades in the army, who harbor deep disdain for civilian authority, attribute this massive control of assets to the efficiency and competence of military personnel. The military claims that its control of thousands of public organizations and businesses like banks, insurance companies, fertilizer plants, bakeries and universities is beneficial for the economy. "Why is anyone jealous if the retired military officers or the civilians with them are doing a good job contributing to the economy?" Musharraf once said.

In reality, however, the Pakistani military thrives thanks to lavish government subsidies and bailouts for military-run businesses, which stifle competition and business. To be sure, the military's commercial empire is not a creation of Musharraf. It grew under his tenure but its economic clout preceded his rule.

With or without Musharraf, the army's role in Pakistan's politics will not diminish significantly. The country's new army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, may well focus his time and energy on enhancing the army's combat effectiveness and restoring its credibility in the eyes of the public. The humiliating poor performance of the military in battles against the Taliban and al-Qaeda has demoralized the force. Hundreds of soldiers have already surrendered without a fight and dozens more have deserted.

This has been exacerbated by growing public distrust and criticism. "The army has never seen as much criticism as it has in the last 10 months," noted Dr Hasan Askari Rizvim, a prominent military specialist. The anxiety about the state of the army prompted 20 former generals, air marshals and admirals to appeal to Musharraf to quit his functions as head of state and army chief. Kiyani, a former chief of Pakistan's intelligence agency and a graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, seems to understand the urgency and necessity to boost the army's morale and restore its reputation. He might even distance himself from Musharraf. But one thing is sure: Kiyani will do nothing to jeopardize the institutional and financial interests of his military. In this, he will be supported by many civilian politicians who profit commercially as well as politically from the status quo.

As these events unfold in Pakistan, Middle Eastern dictators generally are concerned about a state collapse in another Muslim country of utmost strategic importance. Like the United States and most other western countries, they are terrified at the prospect of a takeover of the country by radical Islamists. They are also terrified at the prospects of democracy in Pakistan and the "negative" precedent that an overthrow of Musharraf's dictatorship would set for their longevity.- Published 6/12/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Anouar Boukhars is assistant professor of political science and international studies at McDaniel College. He is also a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

Politics of the borderland
 Faisal Devji

Scholars, journalists and policy-makers alike tend to situate Pakistan within one of two geo-political landscapes. In the first it is seen as a South Asian country whose politics is directed chiefly by a history of confrontation with India. This determines Pakistan's relations with everyone from China to the United States. And in the second it is viewed as a Muslim country whose relations with both allies and enemies are informed by Islamic solidarities that have become increasingly internationalized. In its South Asian landscape Pakistani politics is defined by reasons of state, while its politics as a Muslim country is informed by popular opinion. It is impossible to put together a "big picture" of the country's political life by combining these incommensurable visions. I would like to suggest instead that Pakistan should be seen not as a country situated in some geo-political space, but as a borderland created by the overlapping jurisdictions of a number of such spaces.

We need only reflect upon the Pakistani army's master doctrine of "strategic depth" to realize how its own military strategy deprives the country of geo-political integrity. According to this doctrine the country's geography can only sustain a narrow corridor of infrastructure, whether civilian or military, that is strung out along the Indus and its tributaries, and whose vulnerability to attack necessitates the drawing of Pakistan's strategic borders outside its political ones. What is important about this doctrine is not its truth or falsehood, nor even its ability to explain Pakistani actions in India and Afghanistan, but rather the fact that it divests the country of all integrity by rendering its already porous borders strategically irrelevant. Whatever social or economic unity it might possess, therefore, Pakistan does not exist as a country from the military point of view, which thus resolves it precisely into a borderland.

