Pakistan in turmoil as US policy comes crashing down

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

New Delhi : India is watching with unease as the US’ attempts to use a military ruler in Pakistan for its wider strategic interests while advocating democracy in places like Myanmar has collapsed amid unpredictable turmoil.

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Accusing fingers are being pointed at the US for the mess in Pakistan, where military generals have received the unabashed support of successive American administrations in the past six decades with terrible consequences for Pakistani society.

With Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s popularity at an all time low, Washington faces a harsh dilemma: should it dump a man who is its key ally in the “war on terror” for another general or root for traditional politicians who may or may not deliver.

Until Nov 3, when Musharraf imposed emergency tantamount to martial law, it looked like the US would have the cake and eat it too. It was stitching together a pro-Washington marriage of convenience between Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

That card has shattered after the post-emergency Bhutto-Musharraf spat, with the charismatic Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader throwing her lot with the opposition and demanding the general’s lock-stock-and-barrel ouster.

The explosive situation, which has the potential to escalate Islamist militancy in a sprawling region all the way from Afghanistan to India and even Central Asia, naturally has New Delhi worried.

Already, the US media is speculating a possible exit from power by Musharraf. If that were to happen, eight years after he seized power in a bloodless coup, India will have a lot to ponder because it was he who persuaded the Pakistani military, which effectively runs that country, to enter into a peace process with New Delhi.

In the process, the Delhi-born Musharraf developed a working relationship with both former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who extended a hand friendship to Pakistan in 2003, and his successor, Manmohan Singh, who was born in Pakistani Punjab.

The Indian response to Musharraf’s emergency rule and jailing of thousands of opposition activists has predictably been muted – for now. Not sure which way the wind will blow, New Delhi has its fingers tightly crossed.

One thing is, however, clear – the US policy of propping up one military dictator after another in Pakistan has again collapsed. Only this time two dangerous factors are at play: Islamabad’s nuclear bombs and a rejuvenated Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Since much of Musharraf’s unpopularity at home has stemmed from his readiness to go with the US against friend-turned-foe Taliban in Afghanistan and in going slow on Pakistan’s claims on India’s Jammu and Kashmir, will his successor or a new government pursue the same path?

If parliamentary elections, in January or whenever, do not throw up a clear victor, will a new government in Islamabad be dependent on Islamic hardliners who may want to again promote terror in Kashmir while perhaps siding with the West in Afghanistan? Will a new regime in Pakistan, military or civilian, be enthusiastic over the peace process with India?

And what about Pakistan’s nuclear secrets? Are they safe? Will a new regime unlock the now jailed and disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who ran a thriving illegal network to sell nuclear secrets to the so-called Islamic world and beyond?

These are some of the questions being asked in New Delhi. There are no clear answers.

As it has happened time and again after Pakistan’s creation in 1947, US aid has only bolstered the military to pursue its agenda, hurting democracy in the only nuclear power in the Islamic world.

Today, the anger against the US over its war in Iraq and Afghanistan has translated into fury against Musharraf. Anyone who takes his place will know that. The US will then be left with a war-hit Afghanistan, an unstable Pakistan, a belligerent Iran and an India that is not fully ready to embrace Washington as a friend.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at [email protected])