Event ReportsPublished on Aug 22, 2008
Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif's decision to withdraw support to the coalition government led by Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has only pushed Pakistan deeper into political crisis which is bound to encourage terrorist and extremist groups to consolidate their position in a nuclear-powered state staggering on the verge of becoming a dysfunctional, if not failed, state.
Pakistan after Musharraf: Trapped in a Maelstrom

Summary of a round-table discussion on `Pakistan After Musharraf ’ organised by Observer Research Foundation on August 22, 2008.

Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif’s decision to withdraw support to the coalition government led by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has only pushed Pakistan deeper into political crisis which is bound to encourage terrorist and extremist groups to consolidate their position in a nuclear-powered state staggering on the verge of becoming a dysfunctional, if not failed, state. The impact of such a development in India’s immediate neighbourhood will have repercussions far beyond the region..

Large part of the responsibility for leaving Pakistan in the present state of acute economic and political crises rests with former President, Pervez Musharraf. His policy of duplicity in dealing with terrorism and camouflaging the economic downslide with the generous aid and concessions received from Washington for being part of the Global War on Terror has boomeranged.

His decision to ally with the US in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and its supporters in Pakistan’s own backyard, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), has left the country’s sovereignty seriously compromised.  On the other hand, his flip-flop, between dialogue and use of force, in the tribal areas, after a series of disastrous military operations, has allowed a new group of Pakistani Taliban leaders to gain control of over a 20,000-sq km area which is today a sanctuary for al Qaida-Taliban coalition even as NATO-led forces struggle to contain their growing power and influence in the neighbouring Afghanistan.

Musharraf’s Legacy

An assessment of the current situation in Pakistan will be incomplete without reviewing the legacy left behind by the former President. It is obvious that Pervez Musharraf, who often claimed to be the saviour of Pakistan and saw himself in the image of Turkey’s Kamal Ataturk, left his country in greater turmoil than he found it in October 1999. While preaching `enlightened democracy`, Musharraf fine-tuned the concept of autocracy, weakening political and judicial institutions, treating the media and human rights organisations with a heavy hand and letting radical forces to stay and gather strength in the tribal areas.

His rule can be divided into three phases. In the first phase, Musharraf marginalized major political parties like Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and kept their leaders, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, in exile. To  legitimise his 1999 coup, the General forged an alliance with Islamist parties, creating a umbrella group of six religious parties, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). With his blessings, the group, which had radical elements within its fold, gained 18% representation in National Assembly and managed to form governments in NWFP and Balochistan..

In the second phase, Musharraf was forced to make a strategic U-Turn and in 2002, the Army entered the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) for the first time since Independence pursuing senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Difficult and inaccessible terrain, poor intelligence and a general reluctance among the rank and file of the army (over 20 per cent of them are Pashtuns) to fight their own kin in the Pashtun-dominated areas led to severe setbacks. Over a thousand soldiers and officers were killed in the three-year long operation, finally forcing the Musharraf government to raise a white flag and sign a peace accord with the tribals in April 2004. The pact, however, failed to hold within weeks when terrorist groups with the active support of some tribal leaders launched a renewed offensive against the security forces.

Other peace pacts, particularly the Miramshah Agreement of September 2006, went the same way as a new entity which called itself Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or the Pakistan Taliban, emerged in the tribal areas, challenging the writ of the State. The area also witnessed a systematic cleansing of the tribal chiefs who were averse to the growth of the Taliban. Many tribal leaders who defied the Taliban threats were found murdered. By tactics of fear and intimidation, the culture of the ferociously independent Pathans has been dramatically altered to accommodate the severe Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Thus the region has become a haven for Taliban and allied groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and various Chechen groups that were forced to flee Afghanistan after the US led invasion in 2001.

In the third phase, Musharraf made three costly mistakes which led to his undoing. Two events in 2007 saw Musharraf’s popularity dwindling to a record: in March, on charges of abuse of power, Pervez Musharraf suspended Justice Iftikhar Choudhary, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This was viewed as a move to remove any possible legal challenge to the coming elections. The lawyers took to the streets first in Lahore and then in Islamabad as other civil society groups joined hands with them, turning the protest against the sacking of the Chief Justice into an expression of public dissent against Musharraf. This severely undermined the already credibility of the President which took further a more grievous hit when he was forced to launch a military operation in the heart of Islamabad to stop the pro-Taliban elements taking over a religious seminary and mosque, Lal Masjid. Over a 100 men and women were killed in the operations, mostly students from NWFP and tribal areas, triggering a wave of anger across Pakistan, and provoking a series of suicide bomb attacks against security forces.

