The once close ally of the United States, General Pervez Musharraf, has almost been abandoned by US President Bush and now, he wants to bring another man to lead Pakistan. This desire of US President has further aggravated the situation. There is continued turmoil in the country and abrupt changes in the leadership could worsen the situation. President Bush is again making a mistake like he made in Iraq by launching an unnecessary war there. President Musharraf has been fighting against Taliban and terrorists. Let him accomplish the job.
According to an editorial comment: The United States is gradually changing its discourse on the situation in Pakistan and sending fairly clear signals to General Pervez Musharraf containing criticism and “directives”. It is quietly taking cognisance of the growing negative opinion of the Washington press and much more up-front anti-Musharraf moves in Congress. The new refrain is focused more on the “people” of Pakistan than on the achievements of General Musharraf. It has already taken a stand against the Emergency, which it wants lifted, and it wants the general to take off his uniform and become a civilian president after the Supreme Court decides the “re-election” case in his favour.
The US Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, has said he will soon try to “help put Pakistan’s political process back on track” during his visit in Islamabad. The message from him is going to be tough. The “pledge” given by the country’s Attorney General that General Musharraf will resign in December may not be enough or too late. In Lahore, an increasingly outspoken US Consul General Bryan Hunt has added another demand: “The Emergency should be lifted and restrictions on the media also withdrawn”.
Mr Negroponte is going to talk tough about the suppression of the opposition in general and the arrest and confinement of the PPP leader Ms Benazir Bhutto. In anticipation, the general has freed Ms Bhutto while also allowing other important persons in the country like the human rights worker Ms Asma Jehangir to get out of house arrest. There is clearly a concern in Washington that the proposed Musharraf-Bhutto reconciliation has not taken place and in fact the government is now confronting the PPP in the streets of the country. After the clamping of the Emergency, Ms Bhutto has been less hopeful of ever arriving at an understanding with him. In fact, she has declared that her “communication” with him is at an end. Her new mode of communication is the Long March that has been firmly put down in Punjab. Her ability to mobilise the country’s largest party has however been demonstrated. Unless Mr Negroponte can dissuade her, she might take the next step of joining the rest of the political opposition to try and organise a final push to actually force General Musharraf to resign.
Agitation scares the United States because it can lead to consequences that Washington will not be able to tackle within the framework of its policy against terrorism and its security strategy in the region. It is involved in the pacification of Afghanistan and faces a recalcitrant Iran in the Gulf in the west with security linkages in the east. In both these cases, things are not looking good from the point of view of Washington. If Pakistan turns inward and fighting erupts in the streets of its cities, it will be less and less able to confront the rising tide of Talibanisation in the Tribal Areas and in at least two provinces that bear its brunt. The most dreaded scenario in Pakistan is the consolidation of Waziristan and Swat as the stronghold of Al Qaeda and its warriors. Already foreign terrorists have begun to be trained in these areas. It is only a matter of time before Al Qaeda begins to plan its next big action inside the United States from Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. And most observers in the US feel that political turmoil in Pakistan will simply deprive General Musharraf of whatever ability he has to stand up to the challenge of terrorism.
Following a policy of “realism”, the United States is not overly passionate about the ideal of democracy. Instead of focusing on such abstractions, it has made its assessment of the Pakistani military’s current ability to fight Al Qaeda in the territory that the Taliban have begun to control. Experts have given their opinion on the “defeats” that the security forces have so far suffered at the hands of the militants in Waziristan and Swat. It is also known to the world that Al Qaeda and its representatives are administrating South Waziristan as a mini-state complete with its own taxation system and its own salaried army. The challenge before the Pakistan army is the retrieval of lost territory. Lost territory operationally means invading a territory controlled by someone else. Invasion is always more difficult than defence. When the Talibanised areas are attacked by the army, all the signs of an “invaded” territory come to the fore. The local people join their oppressors and look at the invading Pakistan army as their enemy. There are also defections from within the security forces that should worry General Musharraf.
The pressure from Washington is going to be unrelenting because the general is already internationally isolated, despite ex-prime minister Shaukat Aziz’s rather belated call for Pakistan and Iran to come together in a special relationship. Given Saudi Arabia’s umbrage over the way the general has treated Mr Nawaz Sharif, there is no one willing to come to the help of a military man who has run himself into a corner.