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Pakistan Turmoil: Where Does The Fault Belong?

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President Pervez Musharraf is presently enjoying the full support of the sole super power on the earth -- and the United States has been trying to justify his bid for reelecting himself as president.

His contention is that remaining in uniform is also a must, as presently, the country is at war with the terrorists. He wants to lead both the nation and armed forces.

But most of the politicians are against him. So far no one has won the arguments, but more time is being wasted on the discussion. No one is giving attention to the real problems of the masses. So one can say the masses are the main victims at this moment.

A leading newspaper also discussed this issue. It stated that talking to federal and provincial ministers, senators, members of the national and Punjab assemblies, and district nazims from the province, at Chief Minister’s Secretariat in Lahore, President General Pervez Musharraf has declared his intention to contest the presidential election for another term “because the country needs him”. He added that he wanted to complete some mega projects, and continue his reform agenda in the next presidential term.

President Musharraf’s assessment of himself differs from that of the people of Pakistan: the last opinion survey conducted in Pakistan showed that 70 percent of the people do not want him around. Apparently, they no longer regard him as their protector against the forces of anarchy and chaos unleashed in the country on his watch. It is not that they did not ever favour him; they did, but something has happened in his last few years in power that has reversed the popular view.

Is it true that the state was in turmoil and failing until he came in and he rescued it? Partly, yes, because Pakistan’s regional jihads in the 1990s had exacted an internal toll. One can say that he was included in the “jihadi consensus” in Pakistani politics by reason of being a senior officer in the army. Was he free of the taint of “interference” in civilian rule? No, he was not, from the way he reacted as army chief to prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to normalise relations with India.

His importance for Pakistan lies in the fact that he shunned the dominant “Aslam Beg-Hamid Gul” school of thought within the army and decided to set Pakistan right by ending its international isolation. By giving up the “strategic depth” posture, the Pakistan army has worked in synchronisation with a repentant Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states formerly blinking the atrocities of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The immediate effect of this policy change was enhanced security against a very possible US-India joint move against Pakistan, and the turnaround of an economy that had hit bottom after the 1998 nuclear test.

The people rallied to General Musharraf’s activism in the beginning. But there always seemed an unrealistic flourish about him which was ignored in the face of his serious stewardship of the economy. He also set about rolling back the jihad that had done no harm to India but had sapped the Pakistani state of its internal sovereignty. But here too he was ambivalent at the best of times. He never looked like really going after the extremists who were masquerading as warriors of God. In fact, he let the jihadi organisations change their names and continue their “work”. Indeed, he “saved” some of them so that the state might have another fling at jihad against India if it did not deliver on Kashmir.

He also postured as a statesman and was more bold in his radical verbalisations than many a civilian politician before him. But one could see a kind of intellectual foreshortening in his thinking as he shunned strategy in favour of tactics. He talked of his personal leanings towards secularism but chose as his political crutch a party opposed to secular values. He announced himself as a person of transition who would usher in “true and lasting” democracy. Then he announced his intention of banishing both the mainstream parties from the political arena. To keep the two out he leaned on the clerics and satisfied their lust for domination by getting them to ban Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto from power through his 17th Amendment.

A secular-minded Musharraf practised obfuscation and ambivalence as political theory. He rode the conservative PMLQ while mouthing secular slogans in reference to governance, the minorities and women. He thought passports could be bowdlerised of narrow-minded entries, but backed down when his party balked.

He put joint electorates in the 17th Amendment but chickened out when it came to giving Ahmedis the same status as other non-Muslims. The policy on the madrassas was his most blatant failure. Under him the number of madrassas in Pakistan doubled, including the ones that opened right under his nose in Islamabad. The number of boys who joined the seminaries also doubled, and in Karachi the honeycomb of sectarian Deobandi madrassas proudly announced “house full” on admission days. He saw the hostile proliferation but kept quiet. The jihadi graduates of these madrassas tried to kill him, but he kept drawing in his horns rather than grasping the nettle and getting rid of the menace. He let the Lal Masjid affair simmer for years till it blew up in his face. In fact, he let Lal Masjid stage a mammoth anti-Shia gathering of sectarian criminals in 2006, thus throwing dust in the eyes of the “liberals” who supported him.

Like his adventure at Kargil, his mobilisation against Al Qaeda in Waziristan failed because of incompetence. The sectarian killings that had picked up in his tenure actually reached their peak. His “bold” operation in Balochistan alienated many because he attempted it without political support and in defiance of all advice. All sincere advice to him about attempting an alignment of the liberal forces behind him fell on deaf ears. By the time he realised that he had to talk to the political leaders he had ousted, his strangely “incomplete” personality had queered the pitch for any meaningful reconciliation.

If he was alarmed by the fall of the different regions of the country to Talibanisation he never looked like doing anything about it. He started a normalisation process with India as a counterweight to Talibanisation — he either did not see it like this or was not committed to full normalisation — but stopped it on the question of trade.

India has gone on to challenge him in Afghanistan. He blinked incursions into Afghanistan from the Tribal Areas till he lost the Western support he had in 2001. If any domestic support was left over, he destroyed it by shabbily handling a reference against the chief justice of Pakistan. All this has not been lost to most Pakistanis. If he sticks around in his self-righteous mode without forging a forceful consensus on these unfinished agendas and completing them, why should one make concessions for him?

He now says he will seek national reconciliation after the general elections and finish the job he set out to do. Is there any guarantee that he will keep his pledge? Won’t he continue in the same half-hearted mode as before? Why should the politicians nationally reconcile with him if he means to hog power?

On the other hand, it is true that he has three major accomplishments that need to be consolidated. First, his flexible approach to resolving disputes with India is invaluable. No politician has succeeded in bettering him. Second, the growing economy is his legacy. No politician has done half as well. Third, no politician has the same personal and institutional incentive or power as him to put down Al Qaeda. He has also now switched from allying with the religious clerics to moderate parties like the PPP. This is a step in the right direction and an implicit admission that his earlier policies in regard to the MMA were wrong.

If he can swing it and deliver, no one will hold his earlier failures on some fronts against him. If he can’t, then no one will mourn him when he exits.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur District, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is (more...)

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