The reinstatement of the Chief Justice in July on a court directive and, Musharraf’s third fatal mistake, in declaring Emergency in November, barely a month after he got himself elected as the President for a second term, and once again sacking the reinstated CJ and other judges, literally cooked his goose. After reluctantly giving up his uniform, and allowing the elections to be held, but not before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December, Musharraf had no other option but to let elected representatives take charge of a country on the brink of an impending doom.

Positive Changes

To be fair, Musharraf had played a key role in bringing about a change of attitude towards India. After the initial distrust that culminated in the failure of the Agra Summit in July 2001, Musharraf should be credited with facilitating the progress of the India-Pakistan peace process which began with a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) in 2003 end. This was perhaps one of the most decisive Confidence Building Measures which brought tangible peace to the region. Musharraf also was willing to work towards a mutually acceptable solution on Kashmir and had stepped back from the traditional Pakistani stand of plebiscite in Kashmir. He also restricted infiltration and other activities of several terrorist targets targeting Kashmir. Though such measures were prompted by Washington, Musharraf’s actions had brought about a semblance of peace and stability in the region. The current governments must carry forward the peace process, and not let terrorist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan act as spoilers. Both the countries should make concerted efforts to make the border/LoC irrelevant and increase people-to-people contact, especially in Kashmir. Promoting trade and commerce, and streamlining the visa process are some of the tangible steps that can be taken to create a environment of trust.

The Musharraf government was instrumental in empowering women by ensuring a a 33% representation of women in the local council, 20% in the provincial council and 10% in the central superior services. Women in Pakistan have come to enjoy powers that they had not imagined even under two terms of a woman Prime Minister. As ironic as it might seem now, Musharraf allowed the media an unprecedented level of freedom.

Political uncertainty

There were considerable expectations from the February 18 elections. It was widely believed that the electoral process will usher in a period of democratic resurgence and stability in a country which has been under military rule since October 1999. The electoral results, however, left such hopes floundering. Neither of the two major political parties, PPP and PML-N, managed to win decisive number of seats to form a government at the centre. PPP had the edge in the National Assembly while PMLN led in Punjab, the heart of political Pakistan.

Serious doubts were expressed at such a verdict but were laid to rest quickly enough when both the parties, bitter rivals in the past, decided to join hands to form a coalition government. The relief and joy among the people in pushing the former General to the sidelines of politics, however, remained short-lived as serious differences cropped up between the coalition partners on almost every single issue, particularly on the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf and the restoration of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges who were sacked by Musharraf first in March 2007, and subsequently, after their reinstatement, in November when the General gave up his uniform and imposed Emergency.

The events of the past six months (February-August) have proved that both the parties were unlikely to work together for a strong coalition government in Islamabad.. They have little in common and the fulfilment of the only common goal-- the removal of Musharraf—was likely, as the Nawaz Sharif action proved, to expose the brittle nature of the current government.

The dynastic leadership of both PPP and PMLN, along with the absence of a sound second-rung or alternative leadership, render the nascent democratic process almost still-born. Weakened political institutions, lack of credible leaders with national appeal and a fragile coalition have left the ground open for Pakistan Army’s stranglehold over the country in future. Even today, with an elected government in place, the Army holds the reign on the country’s policies towards Kashmir, Afghanistan and nuclear weapons programme. Pak Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani’s unscheduled visit to Afghanistan within a day of Musharraf’s exit (August 18) to discuss the military campaign against the Taliban with the US commanders illustrated this point quite aptly.

The possibility of the Army’s return to the centre-stage of Pakistan politics may not be on the immediate horizon but such a possibility cannot be discounted if the political parties, and their leaders, failed to capitalise on the tiny window of opportunity offered by extraordinary circumstances which compelled the former General to hold the February 18 elections, and establish civilian supremacy in country’s polity.


Such a failure will only add to the gravity of the threat of religious radicalization sweeping at least some parts of western Pakistan which has left the country at the mercy of suicide bombers and the State unable to retain and impose its writ over some parts of the country.  Given the trans-national nature of religious movements, the Pakistan’s inability to curb the spread of radical Islam poses grave threat to regional security.

The nature of global terrorist threat underwent dramatic changes in the aftermath of 9/11, with severe implications for Pakistan. Pakistan had deployed, and benefited, from the terrorist groups operating in Kashmir as part of its proxy war for over two decades. Before 9/11, terrorist groups with specific anti-India agenda, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), sectarian groups like Sipah-e-Saheba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) had little in common and worked independent of each other. The half-hearted military and political crackdown on these groups since the US launched the Global War on Terror pushed these groups to join hands, despite differences in ideology and objective, and work in tandem to carry out terrorist attacks both in Pakistan and India. None of these groups would have operated without the support of the State.

