Event ReportsPublished on Feb 11, 2008
In an email interview with ORF Pakistan Studies Programme, well-known expert Hassan Abbas discussed a variety of issues about Pakistan. Dr Abbas, a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government,
Change is critical for Pakistan's survival

In an email interview with ORF Pakistan Studies Programme, well-known expert Hassan Abbas discussed a variety of issues about Pakistan. Dr Abbas, a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, has served the Deputy Director of Investigations in Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau from 1999-2000 and as a Sub-Divisional Police Chief in North West Frontier Province from 1996-1998. He is the author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America's War on Terror.
Excerpts from his interview:

Domestic situation
Tragically Pakistan is recognizing the real potential and greatness of Benazir Bhutto after her elimination. She was not without faults of course, but she truly was one of the very few world class leaders that the country produced in sixty years of its tumultuous history. Although there are no poll figures to quote, but going by media coverage and the national discourse, it is easy to decipher that a substantial and growing number of Pakistanis are developing doubts about the future of the state in its present form. The facts speaks for themselves - nationalist insurgency in Baluchistan gained momentum after the murder of Akbar Bugti in 2006; Sindhis are disenchanted and disillusioned after Benazir’s assassination; NWFP and FATA are in the shores of a growing Taliban militancy; MQM – the party of Urdu speaking populace of the urban areas of Sindh are not ready to forgive the transgressions of the state against them in the last two decades and are at the beck and call of Altaf Hussain who has been living in London for the last 17 years and is not ready to return to Pakistan out of fear for his life despite the fact that his party was part of the ruling coalition for the last five years; and finally and ironically, Punjab continues to think that it is the real Pakistan and its landed gentry is as ready as ever to welcome the next man on the horseback. These trends are a recipe for disaster.

However, there is another level of division in Pakistan too – between the elite (political, bureaucratic and military) that has repeatedly failed Pakistan and the ordinary Pakistanis. Among the ordinary people, there is a realization that Pakistan must change if it has to survive. And it is with the aspirations, hopes and dreams of these ordinary folks that Pakistan’s future is inextricably linked with. This class is led by professionals from lower middle class – e.g. lawyers, teachers, writers, journalists and mostly comprises of young people. During the pro-Judiciary movement (beginning in March 2007), they showed their relevance, capacity and potency. In my humble assessment, Pakistan’s stability in the long run depends on how this group responds to the emerging crisis in Pakistan. This group is also largely secular and progressive (in comparison to other stake holders) and hence equipped to fight religious extremism and bigotry.

Prospects of Democracy
The political façade that Musharraf built in eight years is destined to be crushed on February 18, provided the elections are free. The State sponsored rigging will be attempted without a doubt, but political forces that are still standing by Musharraf are so heavily discredited that ‘standard rigging procedures’ may fail. The fact that the new army chief General Kayani has started distancing himself as well as army from Musharraf is likely to further restrict the plans of those who are prepared to manipulate the election results.

Polls and ‘chatter’ indicate that Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) will win simple majority in the centre comfortably and it will be joined by the Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. Many independents (most of whom have defected from King’s party – Muslim League Q group) will also join the winning political forces (as has been the case historically). The King’s party is widely expected to be routed.

However, the real test will begin after the election results are announced (and accepted) and the new government is formed. Political culture cannot change overnight – especially in the face of rampant corruption, incompetent bureaucracy and absence of accountability. The new political leadership will have to begin from the scratch and only immediate remedial measures (related to economic, education and energy issues) will provide some hope to the people and consequently will provide a fighting chance to Pakistan to survive and start its journey towards normalcy and stability.

Another feature of the post-election period will be a tussle between Musharraf and the new government about the reinstatement of deposed judges. Nawaz Sharif is committed to this cause and some opposition parties which are not participating in elections (Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaf and Jamaat-i-Islami) will be anxiously waiting to come on the streets on this issue. PPP will have to take a position on this issue and it is likely that Aitzaz Ahsan (country’s leading lawyer and a newly emerging national hero) will have an influence on the PPP leadership. If things move in this direction than Musharraf’s chances to stay as President will deteriorate further. In any eventuality, chief justice Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhry is expected to play a major role in coming years – as a chief justice or as a politician.

From Musharraf’s perspective, the only way to stop all this from happening is either to rig the vote on Feb. 18 or to postpone the elections on some pretext. Both actions will lead to widespread protests and his ouster will be more humiliating.

Pakistan Army
Pakistan army has become unpopular in recent years largely due to Musharraf’s political blunders and controversial policies. Military’s involvement in politics is also regularly criticized by all and sundry today. General Kayani, a professional soldier, appears to know this well and has started acting to regain people’s confidence as much as possible. Secondly, Pakistan army faces a tough challenger in the face of religious militants and growing number of suicide attacks on army in the Rawalpindi/Islamabad area are a reflection of this reality. Army’s performance in FATA and Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas also manifested army’s failure to fight guerrilla warfare – many of former clients are now Frankenstein monsters. The present army leadership (Kayani and corps commanders) by and large is secular oriented but few are nationalists as well – and they still believe that army is the only institution that can ensure Pakistan’s integrity. Most of what is transpiring in Pakistan (insurgencies, terrorism, etc) is often seen by them as attempts at destabilizing Pakistan by outsiders. It is unlikely that this mindset will change anytime soon. However, Kayani has the potential and credibility within the army to take tough decisions and many of his colleagues vouch that he has no political ambitions – which means that the next political government will complete five years in office, which will bring some semblance of political stability in the country.

Alternatives before the US
The present U.S. administration has few alternatives as they have wedded themselves to the idea that Musharraf is an agent of change and he is committed to strong U.S. – Pakistan relations. Secondly, for Bush administration that is handicapped by situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is difficult to accept that one of their important allies in the ‘war on terror’ is collapsing. U.S. is also standing by a principled decision they made a few years ago that they are going to support Pakistan in the long haul. The only problem is that since 2004 at the least they see Pakistan through Musharraf’s eyes. US had a golden opportunity to win the ‘hearts and minds of the people’ by supporting democratic forces and movement for the rule of law but unfortunately they decided to keep on supporting Musharraf – a costly mistake in my view. One understands the US interest in Pakistan in terms of fighting religious extremism, but it puzzles me greatly why they are not supporting those progressive forces that can tackle extremism and militancy most effectively. I guess may be they think that army is the real root cause of all such troubles and its better to engage them and transform them. I think the reality on the ground are very complicated and deserves a better analysis.

Future of India-Pakistan Relations
This perhaps is the only sphere where Musharraf deserves some credit. The India-Pakistan peace process is one of his achievements. A leading Indian Kashmiri political leader in a recent interview told me that cross border movement of militants has substantially decreased. The militants who use to cross border into India are now blowing themselves up inside Pakistan because it’s law enforcement and intelligence outfits are clueless as what to do with them now that the Kashmir theatre is temporarily off limits.

India has shown ample maturity in their relationship with Pakistan in recent months by making nuanced statements and by not benefiting from Pakistan’s troubles. I still believe that an amicable and just resolution of the Kashmir dispute can go a long way in helping Pakistan neutralize at least those militant groups that were groomed and sponsored to operate in Kashmir. Some of these groups, especially Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (now Jamaat-ud-dawa) is still alive and kicking (and now busy in shifting to Baluchistan). Now it is up to the next political government in Pakistan to take the peace process forward – and one hopes that India-Pakistan relations will continue to improve.

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