South Asia

Pakistan's new government 'takes charge'
By Ajai Sahni

The process to establish a puppet government in Pakistan - through the manipulation and extensive amendment of laws and the constitution, through "pre-rigging" and rejection of the nomination forms of numerous candidates, through a substantially rigged election, and finally, through the continuous postponement of the convening of the National Assembly and orchestration of defections in support of the "King's party" - has now come to a "successful" end.

Such elaborate maneuvers leave little doubt that the new government will operate entirely at the behest and pleasure of President General Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistan army that backs him. If any doubts remained, these are substantially settled by the personality profile of the new prime minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who distinguished himself over periods of faithful service to a previous dictator in Zia ul-Haq's federal parliament and as a minister, holding various portfolios from 1981 to 1988.

Prominent Pakistani commentators have characterized Jamali as "the last description of the spineless", a "rubber stamp prime minister" and an "inconsequential Baloch leader". Worse, the prime minister - with the full force of the dictatorship behind him - barely scraped through to a majority of one in the National Assembly, claiming 172 votes in a 342 member house. For this, he had to secure the support of 20 parties - including "dissenters" lured from the main opposition Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) after the reported intervention of, and alleged pressure from, Musharraf. This creates an unstable coalition, "held together by threat and allurement". Musharraf has proclaimed that "power" has now been "transferred" to Jamali and his 21-member cabinet, but given the circumstances, the possibilities of a real transfer of effective powers to civilian authority, as "promised" by Musharraf, remain remote. As Ayaz Amir of Dawn newspaper writes, "This is not the rolling back of military rule but rather its continuation by other means."

Clearly, the stranglehold of the military over civil society and democratic politics in Pakistan will not loosen. However, the new assembly creates other and grave dangers for the country's future. The Islamist extremist parties that comprise the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) won an unprecedented 53 seats in the new assembly; they control an absolute majority in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and are the largest single party in Balochistan - both on the sensitive border with Afghanistan - and their prime ministerial candidate, Fazlur Rehman, received as many as 86 votes in the three-cornered final face-off (ahead of the PPPP's 70).

The outcome of the elections has also created what has been described as a "horizontal polarization", with each of the four provinces going in different directions. The NWFP has gone to the MMA; Punjab is controlled by the "King's party", the Pakistan Muslim League - Qaid-e-Azam (PML-Q); the PPPP retains much of Sindh, though Karachi and Hyderabad are dominated by the Muttahida Quami Mahaz (MQM); and with no clear majority in Balochistan, the MMA is expected to consolidate its position, despite desperate measures by Musharraf to keep the party out of power in this province. Indeed, the maneuvers in government formation and Musharraf's continuous tampering with the constitution have already taken rhetoric to unprecedented levels, with Fazlur Rehman declaring that the country could head towards a repeat of "the 1971 catastrophe" [the breaking away of Pakistan's Eastern wing and the creation of Bangladesh].

The MMA has lost no time in asserting itself in the assembly, and it is both significant and ominous that the Islamist parties used the execution of Mir Aimal Kansi in the United States as a first excuse to reassert their extremist and anti-US agenda. Indeed, the Pakistan National Assembly - and not just the MMA - officially mourned Kansi's death when it met for the first time on November 19, hailing him as a "hero of Islam". Kansi was executed on November 14 for the murder of two US Central Intelligence Agency employees outside the agency's headquarters at Langley, Virginia, in 1993. Prayers in Pakistan's National Assembly were led by Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a religious leader elected from Quetta, who intoned, "God, destroy those who handed him over to America. God, his murderers, whether in America or in Pakistan, may they meet their fate soon." (Ahmad is a member of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur faction).

Kansi's death was also mourned by thousands in a stadium in his native Quetta in a funeral that media described as the "largest in living memory" in the city. The entire city shut down for the event with shops closed and black flags on rooftops. This indicates the beginning of the process of street mobilization in favor of the extremist agenda that has been imminent since the declaration of the election results, and the MMA's "shock sweep" of the NWFP and Balochistan, as well as its penetration of the other two provinces, Punjab and Sindh.

