Event ReportsPublished on Aug 22, 2008
Pakistan would continue to grapple with political instability, economic crisis and resurgence in radicalism even after the exit of former President Pervez Musharraf, leaving Pakistan Army in a jockeying position.
Pakistan to remain unstable

Pakistan would continue to grapple with political instability, economic crisis and resurgence in radicalism even after the exit of former President Pervez Musharraf, leaving Pakistan Army in a jockeying position.

These were some of the observations made at a round-table discussion on ‘Pakistan after Musharraf’ organized by Observer Research Foundation here on Friday (22nd August). The discussion was led by Amb. M. Rasgotra, President of the ORF Centre for International Relations and former Chairman, National Security Advisory Board. Other participants included Amb. G. Parthasarthy, Prof. Kalim Bahadur, Maj. Gen. Ashok Mehta, Mr Saeed Naqvi, Admiral K. K. Nayyar, Prof. P. R. Chari, Maj. Gen. Afsir Karim among other noted experts on Pakistan.

Analyzing the current political scene in Pakistan, Adm. Nayyar, a former member of the National Security Advisory Board, said the PPP-PML(N) coalition government had achieved its objective after the resignation of Musharraf. He predicted another election sooner. The former Vice Chief of Naval Staff believed that Pakistan Army remained the single most powerful organization in Pakistan and directly or indirectly will control power. It is clear that the Army will maintain exclusive control over policy making on Kashmir, Afghanistan and Nuclear Weapons, he said.

Adm. Nayyar said the biggest long-term challenge facing Pakistan today was the threat of Talibanisation with hitherto moderate areas increasingly coming under the control of radical Islamic forces, especially in Punjab. While there were 6 suicide bombs in 2006, the following year saw as many as 56 suicide bomb attacks. He pointed that the real danger was in the Shia-Sunni divide which has only widened after the Iraq conflict.

Amb. Parthasarthy, a noted analyst and former High Commissioner to Pakistan, was more concerned about the state of Pakistan economy. He said the country with low foreign exchange reserves was unable to cushion the high rate of inflation. He pointed out that the publicized figure of 14% rate of growth was made possible only due to the massive aid given by the West, especially the US, for taking part in the Global War on Terror. In fact, Pakistan had received $10 billion aid in the past seven years, besides getting $38 billion of debt written off. Besides, he said the Saudis have been generous with Pakistan on the oil bill with a $5 billion concession. Even then, the foreign exchange reserves plummeted from $16 billion to $6 billion in the recent times.

He said the political instability could not be wished away and the PPP-PMLN coalition was inherently unstable.. Asif Ali Zardari contesting for the Presidentship would only make matters worse. Amb. Parthasarthy said Pakistan was not a failed or a failing State but was increasingly becoming a dysfunctional one.

He said the Army would wield power behind the scenes and would remain in control of policies on India, Kashmir and Afghanistan. There was no change in the basic strategic thinking of the Army—strategic depth in Afghanistan and bleeding India.

The former Ambassador, however, felt, despite such problems, the peace process should continue and the broad framework of agreement worked out in 2006 between the two countries should be brought back on the negotiating table. .

Prof. PR Chari. Research Professor at Institute of Peace and Conflict and a well-known commentator on strategic issues said there were more than three As—Allah, America and Army-- which ruled Pakistan and suggested the addition of (Saudi) Arabia which, he said, played a key role in the developments in Pakistan. He pointed out that there were two more elements which need to factored in—the civil society and the presence of militants. He was of the opinion that Pakistan displayed ``classical symptoms of a failing State``.

Mr Saeed Naqvi, noted journalist and strategic thinker, dealt with the three phases of Musharraf’s regime and the complexities of the current political situation to argue that ``Pakistan could be unraveling. The state as we have known is not going to remain so.`` He believed that the Army would return to power after the civilian government(s) failed to match up to the mounting challenges faced by the country.

Maj General Ashok Mehta, a well-known columnist and analyst, was of the view that Musharraf had his better side, and the best illustration was the India-Pakistan peace process which could not have been possible without his support. Ceasefire along the LoC alone was a `monumental` achievement, he emphasized.

Prof. Kalim Bahadur, a well-known academic and analyst on Pakistan, said radicalisation was a major threat facing Pakistan today. He squarely blamed Musharraf for pushing Pakistan towards unstable conditions by systematically damaging or destroying democratic institutions like the judiciary, Constitution and Parliament.

Ambassador Rajiv Sikri pointed out that the remarkable feature of the ouster of Musharraf was the power wielded by the civil society. He said the former General was forced first to become President Musharraf from General Musharraf and then a no-body by the people. This is the power which goes beyond the Army. In any case, the sheen of the Army has gone and ``we must support all such initiatives which ensures that the real power rests with the people and its elected representatives``.

Maj. Gen. Afsir Karim, a noted expert on terrorism and Pakistan, said it was the War on Terrorism which drove Pakistan’s policies, both internal and external, and which forced Musharraf to quit. He cautioned that the power and influence of al Qaida and its associated groups presented an equal danger to Pakistan as to India. There is no doubt that the security environment in the region has deteriorated in the recent past, said the former Army officer who was member of the National Security Advisory Board.

Rounding up the discussion, Amb. Rasgotra pointed out that the role of the civil society in Pakistan had assumed greater significance with the ouster of Musharraf. However, he said, the Army will continue to play an important role in the country which is faced with equally serious crisis on the economic front as well as terrorism. He said India should ``conduct itself in a manner that Pakistan does not feel threatened``.

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