Our neighborhood is in a mess.
On our West, Pakistan is cracking up, with President Pervez Musharraf valiantly struggling to cling on to power.
In the east, we have Bangladesh, another nation in political turmoil, with a military-backed interim government continuously postponing elections, and Myanmar, where the military Junta brooks no dissent.
In the north, we have Nepal struggling to shift from a kingdom to a republic, without becoming another basket case run by Maoists. We also have China, which still claims huge swathes of Indian territory as its own.
In the south, we have Sri Lanka, where the government has called off peace talks with the LTTE and launched a do-or-die bid to decimate it.
Events in all these countries have a direct impact on India.
In Pakistan, the good former General now faces his nemesis from the very outfit that spawned him, and gave him the power to rule Pakistan since October 1999. With the media, the legal fraternity, the opposition, the mad mullahs and a large chunk of civil society demanding an end to his rule, the only thing that kept ‘Pinocchio’ Pervez in power is the increasingly diffident support he gets from the West. And of course, the Army.
But late November 2007, the General, under intense American pressure, reluctantly shed his uniform to become a civilian President. Of course, he had earlier modified the Constitution to immensely strengthen the President’s powers.
In December 2007, came the assassination of the former and would-be Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who had reportedly refused to deal with Musharraf until he shed his uniform, and suspicions were raised about the government’s involvement in the incident. And the vultures started circling.
The first salvo came in the form of a January 22, 2008 demand by several ex-servicemen who wanted Musharraf to step down as President “in the supreme national interest.”
Musharraf, who was at the time touring Europe in an attempt to tell the world that he was still in command, reacted by describing the officers as “insignificant personalities... Most of them are ones who served under me and I kicked them out.”
This blatantly inaccurate remark provoked the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Society (PESS), led by Gen. Faiz Ali Chishti, a close ally of former President Gen. Zia-ul-Haq – and several others including former Army chief Gen. Mirza Aslam Baig, Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan, former ISI chief Gen. Hameed Gul, Brig. M Mehmood and more than 200 other ex-servicemen – to issue a fresh ultimatum on January 31, 2008.
Not only should Musharraf resign as President, he should hand over charge to the former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to “save the country from worsening political turmoil,” declared the former military brass. The fact that none of these senior officers is known for his commitment to democracy is another matter.
Chaudhry was sacked by Musharraf days before he was expected to rule on a petition challenging his rule, and has since been kept under house arrest, sparking outrage in the legal community. He recently managed to sneak out a letter to the world, which described Musharraf as someone who ‘claims to be the Head of State,’ and warned the West against falling for his ‘charm offensive.’ Read: In open letter to West, Pak ex-CJ assails Musharraf
The PESS also demanded the release, and subsequent trial, of nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who too has been under house arrest since February 2004 after Musharraf accused, and then “pardoned” him for supplying nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea without the Pakistan government or army’s knowledge. The only reason that Musharraf placed the scientist under house arrest instead of jailing him, say critics, is that Khan holds proof of Musharraf’s complicity and knowledge about the illicit nuclear deals.
But those about to write Musharraf off must remember that he has ruled and survived for nine years by always thinking at least four steps ahead of those out to get him. It is also important to keep in mind that the West believes that Musharraf is the best, if not the only, option when it comes to the war on terror.
Washington and London would rather deal with someone they think they know, than take a chance with the possibility -- however remote -- of mad mullahs coming to power in the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons.
For India, it is Hobson’s choice. Whether the wily Musharraf continues to rule or seeks refuge in the US or Saudi Arabia, an unstable Pakistan means trouble.
What kind of a government will the February 18, 2008 elections throw up? Will the elections be held at all? Will the mad mullahs come to power, filling the leadership vacuum in the PPP and riding on the anti-American wave? Will General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who took over as Army Chief from Musharraf, be able to stick to his promise of not getting involved in politics?
No matter how things play out, one thing seems certain: things are likely to get a lot worse in Pakistan before they get any better. And for India, that can only be bad news. Because the one sure-fire and oft-tested way to deflect attention from the domestic chaos in Pakistan is to start trouble with India.
The views expressed in the article are of the author’s and not of Sify.com.