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After Benazir’s Death:PAKISTAN HEADING FOR ANARCHY?, by Sreedhar,31 December 2007 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 31 December 2007

After Benazir’s Death


By Sreedhar

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007 by an unknown assassin has dramatically changed the political landscape of Pakistan. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) sympathizers and supporters created mayhem across the country and this may continue for some more time, creating uncertainty all around.

If the situation is going to be a prolonged one, as many are speculating, it may result, in some drastic actions by the Government in power.

The immediate fallout of Benazir’s death appears to be that the US plans to usher in a moderate Government through elections in Pakistan have received a setback. Washington may find it very difficult to facilitate a change of leadership --- replacing President Musharraf with someone else. At present, he seems to be the only best bet to continue the US War on Terrorism in this part of the world.

The unfolding drama in Pakistan after December 27 shows that there is going to be pressure on Musharraf to hold the elections, which are likely to be swept by Benazir’s PPP. The reports coming from Pakistan also indicate that her husband, Asif Zardari would take over the Government in the event the PPP comes to power.

If we go by Asif Zardari’s background, he would do anything to keep himself in power. It will not be difficult for the Establishment to discredit Zardari say after six months. His notoriety as Mr.10 Per Cent during Benazir's previous rule is now known internationally. Even if he is a changed man now (I doubt very much) the pressures on him are going to be too many, especially from the Arab patrons of the radical Islamic groups.

Therefore, the so-called transition to democracy is going to be temporary, may be for six months. One can easily see that by July-August of 2008 political anarchy will come back to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the evidence that is forthcoming about Benazir’s assassination clearly indicates that there is a certain amount of involvement of the Establishment in this crime. According to media reports, Benazir was wearing a bullet-proof jacket and this was known to the assassin. Therefore, he aimed his gun at her throat and forehead.

The Indian intelligence agencies suspect that there was a total lack of coordination among the various agencies protecting Benazir. Some even suspect that the rogue elements in the Pakistani intelligence set-up collaborated in this crime. The investigations by the PPP in the next few weeks are likely to pin-point the officials responsible for the murder of Benazir. All this is not going to be uncomfortable for President Musharraf.  

In this context, the first question that arises is: Will Musharraf be ready to take on the radical Islamic groups head on? Given that the radical groups have demonstrated their capabilities beyond doubt by the terrorist attacks on Benazir's convoy first on October 18, 2007 and again on December 27, 2007. The second attack proved that they meant business.

It is generally agreed among Pakistani observers, that the so-called 'rogue elements' within the Establishment facilitated the attack on Benazir. If so, the same elements are sending a signal to Musharraf and his supporters, in the event they launch an US-directed programme against the radical Islamic elements. If Musharraf succumbs to this terror tactics, the agenda for the future of Pakistan is going to be set by the radical Islamic groups and not the US.

The question now is what type of a scenario can one visualise for Pakistan in the coming months?

The first scenario could be of Musharraf and his Army taking on the radicals and crushing them. This is highly unlikely because Musharraf is no longer the Chief of Army Staff and one is not too sure how the present power structure looks upon such an action.

In addition, there is large section of the Armed Forces, especially among the rank and file, who are sympathetic to the radical Islamic groups. Therefore, it will not be easy for the Army to take tough action against these groups. If the top brass of the Armed Forces press for action against the radical groups it could lead to a split in the Army.

This leads us to the next possible scenario. Of the radical groups succeeding. In this event, can they capture power? The possibility seems to be highly likely. Even though the international community may not like such a development.

However, they may allow this type of anarchy to continue for sometime, till such time that the people get fed up and look around for basic security. Recall, the events in neighbouring Afghanistan in the mid-1990s when there was a total break down of law and order in the country. Fed up with the situation, the people were craving for security and had welcomed the Taliban initially.

No doubt Pakistan is not Afghanistan. There is a considerable amount of difference between the two situations. Still the possibilities seem to be quite high.

The only problem would be that the rest of the world will not allow this type of situation to happen. And all possible support from external agencies will come to the aid of the forces opposing the radical elements in Pakistan. In this event, Pakistan could head towards a bloody civil war leaving every one at a loss.

That takes us to the other possibility. The darling of the Arab world, Nawaz Sharif could hold the fort for the time being, to bring in a certain amount of normalcy.

The worst case scenario would be of the radical groups staging a comeback in the next year or so to recapture the territory they lost after the US launched its War on Terrorism in October 2001. The radicals know only too well that if they manage to capture political power in Pakistan they will gain access to the country’s nuclear weapons. The leadership of the radical Islamic groups also knows that it will not be easy for the US or any other power to repeat Afghanistan’s October 2001 scenario in Pakistan.

Moreover, the international community does not have any clear idea of the status of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan. From time to time official handouts by the Establishment indicate that the nuclear weapons are under the firm control of the Pakistani Armed Forces.

However, with the Armed Forces itself divided in their relations with the radical Islamic groups the whole nuclear weapons picture looks quiet hazy and uncertain. According to the reports coming from the US indicate that so far the radical groups have not gained complete control over the Pakistani nuclear weapons. In this situation if radical groups can gain even a little access, things could go out of hand for the rest of the month.

All this means that Pakistan is literally at the crossroads and could become a failed State. Slowly fragmenting into a number of mini and micro states. How the world will react to such a development is to be seen.

The Indian planners are worried about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan. While Iran has closed its borders with Pakistan, India has placed its Armed Forces on a high alert all along the Indo-Pak border.

The radical Islamic groups being patronized by the Pakistani Establishment are at a loss not knowing how far their patrons in Islamabad would extend support to them in the present situation.

In the immediate future, Islamabad is bound to bring down its involvement with the radical Islamic groups operating in Jammu & Kashmir. One has to wait and see how Islamabad will behave in the medium and long term. The mandarins in South Block feel that a lot will depend on the stability in Pakistan. ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)


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