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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Without Mush too Pak looks the same

By M. Rama Rao - Syndicate Features

America, Saudi Arabia and Army besides Allah – the four ‘A’s that govern Pakistan- have decided the recent course of events that culminated in the exit of President Pervez Musharraf. All the four have their own concerns over the future of the country as even after 61 years of its independent existence, Pakistan remains unstable –politically and economically. Certainly the United States has more reasons to worry. It had invested so heavily in the person of Pervez Musharraf.

And he has left such a strong anti-US legacy in Pakistan that it is difficult to see the next President or the present coalition government being able to dilute anti-Americanism. In all likelihood Washington will invest all over again on its next Pakistani client. The net effect will be even lesser Pakistani effort in the ‘war on terror’.

Consider these facts. While America was a crucial external factor for his nine-years in power, the main support that mattered more for Musharraf came from his army. It is now headed by a carefully chosen general who is a former head of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence, itself headed by a Musharraf relative. The army advised Musharraf to step down after realising that militants’ anger against the president made the army ‘desirable target’; but it also told the politicians that there should be no persecution of their former chief. There is absolutely no reason, therefore, to believe that the end of Musharraf’s era will eliminate the practice of the army having the last word on important policy matters, particularly relations with India.

Any how the experience of past few months shows that the room for optimism for a change in Pak foreign policy is indeed very limited. the Daily Times said editorially (Aug 21), the advent of PPP led coalition government has not seen any change in the direction of foreign policy: the US, India, China, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan remain the central focus as does the war on terror that at one level binds all these countries to Pakistan. Musharraf faced flak for his policies. Firstly he lacked legitimacy for his rule. Secondly he had lost liberal constituency which rallied in his support in the early days of his rule and made him overlook the need to take public on board.

Taliban presence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan has huge foreign policy ramifications since the US, NATO and the Karzai government in Afghanistan want to see these Islamists eliminated if not tamed into submission. President George Bush Junior, though frustrated, may not dare to ‘do a Iraq’ particularly in North and South Waziristan, now that he has entered his slog overs in the White House. That should be no consolation for Islamabad.

Politicians in Pakistan are in no hurry—actually, unable—to keep the army confined to the barracks. Their pre-occupation at this point must be to show to the people that they can govern the country with some semblance of competence. They have to urgently address many difficult issues such as the bad health of Pakistan’s economy that has seen inflation crossing 25 percent, spiralling prices of food and fuel, the plummeting (Pakistani) rupee, drying foreign investments and so on. Blaming Musharraf for these problems will not wash anymore.

Defenders of Musharraf often overlook the fact that he did little—or could not really care less--to correct the negative image of Pakistan. The reason was his double-faced policy on terrorism: bad mouthing it to impress his American and other Western patrons but not letting it disappear from his soil. Yes, he was not alone to think that patronising militants will help the country achieve its important strategic objectives. It is no secret that Islamabad wants to keep Kabul under its exclusive tutelage and also go on inflicting ‘a thousands wounds’ on India with a view to destabilising and weakening it.

Musharraf was encouraged by the ease with which the Americans surrendered before his guile, knowing full well that his intentions were not honest but doing nothing more than mildly rebuking him publicly for the sake of record. On the ground nothing was done that could rattle Musharraf—like scaling down the apparently unlimited American munificence (officially $10 billion so far) and refusing to gift him arms and equipment, allegedly meant to fight insurgency but actually used by Pakistan to add teeth to its army concentrated permanently on the eastern border with India.

The US has given no reason to assume that its policy of blindly arming Pakistan, post-Musharraf, is about to be recast, despite all the misgivings and apprehensions. The Taliban and similar groups operating from their HQ in Balochistan, as also the jihadis who head for India, will continue to flourish in Pakistan, whether it is Musharraf or someone else in power.

The civilian politicians are opposed to any military action against their ‘brethrens’ inhabiting the western border regions even as they know that ‘peace deals’ with them only saw their influence creeping disconcertingly into the ‘settled areas’ of Pakistan. Pakistan has a Janus-faced policy towards terrorism that nobody in the establishment would like to see given up.

This makes it clear that as far as patronising terrorism in the country is concerned there is going to be no change in Pakistan’s policy after the exit of Musharraf. Afghanistan will see more attacks. And so will India.

For the world Pakistan would not have changed. One of the things that happened during Musharraf’s regime was that the ISI had entrenched itself very well in Bangladesh and increased its network in Nepal for operations against India. This uncomfortable scenario for India will not alter under a full ‘civilian’ rule in Pakistan notwithstanding PPP-PML (N) pledge to ‘normalise’ relations with India and Afghanistan and Zardari’s offer to open up trade with India.

The fire ignited in Kashmir, jointly or separately by the pro-Pakistan secessionists in the valley and angry Hindu right wing in the Jammu region, will not be doused completely in the near future. The politicians in Pakistan have already announced that they would raise the Kashmir issue at all world forums to embarrass and pin down India. The foreign minister of Pakistan already sounds hawkish on India. The Pakistani military is facilitating infiltration across the line of control by firing at Indian troops. The ISI, part of the army, can be sure of receiving a free hand for its extensive but covert anti-India operations, Musharraf or no Musharraf.

The more Pakistan changes the more it looks the same—from New Delhi, at least.

- Asian Tribune -

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