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The following story was downloaded from the Far East Economic Review. It
shows a side of the situation in Pakistan that American newspapers don't
seem aware of.
THE DANGER WITHIN
By Ahmed Rashid
Issue cover-dated May 30, 2002
For the first time since independence in 1947, Pakistan's army is facing a
crisis on two fronts--the threat of invasion by India in the east and an
uprising by tribal warlords in the west. As if that is not bad enough,
President Pervaiz Musharraf faces even heavier fire, literally and
figuratively, from within the country. For the first time in the history of
Pakistan, which has fought India three times, politicians and the public are
refusing to rally around the army as it faces the possibility of war again.
Public confidence in Musharraf's military regime is at its lowest ebb
following the holding on April 30 of a referendum, widely condemned as
rigged, that saw his mandate extended by five years. Almost the entire
political spectrum has united in condemning the military, while extremist
Islamic parties have regrouped and are challenging Musharraf. The Islamic
parties object to his cooperation with the United States in its war on
terrorism. To top it all, the economic malaise has worsened.
All this raises questions as to whether Musharraf can deliver on his pledge
to hold a general election by October, three years after he seized power
from an elected government. "We have lost our way again," says a bank
executive. "Musharraf has gone a full cycle from being a pariah leader
before September 11, to the toast of the world and now it's downhill all the
way." Reflecting the pessimism in business circles, the Karachi bourse
plunged 7.5% on May 20.
But Musharraf does not seem to recognize the threat facing his regime and
has firmly rejected any kind of cooperation with those he regards as his
political enemies--ousted former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz
Sharif--that could help ensure stability. He also does not seem to recognize
that Islamic militants are a threat to internal and regional stability, but
he does realize that a concerted crackdown could alienate his support base
in the army and intelligence services. And thus Pakistan's lackadaisical war
on terrorism at home has not satisfied India and other overseas critics.
The internal problems stem partly from the determination by Musharraf and
the army's corps commanders to secure their position following the October
1999 coup that ousted Sharif. Musharraf appointed himself president in June
2001 and pledged to hold a general election by October 2002. But he failed
in his attempt to set up a political group--gathering defectors from
existing parties--that would contest the election and implement his policies
afterwards. So the president decided to cement his power by holding the
The government claimed a 70% voter turnout, while opposition parties and
independent monitoring groups said it was no more than 5%-10%. Nevertheless
Musharraf claimed a massive victory, polarizing the country and giving
divided political alliances a common issue on which to challenge the regime.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which monitored the election,
claimed that, among other illegalities, ballot boxes were tampered with,
many people voted more than once, there were no voters' lists and civil
servants were mobilized to encourage people to vote.
Although the U.S. was silent because it needs Pakistan's help in its war on
terrorism, both the Commonwealth and the European Union questioned the
outcome of the referendum and the future of democracy in Pakistan. "I will
have great difficulty persuading the European parliament to continue to
support Pakistan as we would like, if it looks as though the government is
moving away from what it said about democracy or the promises it made on
dealing with terrorism," Chris Patten, the EU's external relations
commissioner, told Dawn newspaper after the referendum.
Meanwhile, opposition at home to Musharraf's government coalesced after the
controversial referendum results and despite the renewed spectre of war
after a deadly attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir on May 14. All the
major secular political and Islamic parties have now joined hands. An All
Parties Conference, convened in Lahore on May 19, recognized the threat from
India, but then demanded that Musharraf step down and a caretaker government
hold immediate elections. "Musharraf stands discredited and lacks the
stature and moral authority to deal with the current threat to national
security," a statement read. The parties also demanded that the ban on
political activities be lifted "because wars cannot be fought unless the
nation backs the armed forces."
But Musharraf has shown no inclination to compromise and the military still
seems determined to engineer the outcome of the election, though that looks
more and more difficult. Bhutto has pledged to return to Pakistan in August,
even if she is arrested on a conviction for corruption. "Musharraf is
determined to keep Bhutto and Sharif out whatever the cost to the country,"
says a disgruntled senior Pakistani bureaucrat. The suggestion is that the
issue is more personal than principled--the government publicly says the two
cannot return because they are criminals.
There is an another threat. Militant Islamic groups--banned by Musharraf
under international pressure in January after an attack on the Indian
parliament--are regrouping. Some observers fear they are using terrorism in
Pakistan to destabilize the regime and in Kashmir to try and provoke a war
In fact Musharraf's promised crackdown was a sham. Some 2,000 militants were
freed after a few weeks. Islamic militants are believed by the government to
have been behind bomb attacks that left five people, including two
Americans, dead in a Protestant church in Islamabad on March 17 and 14
people, including 11 French defence technicians, dead in Karachi on May 8.
Meanwhile, 13 Shia Muslim doctors have been gunned down in Karachi this year
by Sunni Muslim extremists. Technocrats, teachers and moderate Islamic
scholars have also been killed and thousands of professionals are trying to
The army's unwillingness to crack down hard on extremism is due to a mixture
of fear and expediency. Sympathy for anti-U.S. Islamic militancy is still
strong in sections of the army and the intelligence services, and by
clamping down too hard Musharraf risks alienating this support base. Also,
in the past the army has used the militants to back the Kashmiri insurgency
against India. "The army has failed to snap the umbilical cord with the
Islamic groups, because it would mean an abject abandonment of the Kashmir
cause," says a senior European diplomat. "But Musharraf is losing everything
he has gained since September 11."
The regime refuses to acknowledge any threat. "We banned the militant
parties because they broke the law. They are not a threat to the army nor
are they trying to destabilize the country," says a senior general advising
While Western diplomats believe it is unlikely that Pakistan instigated
attacks on Indian army camps in Kashmir on May 14 and May 20, they say these
raids showed that the militants cannot be controlled by the army.
The threats from India are coupled with rising protests from heavily armed
ethnic Pashtun tribesmen who are opposed to the army's cooperation with U.S.
special forces in rooting root out remnants of the Al Qaeda terrorist
network along the border with Afghanistan. "American troops, in violation of
the tribal code of honour, are raiding houses and religious schools in the
tribal areas," Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the influential
Jamaat-e-Ullema Islam party, told reporters in mid-May.
Rehman accused Musharraf "of jeopardizing the sovereignty of the country . .
... by dancing to the American tune." The U.S. is pushing for more Pakistani
troops on the ground, but the senior general says: "We cannot go to war with
our own people and our troops are tied up on the Indian front."
For a few months after September 11, it appeared that the army had finally
found its moorings by backing the Western coalition. But the political
crisis at home is so multi-dimensional and threatening that once they've put
out one fire, another has sparked up somewhere else, and the army is
desperately searching for a way out.
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