And in fact it is Pakistan rather than the old "buffer-zone" of Afghanistan that has served as the borderland of conflicts across the region as well as the globe. Whereas Afghanistan had in the past constituted a borderland for the imperial rivalry of the Mughals and Safavids or the "great game" of the British and Russians, Pakistan has in our own times formed a political borderland between the Americans and the Soviets or the Indians and the Chinese. But the country has not simply become the site of regional or global conflict as a proxy state. Having significantly outpaced its old enemy economically and politically, for instance, India is now in the curious position of treating Pakistan as a problem internal to its rapidly expanding sphere of influence. This was made evident once the Asian giant had cemented alliances of one sort or another with all its smaller rival's neighbors, thus encapsulating Pakistan within what are in effect the economic and military borders of British India.

However all of this represents nothing more than the paradoxical fulfillment of Pakistan's doctrine of strategic depth, whose politics of supporting militancy in Kashmir and other parts of India long ago made the country into an internal problem for its larger neighbor. In this sense, Pakistan presents for India almost the same kind of problem as semi-autonomous tribal areas like Waziristan do for the Islamic republic, with both countries interested in preserving these enclaves and containing their fractious politics. But then much of what is today Pakistan had existed precisely as this sort of enclave within British India, a status to which it arguably returned after the violent separation of Bangladesh in 1971, following which Indian policy was dedicated to containing its enemy and even keeping it in place rather than risking the possibility of Pakistan's remaining portion dissolving into anarchy.

Even when Pakistan serves as a proxy for some other state or supplies the site for a war waged by outside forces on its territory--a double role it has played in two global conflicts already, as an American ally during the Cold War and the War on Terror--it does so in an unusual way. After an Islamic republic was established in Iran, for example, Pakistan quickly became an important ideological battlefield between the forces of Shi'ite revolution sponsored by Iran and those of the Sunni counter-revolution funded by Saudi Arabia. With the Iran-Iraq war another front was added to this battle that saw the emergence of sectarian militias and suicide bombings in Pakistan, from where such forms were introduced to the Middle East. Pakistan became the setting for sectarian struggle because it is the most important Sunni country in the world, with a large population at home and abroad, a skilled workforce, industrial capacity and a sophisticated elite, all of which made it into a significant site of Islamic ideological production.

Yet Pakistan, together with India, is also home to the only important Shi'ite elite outside Iran, one that is instrumental in funding sectarian causes worldwide. So it is not surprising that Pakistan should have become the model of sectarian militancy throughout the Muslim world. Indeed this struggle, sponsored by states like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, can even be said to have given substance to both the recent wars in Afghanistan, whatever the Russians or Americans thought was happening there. Unlike Afghanistan, however, Pakistan has never been a mere proxy in such conflicts, since it is by no means weak in military or even economic terms, currently enjoying a growth rate of eight percent despite its continuing political crisis. In fact, Pakistan has been embroiled in these conflicts precisely because of its strengths, which include a professional army that has since colonial times been used around the region as a mercenary force, in our days rented out to countries like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait as much as it is to the United States.

While it is the true home of Islamic ideologies, militant as well as moderate, Pakistan is at the same time home to the most powerful civil society in the Muslim world. Indeed these two facts go together, which is why both secular and sectarian protesters are to be found among those demonstrating against military rule in that country. Whether in its civilian or military incarnations, therefore, the state here does not resemble its Middle Eastern equivalents, being unable even to survey Pakistani society let alone control it. For whatever the strength of its military, this state is a stunted one, which is exactly what one would expect in a borderland. And what we see happening in protests and bombings across the country now is the coming apart of Pakistan's vibrant if contentious civil society from its stunted state, an event of such great significance that it has forced political parties like that of Benazir Bhutto to set aside their power-sharing deals with President Pervez Musharraf for the moment in order to join these civil society demonstrations and try to claim their leadership in the borderland.- Published 6/12/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Faisal Devji is associate professor of history at The New School in New York.

A straight line
 Simon Henderson

General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is now retired General Musharraf. The country's often crucial role of chief of army staff has been handed to his nominated successor, General Ashraf Kayani. But it is too early to write off Musharraf. The "after Musharraf" era has yet to begin.

