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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 82

Scepticism increasing on Musharraf's ability to crack the whip on Jihadists

By M Rama Rao - Reporting for Asian Tribune

New Delhi, 09 March ( Scepticism is increasing by the day on Pakistan President Gen Musharraf's ability to crack the whip on the Islamists and Jihadists and his willingness to restore democracy in the country. His source of power is the military and it has no exit strategy says, a noted Pak scholar Prof Hasan Askari Rizvi, who is currently teaching at the Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies. In his view Pak military considers itself as critical to internal stability and its external security. This assessment assumes significance with political leaders like Pir Pagaro, who proudly proclaim their close association with the military establishment, predicting that the much talked about elections would be postponed and a state of emergency would be imposed to prolong the life of present parliament and thus facilitate 'smooth' re-election of Musharraf for another term.

Prof Rizvi opines that the Pak military is willing to co-opt political forces on its own terms but is unwilling to transfer power to them in any meaningful sense. The army's role and presence across Pakistan has expanded ever since Gen Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup to dethrone an unpopular prime minister. The learned professor's assessment appears credible if it is considered against the backdrop of negotiations between Musharraf camp and Benazir Bhutto's Peoples Party of Pakistan (PPP). These negotiations were held primarily on Musharraf's terms with some initial prompting from mutual friends in Washington but did not bear fruit till date.

Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, Prof Rizvi also makes the point that Musharraf's source of power is the army and that is the reason why he is unwilling to give up his uniform. He enjoys the full support of his corps commanders, and that is because he has ensured that army's interests – both professional and commercial – are looked after and catered for. At the same Musharraf takes all major policy decisions in consultation with senior commanders and intelligence chiefs.

This assessment of the Pakistan professor should be of interest to New Delhi, which is willing to do business with the General.

Another point Prof Rizvi makes also deserves immediate attention. According to him, the thinking of Islamist groups and elements in the defence establishment is still 'frozen' in the Afghan experience against the Soviet Union. After the Afghan war ended, Zia regime and the civilian governments that followed him permitted Kashmir "jihad" to be carried out by the ISI, which had gained a lot of experience and expertise during the Afghan war against the Soviets. Musharraf had pursued the same policy.

Musharraf has declared enlightened moderation as his policy and goal but Prof Rizvi opines that it will be difficult for him to ensure its success unless he broadens his political base. "The success of his anti-terrorism policy is also dependent on that. Liberal and democratic groups question Musharraf's legitimacy. They also feel alienated, having been kept out of power and decision-making", he says and adds, the General's party – ruling PML- does not openly support his moderate policy. Compounding Musharraf's problems, the hard line groups are dead set against his enlightened moderation. The MMA is itching for confrontation with the General to keep its hawkish image in tact. From this flows Prof Hasan Askari Rizvi contention that Musharraf's anti-terrorism policy lacks backing by both his allies and his enemies. While the higher echelons of the army are one with Musharraf, at lower levels there is sympathy for what are viewed as Islamic causes more so as there are questions whether Musharraf is pushing the Pakistan agenda or the agenda dictated by the Americans.

Musharraf's attempts to satisfy both sides are unlikely to succeed as there is no consensus on the goal posts. Like many western experts, the Pakistan Professor also subscribes to the view that Musharraf regime is no longer in a position to do more than what it has done thus far in the war against terrorism. That too when he himself is seeking a re-election!

It is this reality that has prompted the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM) to warn the nation that the unfolding crisis is 'far more serious and grave' than the situation that led to balkanisation of the country in 1971. "Any attempt to hold stage managed elections would push Pakistan into a terrible storm", PONM President Mahmoud Khan Achakzai says the situation is beyond the control of General Pervez Musharraf and his handpicked political aides. He points out that 1971 elections was the result of repression of people which led to the break up the country. "Even the 1977 elections were the outcome of the oppressive rule and engineered results. These could not come to rescue Z. A Bhutto from the gallows".

The only way out, PONM President says, is sending the army back to the barracks and get the representatives of civil society including all national leaders, intellectuals, teachers and others to sit together, accept their past blunders and formulate strategy to resolve the looming crisis.

He is clear that fair, free and transparent elections could not be held in the present set up and by the present election commission. So he calls for the setting up of a caretaker government headed by a Supreme Court judge. His other pre-requisites for fair poll are an independent election commission, elimination of the role of the army and secret agencies be eliminated.

These are tall demands in the prevailing milieu in Pakistan

- Asian Tribune -

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