The leaders of the MMA are now "repackaging" themselves as democrats and parliamentarians, and it is crucial that the current avatar of the MMA as a democratic political party is not allowed to cloud the history of its many constituent members, including several of its most prominent elected representatives, many of whom comprise the frontline of the terrorist leadership in Pakistan, and have direct linkages with Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The most significant of these are the MMA's prime ministerial candidate, Fazlur Rehman of the JuI-Fazlur, Maulana Sami ul-Haq of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (Sami-ul-Haq faction) and Maulana Azam Tariq of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).

Fazlur Rehman is generally believed to be a "supporter" of the Taliban. He - with Sami ul-Haq - was their creator and remained intimately linked with both Mullah Omar and bin Laden throughout the period of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and he spearheaded street demonstrations in Pakistan, vociferously protesting the American campaign in Afghanistan after September 11. He is also the creator of the banned terrorist organization Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM, earlier called Harkat-ul-Ansar) and is closely linked with the activities of the Harkat ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HuJI), and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). HuM and HuJI are active in India, Bangladesh, Chechnya, the Arakan areas of Myanmar and southern Philippines, while the JeM is currently active only in India.

Sami ul-Haq, who heads his own faction of the JuI, runs the Haqqani madrassa (religious school) at Akora Khattak, which produced much of the Taliban leadership. Haq was the principal advisor to Mullah Omar and was closely associated with bin Laden.

Azam Tariq is the deputy patron-in-chief of the SSP, one of the five sectarian groups banned by Musharraf in January this year. The Pakistan police blame Tariq's SSP for some 400 killings in the past year alone. In September 2001, he had declared, "We do not consider ourselves separate from the Taliban or Afghanistan. Our history, our religion and blood and culture are the same … We consider the war against Osama and the Taliban a war against us, Pakistanis and Pakistan."

Another faction in the MMA is the Jamaat-ul-Ulema Pakistan (JuP), whose secretary, Shaykh Mir Hamzah, was a signatory to the 1998 al-Qaeda "Declaration of jihad against Jews and Crusaders" which sanctioned attacks against American civilians.

With increasing evidence of the presence of a large number of surviving Taliban and al-Qaeda - and, indeed, increasingly of bin Laden himself - in Pakistan, the consolidation of the Islamist and terrorist forces in the surviving institutional structure of governance in the country will have a snowballing impact on the mobilization of extremist cadres and their eventual deployment in acts of terrorism.

These are all elements that cannot be treated in isolation, as they constitute a mutually supporting rubric that comprehends the military-intelligence establishment, the new quasi-democratic set up, the consolidation of extremist Islamist groupings in the political process, and the unchecked activities and infrastructure of terrorism that exists in Pakistan; and that has great potential for harm.

Directly, of course, the swearing in of a new prime minister and cabinet will have very limited immediate impact, particularly in view of the constitutional amendments that Musharraf pushed through before the elections. Specifically, the premier would have little control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal or army. Nevertheless, the pre-election arrangements are not fail-safe, as the emergence of the MMA at the center of the power structure has already demonstrated, and it should be fairly certain that the fundamentalist groupings will use their position in parliament, backed by their very substantial street power and terrorist muscle, to consolidate and expand their constituencies and secure a far greater and more definitive role in determining the course and destiny of Pakistan than may have been imagined by Musharraf when he was planning his "democratic" strategy. It is not clear, under the conditions of uncertainty that currently prevail, that Musharraf would have the power to neutralize or reverse these trends.

The international community is still eager to give Musharraf the benefit of doubt, despite the fact that virtually the entire terrorist leadership in Pakistan - including the leadership of all the "banned" terrorist groups (and declared as terrorist organizations by the US as well) - operates freely in the country. With many of these leaders now sitting in Pakistan's National Assembly, it is high time that those who have put their entire faith in Musharraf's dictatorship as a bulwark against terrorism begin to revaluate their strategies and options.

Ajai Sahni, editor, South Asia Intelligence Review; executive director, Institute for Conflict Management, a non-profit society set up in 1997 in New Delhi committed to the evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia.

Published with permission from the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
Nov 28, 2002

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