The Middle East will likely be inextricably linked to what happens over the next few months. After all, it is widely believed that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the border area of Afghanistan, perhaps in Pakistan's lawless federally administered tribal areas. One of al-Qaeda's training locations of choice appears to be Pakistan. And Pakistan's nuclear weapons are seen as being "Islamic" bombs, perhaps available to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Saudi Arabia was the destination of Musharraf's first and only foreign trip since he imposed a state of emergency on November 3.

Although he has given up his uniform, in fact, by sleight of political hand Musharraf is arguably more important now than he was before. The post of president of Pakistan can be merely honorific. In titular terms, the president is overall commander of the Pakistani military, and opens parliament and appoints judges. That was the status of Muhammed Rafiq Tarar, a former supreme court judge who was president when Musharraf seized power from Nawaz Sharif in a coup d'etat in 1999. Indeed, Musharraf only eventually felt he needed to push Tarar to one side in 2024 so as to bolster his status in diplomatic talks with India.

Being both army head and president is no doubt powerful, but Musharraf's new status only as president was actually further enhanced by the state of emergency he declared. Popularly described as "second military coup", it was really a suspension of civil rights and an assault on the independence of the courts--it was noticeable that it was enforced by normal police units rather than soldiers. Without soldiers on the streets, or even the prospect of them, General Kayani's power is for the present relatively limited.

So what is in prospect? After eight years of Musharraf, the world should have learned by now that whatever we should expect, it should not be coherence. Musharraf is a man of action, still apparently seeing himself as the commando he trained to be, taking lightning decisions by instinct rather than considered thought. Just before he took over, he led the Pakistani army into a disastrous confrontation with India in the high mountains of Kargil, a failure he neatly blamed on Nawaz Sharif, who was initially ignorant of it. This year's decision to sack the supreme court chief justice was also taken with little realization of the consequences.

Musharraf is helped because some of his greatest foreign allies have a similar distaste for notions of democracy, especially anything approaching undisciplined political rallies. He was probably annoyed by Saudi Arabia's decision to allow Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan from his enforced exile. But Sharif, from the Punjab, is liked by the army, which is habitually dominated by a Punjabi clique. (Musharraf himself was born in British India, hence considered an outsider.) But the Saudi royal family likes a military-dominated Pakistan and probably just wants events to quiet down, with perhaps politicians only in some minor supporting role. (China, Pakistan's other major traditional ally, almost certainly takes a similar view.) The United Arab Emirates, or, rather, its leading sheikhdom, Abu Dhabi, probably concurs. Fortuitously, with high oil prices, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are rolling in cash, so subsidies to Pakistan can be generous and not onerous.

Washington's influence on Pakistani policy is unlikely to be decisive. Do not expect any helpful Pakistani gestures on the Middle East peace process of the kind signaled by the then historic September 2024 meeting in Istanbul between the Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers.

Also remember Pakistan's previous assistance to the nuclear programs of Iran and Libya, help blamed wholly on the disgraced scientist A Q Khan but unlikely to have happened without the connivance of successive military leaders. The possible reasoning for such cooperation is complex and deeply disturbing.

The "after Musharraf" era of General Kayani will only begin if he rises to prominence when there is, domestically, trouble on the streets that requires the military to perform riot control duties. Or if there is a foreign policy crisis like an increase in tensions with India. A third, and dangerous, possibility is that army morale will collapse because of the need to confront Muslim tribesmen and jihadists along the border with Afghanistan rather than the traditional enemy of (Hindu) India.

What is the link with the Middle East? Afghanistan - the US and Britain - Iraq - al-Qaeda - Islamic tensions. It is a straight line.- Published 6/12/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is a former BBC and Financial Times correspondent based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Musharraf's quest for legitimacy
 Irfan Husain

As widespread protests against President Pervez Musharraf's suspension of the constitution die down in Pakistan, there must be sighs of relief in Washington and Tel Aviv. The turmoil and the crackdown had intensified after Musharraf preempted an expected verdict against his re-election on November 3, against a backdrop of mounting concern over the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Over the last eight years he has been in power, Musharraf has come to be viewed as a reliable figure in western capitals, a "safe pair of hands". Despite the resurgence of the Taliban and the increasing potency of the threat that movement's Pakistani supporters pose in the northwest of the country, the international community was more or less comfortable with Musharraf in charge. As long as he was around, went the received wisdom, Pakistan's nuclear assets were safe.