There is evidence that in the wake of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), over 5000 militants, primed for launch into Kashmir, were relocated to Swat where they subsequently joined the Taliban forces fighting the NATO in Afghanistan. In fact, both JeM and LeT dispatched their new recruits to the new set of terrorist training camps in Dir and Upper Dir areas of North West Frontier Province.  These camps specialised in turning out suicide bombers.

The dramatic increase in the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan in the past two years are a clear indication of the presence and capability of terrorist groups which were supposed to have been banned as part of the Global War on Terror. In 2006, while Pakistan witnessed six suicide bombings, there were 57 such attacks in 2007, and there have been 23 suicide attacks till August 2008.

The Pakistan State’s refusal to give up the so-called jehadi option, poses not only a grave threat to the country itself but to the world as  whole. Even in Pakistan, there are disturbing signs of extremism taking hold of newer areas, especially in Punjab. Though Punjab has been the nerve centre of both Afghan and Kashmir Jihad in the past with most of the recruits, and leaders, coming out of madaris and colleges in the province, there has been little evidence of the influence of the Taliban in the area. This has changed since 2001. There are increasing signs of radicalisation taking deeper roots in these areas. Bahawalpur, for instance, the home town of JeM founder Mullah Masood Azhar, has turned into a hotbed of hardline Islamic forces with Azhar commanding an armed group of 700 and more men committed to jehad.

The Iraq conflict has not only added fuel to the jehadi fire in Pakistan, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, it has also split the Sunni-Shia divide wide open. This will only make the threat to Pakistan from extremist forces more grave, and immediate.


No less challenging for any government in Pakistan is the economic crisis. In fact, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, in his maiden broadcast to the nation on completing the first 100 days in July, mentioned power and wheat shortages and unemployment as bigger issues than extremism. The much touted figure of  a seven percent rate of growth, widely publicised by the Musharraf regime’s spin doctors, is proving to be a tragic myth. The country is on the verge of becoming a `basket case` sustained largely from massive funding and concessions from Saudi Arabia and the US. The Musharraf government was  rewarded by the Bush administrations different shades of aids and assistance worth $10 billion since October 2001. Another $38 billion worth of debt was written off by the US while Saudi Arabia gifted oil concessions worth $5 billion.  But with the US law makers waking up to the  futility of such a massive infusion of aid to Pakistan, amidst reports of Pakistan’s support to the Taliban, the economic mirage began to vanish fast. The foreign exchange reserves crashed from $16 billion to $6 billion while inflation spiralled to  13%. The economy is in a state of disarray with only enough Foreign Exchange Reserves to support seven weeks worth of imports The  crisis can trigger widespread public protests, particularly over power and wheat shortages, making the domestic situation more volatile.

Rise of the Civil Society

There is an oft repeated cliché that Pakistan is run by the three A’s – Allah, America and the Army, {in fact, there is a fourth A-(Saudi) Arabia}. But Musharraf’s rule saw the emergence of other actors, the most notable of which is the civil society, represented by the legal community which took to the streets after the former General sacked the Chief Justice of Supreme Court. While military rulers like Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan had to step down after facing reversals in  the ’65 and ’72 wars, and Zai-ul-Haq was killed in a plane crash, Musharraf was forced to exit under intense public pressure. Sensing the public mood, the Army and ISI, known as the king makers, stayed away from the February 18 elections. The new Army Chief, General Kayani, in fact, went a step or two further by ordering retired and serving military officers to vacate public offices and not to mix with political parties or leaders. The exit of Musharraf on August 18 was undoubtedly the outcome of this emerging civilian voice in Pakistan.

The rise of this new force, civil society, is a sign of hope for Pakistan’s future as a democratic state. India must take note of this positive event in its neighbourhood and take steps to foster the forces of democracy. It is India’s best bet against the spread of radicalism and to promote regional stability

The discussion was chaired by Amb. M Rasgotra, President ORF Centre for International Relations and former Foreign Secretary and Chairman of National Security Advisory Board. Participants included Amb. G Parthasarthy, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, Amb. Veena Sikri, former High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Amb. Rajiv Sikri, former Secretary, Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Maj. General Afsir Karim, former member National Security Advisory Board and counter-terrorism expert), Prof. Kalim Bahadur, well-known expert on Pakistan, Maj. General Ashok Mehta, an expert on strategic affairs, Mr P R Chari, Research Professor at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Dr Savita Pande and Prof. Uma Singh of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mr Wilson John, Senior Fellow, ORF and Mr Kaustav Chakrabarti, Research Assistant, ORF.

For any clarification or detail, please feel free to contact Kaustav Chakrabarti at [email protected]


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