Musharraf whipping Pakistan into (US)
line By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - In the wake of September
11, the Indian sub-continent took on renewed importance,
especially for the United States and
its "war on
terror", in which Pakistan, a key "ally" and a major US
"asset" outside of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO), plays a pivotal part.
in the interests of the US, therefore, that Pakistan,
with or without President General Pervez Musharraf,
remains on side with Washington in its ongoing efforts
to get to the source of radical Islam and anti-US
jihadis in the region, and to maintain stability on the
High-level officials familiar
with government thinking have told Asia Times Online
that both administrative and political restructuring
will begin in the coming weeks to further bolster the
country against "traditional forces".
immediate challenge is to spread Musharraf's pro-Western
leanings deeper into society in general, and alter the
pervasive mindset that starts with the two-nation theory
(which resulted in 1947 in the division of the
sub-continent into India and Pakistan and which defines
religion as the basis of state) and culminates in
pan-Islamism. As a result of these attitudes, which are
deeply ingrained in the national psyche, over the years
the establishment has never supported building bridges
between India and Pakistan, or with forging ties with
liberal forces in Afghanistan.
under US pressure, has to at least a limited extent
bucked both these trends, but the danger of him having
to go into reverse gear is always present - and it is
this that the US wants to avoid.
As a start,
Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup in 1999,
has agreed to step down as chief of the army by December
2004, but before that several changes will be
implemented. Meanwhile, on April 14, a National Security
Council was approved by parliament that allows the
military a legally sanctioned role in governance.
The unification process of all pro-Musharraf parties
has started. In the first phase (minus the Pakistan
Muslim League - Nawaz Group) all Pakistan Muslim League
(PML) factions have been united. Now, in the second
phase, another pro-government grouping, the National
Alliance, is being merged with the PML.
By October, two full generals, including General
Aziz Khan, will retire. Two officers will therefore be
promoted, and one of them will fill the vacated vice
chief of army staff position, most likely present Corps
Commander Lahore, Lieutenant-General Shahid Aziz. Shahid
is a relative of Musharraf and has been given fast-track
promotion throughout his career.
After achieving these primary targets, the
consolidated PML and then the federal cabinet will
appeal to the president that, in the broader national
interest, he should not shed his uniform.
The president will comply, but with a twist: he will
accept the title of field marshal, and give the chief of
army position to the trusted Shahid Aziz, and increase
the powers of the president with relation to military
In this way, Musharraf will retain
his grip at the helm, and will continue in reshaping
Pakistan-Afghanistan and Pakistan-Indian relations in
line with US interests.
To achieve this,
Musharraf will have to win over large sections of the
grass-root electorate. Already, the powerful rural base
of Punjab (the largest province) , which used to be the
source of power of the ruling PML - Nawaz group, has
been won over to the PML - Quaid-i-Azam group, a
pro-Musharraf party. The remaining power pillars of
Punjab and North West Frontier Province are dominated by
the Pakistan People's Party led by former premier
Benazir Bhutto, now organized under the Patroit group
and the Sherpao group, both pro-Musharraf parties. All
independent "feudal lords" who once dominated national
politics, like former president Farooq Laghari and
former interim prime minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, have
been united under the National Alliance, a pro-Musharraf
group. And all these will be gathered under the umbrella
of the PML, whose leadership will eventually go to
Effectively, the mainstream political
parties will be turned into compliant horses.
The only potential counterforce is the alliance
of six religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal,
but since the death of its president, Maulana Shah Ahmed
Noorani, it has been seriously weakened. Of its real
election force, the factions of the
Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam are essentially passive towards
Musharraf, which leaves only the Jamaat-i-Islami as a
Analysts also believe
that in the coming months there will be more army
reshuffles to flush out those who cling to traditional
beliefs - such as anti-India and pro-Taliban.
all of these changes are effected, Pakistan could be in
a position to strongly continue on its present course of
appeasement with India, and a serious clampdown on
radicals, even if Musharraf is not at the helm.
Of course, the best-laid plans can go awry,
especially in a volatile country such as Pakistan, and a
single spark could derail the whole process.
"All Musharraf needs to do is a few more Wana
operations [sending the army into the tribal areas in
search of radicals] and he will not remain, either with
or without his uniform," Syed Munawer Hasan, the general
secretary of the Jamaat-i-Islami, warned at a meeting
with the press in Karachi on Monday.
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