Musharraf's problems--most of them self-inflicted--began piling up after March 9, when he tried to remove the stubbornly independent chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry. This generated serious concern in Washington and other world capitals. Although instability in Pakistan would strengthen the extremists, the more pressing worry was the possibility of nuclear warheads and related material falling into al-Qaeda's hands.

When the Pakistani army was constructing facilities to store and conceal components of its nuclear arsenal, it located these sites away from the Indian border, in the northwest of the country. These are the very areas where the extremists are now gaining in strength. And although their location remains a closely guarded secret, there is a worry that al-Qaeda might have supporters in the ranks of the Pakistani military. It is common knowledge that both the defense establishment and the intelligence community in Pakistan have been infiltrated by Taliban sympathizers. These fears have been compounded by the country's history of proliferation and the covert help A Q Khan, the disgraced nuclear scientist, must have received from the military.

In the worst-case scenario in which a Pakistani nuclear device does fall into the wrong hands, Israel would almost certainly be a prime target. Frustrated by the enormous technological edge enjoyed by the IDF, Israel's enemies would dearly love to get their hands on an equalizer. In all probability, they would be unwilling to take the risk of trying to smuggle the device into the United States, so Israel would do fine as the next best target.

In much of the Muslim world, Israel is seen as an extension of the US. Indeed, regarding all hostile American policies that concern Muslim countries the prevailing view is that it is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Thus, an attack on Israel would be viewed, especially in jihadist circles, as a blow against the hated Americans.

As Pakistan has been progressively destabilized through a combination of military rule and the rise of religious extremism, another concern is the emergence of vast tracts in the turbulent tribal areas as safe havens for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. With the weakening of the state's writ in these rugged badlands, the grip of terrorists has tightened.

With more training camps being established in these areas, an expansion of the global jihad can be expected. Western as well as Israeli targets will be at risk. Indeed, the biggest danger is the emergence of a nascent Greater Pushtunistan where Pushtun tribesmen on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border who have traditionally supported the Taliban will gain autonomy.

Another area in which Musharraf's support would be needed is Iran. Should there be a decision to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Pakistan's long common border would be crucial to the success of such a campaign. Although Pakistan's participation would be kept secret due to the political ramifications of its involvement, the possibility of American special forces and aircraft crossing the Balochistan border in western Pakistan could make the difference between success and failure.

Finally, Musharraf is the only Pakistani leader to have publicly advocated a debate on finally establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. Although his initiative lost steam with the attack on Lebanon last year and the subsequent political turmoil in Pakistan, he has not used the usual anti-Israel rhetoric so common in the Muslim world.

Despite the fact that Pakistan is a long way from the Arab heartland, Musharraf is still a respected figure in the Middle East. This is largely due to Pakistan being the only Muslim nuclear power. But the general's call for "enlightened moderation" is
music to the ears of Arab leaders who fear Islamic militancy. They are all nervous about the possibility of an implosion in Pakistan that would encourage militants to establish a permanent presence there, as they did in Afghanistan during the Taliban era.

Musharraf appears to have got over the worst: he now has a subservient judiciary, a divided opposition and a supportive White House. His generals are solidly behind him, and the newly-emerging private TV channels have been cowed. His decision to retire from the army and take an oath of office as a civilian president is unlikely to cause any major changes in policies, at least in the short run. But the legitimacy he so ardently desires continues to elude him. If he cannot build bridges to the opposition, he will remain vulnerable.- Published 6/12/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Irfan Husain writes two columns a week for Dawn, Pakistan's widest circulating and most influential daily. After a career in the civil service spanning 30 years, he was president of a university in Pakistan for five years. He now divides his time between England and Pakistan.

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