Originally Published 2003-06-20 09:06:08 Published on Jun 20, 2003
On Monday night, a television anchor asked Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit about her views on India's decision to run the Lahore bus again. She said: "I hope it doesn't fall by the wayside as the previous one.'' If she clearly sounded sceptical, there are reasons. The last time buses began to cross the Wagah border
Will Musharraf Last Long Enough to Talk Peace?
Minister Sheila Dikshit about her views on India's decision to runthe Lahore bus again. She said: "I hope it doesn't fall by thewayside as the previous one.'' If she clearly sounded sceptical,there are reasons. The last time buses began to cross the Wagahborder from either side with great fanfare and enthusiasm, GeneralPervez Musharraf quietly deployed his troops dressed up asmilitants to take over the Srinagar-Leh road. The stab in the backwas so unexpected and brutal that India lost more than 500 soldiersin the battle that raged along the Leh highway for more than threemonths. Peace died a premature death in the summer of 1999.

So is there a chance for peace to survive this time around?Whatever the future holds in its timeless folds, one thing iscertain: The current round of peace initiatives is marked withdoubts. I too fall in the category of sceptics. But not because Idoubt the initiatives taken by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.It takes courage to stand against the wind. By stepping out to mendfences with a bickering neighbour, the Prime Minister has shown histrue mettle. My problem is with General Musharraf.

The General is fast becoming a prisoner of his own machinations. Agreat believer in walking the tightrope when it comes to survival,like a true commando the General seems to be faltering in trying tokeep the overbearing and aggressive American establishment at arm'slength while dodging the power-hungry radicals within his own fold.Although the General is going to extraordinary length to show thathe is in control of Pakistan, there are clear indications that hemight just lose that edge in the next few months.

An assessment of events and developments in Pakistan in the pastone year reveals the following three points: One, the increasingvulnerability of President Musharraf; two, the regrouping of the AlQaeda in and around Pakistan; and, three, threat of instability inPakistan.

Never before has the General faced such a serious threat as he doestoday. Various external and internal intelligence agencies areincreasingly mentioning President Musharraf's ouster by a coup orassassination. Significantly, the latest assessment is moreexplicit than last year's. That was when Washington was feting theGeneral for his decision to become an ally in the war onterrorism-more specifically to hunt the Taliban and other terroristgroups that, till then, were flourishing under the moral andmaterial support of the Pakistani Army that he happened to headsince 1998. The key point to be kept in mind is the appearance ofsimilar warnings prior to General Musharraf's coup in October 1999.

In a testimony to the US Senate Armed Services Committee on"Worldwide Threats to National Security'' on March 19, 2002,Vice-Admiral Thomas R Wilson, Director, Defence IntelligenceAgency, said: "President Musharraf has made dramatic changes inPakistan, but he faces opposition, perhaps violent, fromextremists. Pakistan's future course has a direct impact on UScounter-terrorism and counter-proliferation policies.''

Ten months down the line, the Agency has revised its threatassessment from being cautionary to an imminent danger.

On February 11, 2003, in a testimony before the US Senate SelectCommittee on Intelligence, Vice-Admiral Lowell Jacoby said:"President Musharraf faces significant political and economicchallenges and continued opposition. Musharraf claims littleinfluence over the Kashmiri militants and other religiousextremists, and Pakistan does not completely control areas in thenorthwest where concentrations of Al Qaeda and Taliban remain.Popular hostility to the United States is growing, driven in partby cooperation between Washington and Islamabad against terrorism.Islamist opponents of the current Governments, or religiousextremists, could try to instigate a political crisis throughviolent means. Coup or assassination could result in an extremistPakistan.''

This assessment has to be read with a serious development in thepolitical geography of Pakistan: The rise and growth of religiousextremism. The emergence and expansion of religious parties andlike-minded alliances in Pakistan after the December generalelections are well documented and need no further clarification.

The leading lights of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the six-partyalliance of religious parties, are heads of madrasas that are knownto be engaged in indoctrinating young minds into jihad. Leaderslike Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Maulana Samiul Haq and Qazi HussainAhmed have been the founding fathers of mujahideen and the Taliban,and their leanings have never been in doubt. Today, the MMA holdsthe key to Baluchistan, one of the 'lawless' areas that have becomea safe haven for the Al Qaeda and other terror groups to regroupagainst the US.

All this has spelt personal danger to President Musharraf. Some ofthe extremist religious groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi andSipah-e-Saheba, banned and neutralised by a Presidential order,have clearly taken upon themselves to avenge what they perceive tobe the President's gross un-Islamic act of siding with a 'kafir'against 'their own brethren'. 

Both Sipah and Lashkar are rabidly anti-Shia Sunni extremistorganisations established by the same religious caucus that nowheads the MMA. Post-September 11, 2001, Lashkar, in particular, hasbeen sheltering and supporting various elements of the Al Qaedafleeing Afghanistan. Lashkar was the key to the regrouping of theAl Qaeda inside Pakistan, especially Karachi and Peshawar fromwhere, incidentally, US intelligence agencies managed to makesignificant catches of Al Qaeda leaders like Abu Zubeydah and Ramzibin al-Shib. 

The role and significance of these Sunni groups have to beunderstood in the broader frame of the Islamic Jihad Movement.Today, the world faces the most serious threat from Sunni extremistorganisations like the Al Qaeda. There are Shia terror groups, buttheir reach and influence have been confined to limited areas.These organisations are being funded quite generously by SaudiArabia and other Arab nations with the objective of establishing arule of the Shariat (Islamic law) in the Muslim world and forcingWestern security forces to vacate the Persian Gulf area. Unlike theperceived US strategic ambition of either neutralising orsurrounding potential threats and competitors for wealth andinfluence in the future, the Islamists are primarily interested inkeeping America outside the doorstep of the Islamic world. Theywant to force it to recognise and respect the sentiments of a largesection of the world population.

President Musharraf has never been in such a tight spot. He findshimself drawn to a corner for the unconditional support he hasextended to the US. Religious groups are getting stronger. There isa similar wave of dissension within the civilian section ofsociety. Lawyers and politicians are planning to step up agitationagainst the President for imposing the controversial LegalFramework Order that vests all constitutional powers in the officeof the President. The only factor that favours President Musharrafis lack of unity among these forces.

The army therefore, as always, is the key to General Musharraf'sfuture. There are no public statements of any senior army officerquestioning his policies. But there is bound to be resentmentwithin the army and, more specifically, the ISI that has beenfunctioning as the handmaiden of the FBI and other US intelligenceagencies. There are quite a few Taliban sympathisers within the ISIand the Pakistani Army who deeply resent General Musharraf'spolicies. Will these forces allow the President talk peace withIndia? This is the question to which Washington must first find ananswer before donning the mantle of a global referee.
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