Musharraf re-election likely to hit peace process: experts

By Manish Chand, IANS

New Delhi : The India-Pakistan peace process is likely to slow down as Pakistan’s political parties and civil society question the legitimacy of the Saturday election that will give President Pervez Muhsarraf five more years in power but lead to prolonged instability, experts say.

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“There will be increasing instability in Pakistan. We have to put up with it. It would mean Pakistan will be preoccupied with its internal problems, leaving it little time for the peace process with India,” security analyst K. Subrahmanyam, who heads the Indian government’s task force on global strategic developments, told IANS.

“There will be no breakthroughs in key issues dogging India-Pakistan relations,” he warned.

“Clearly, the poll will not have much credibility or legitimacy. But the Americans will accept it as they are comfortable dealing with Musharraf, whom they see as a key ally in their war on terror,” Subrahmanyam contended.

Agreed S.D. Muni, a South Asia expert. “An unstable Musharraf or a controversial Musharraf doesn’t help the peace process with India. The peace process will be slowed down.

“On the other hand, a cornered Musharraf is likely to give more margin to India,” Muni said, adding that by default, instability in Pakistan could mean some concessions for India.

Eighty-six parliamentarians of the anti-Musharraf All Parties Democracy Movement (APDM) resigned Tuesday, casting serious doubt on the legitimacy of the limited poll in which an electoral college comprising members of the federal and provincial assemblies will vote to pick a new president.

Wajihuddin Ahmed, a retired judge, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), are among a handful of candidates who will challenge Musharraf in the election.

Shashank, a former foreign secretary, advised that India carefully follow the political developments in Pakistan since the situation there was fluid.

The important thing for India is to see how Musharraf keeps a lid on the “destabilising forces” in Pakistan, he said, in a reference to jehadi forces that enjoy close links with the Pakistani intelligence and security set-up.

“The peace process with India will depend on the credibility of the government in Pakistan and how it is seen by the people of Pakistan,” Shashank said.

Pakistan is predictably trying to play down the impact of the political crisis on the peace process with India. Its Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri says the progress achieved so far in the dialogue will not be “wasted” in the days to come.

However, stability will depend a lot on which influential players in the Pakistani establishment Musharraf is able to rally to his side.

With the army and the US backing him, Musharraf has hinted at a power-sharing deal with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

A lot will depend on whether Musharraf doffs the uniform of the army chief after he is re-elected.

He has promised to do so to the Supreme Court. Bhutto has also made that one of the preconditions for any deal with him. Musharraf has also named former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Ashfaq Kiyani as the new army vice-chief. If Musharraf steps down, Kiyani will succeed him.

Musharraf is reportedly engaged in negotiations with rightwing parties grouped in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which are against his re-election as president.

P.C. Chari, a strategic expert and a Pakistan watcher, predicts that Musharraf’s credibility will be badly dented in Pakistan as he will be seen more and more as “an American stooge” and being in power because Washington wants him to fight their battle against Al Qaeda and Taliban.

“Turmoil is going to exacerbate after Oct 6. This election has no credibility. He will be increasingly seen as another (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai, a man beholden to America. There could be a powerful civil disobedience movement against his rule,” Chari felt.

“There is also going to be a backlash against him from jehadi forces. One can expect more terrorist attacks. In fact, there is a great danger to Musharraf’s life from these elements,” he added. “The peace process with India will go into hibernation.”

Chari added: “With Pakistan caught in political turmoil, ISI and the army may think twice before plotting terror attacks against India.”

Conversely, ISI may also try to engineer terror attacks against India to divert attention from pressing domestic problems, he added.