Military Shouldn’t be Meddling in Politics

International Herald Tribune, July 29, 2002

WASHINGTON Among Muslim nations, Pakistan and Turkey are the closest allies of America and other Western countries. Turkey will be crucial if the war against terror leads to an invasion of Iraq. Pakistan is already central to the campaign against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But both have a history of political instability linked to military intervention in politics. Pakistan’s self-appointed president, Pervez Musharraf, is hoping to fend off challenges to his military regime with a political-constitutional arrangement similar to that in Turkey. But Turkey’s latest political crisis should serve as a reminder that a military-dictated constitution and a national security council which vetoes political choices are not a substitute for democratic give and take.

The government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit is on the brink of collapse as a result of defections. The economy has shrunk by 9.4 percent in a year. Fresh general elections are likely to produce another weak coalition along with a strong showing by Islamic and center-right politicians disapproved of by the military. Turkey’s controlled democracy is faltering just as Pakistan is thinking of emulating it. A determination to eliminate even the most moderate Islamic groups from the political scene and a rigid view of Turkish national interest prompted military interventions in 1960, 1971 and 1980. In Pakistan, the military does not trust politicians’ handling of interprovincial relations or relations with India.

Musharraf has said he would not let former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto return to office because of their alleged corrupt misrule. He is planning to amend Pakistan’s constitution by decree, reserving most powers for himself as president. In doing that he is following Turkey’s General Kenan Evren, who, after his coup in 1980, disqualified several politicians and rewrote the constitution to ensure a military veto in political matters. But that constitution has not provided political stability. The three most prominent leaders ousted from politics by the military – Ecevit, Suleyman Demirel and Necmettin Erbakan – all returned to the political scene at the end of their disqualification.

Resilient politicians with hard-core political support do not wither away easily. The military cannot decree which politician should or should not have popular support. Bhutto and Sharif have the potential of becoming Pakistan’s Demirel or Ecevit. Politics in both countries remain stagnant as the military deprives the people of the chance to assess leaders’ performance. Turkey’s intelligence services routinely dabble in politics. Pakistan’s security services are accused of running covert operations to influence elections or the formation of coalitions. Such machinations prevent political parties and the judiciary from playing a role in evolving corrective mechanisms for corruption or bad politics. In Turkey, any overt practice of Islam is seen as anti-secular. Concessions to a Kurdish identity or to a Cyprus accommodation are also considered outside the scope of political debate. In Pakistan, defense and foreign affairs are areas closed to discussion.

Instead of following the Turkish model, which is itself in need of major overhaul, Pakistan should lead the way in allowing democracy to take its course. Washington should encourage dialogue between Musharraf and political leaders living in exile.

Uniform Mistrust

Indian Express, July24, 2002

The recent diplomatic mission to South Asia by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reflects continuing international concern over the prospect of conflict between India and Pakistan. Although the US and British governments acknowledge Pakistan’s cooperation in restraining militant infiltration along the LoC, India is far from fully convinced. New Delhi feels that it can keep Pakistan under pressure and it is, therefore, keeping up the pressure. General Pervez Musharraf feels that he can withstand the pressure, which means that brinkmanship continues despite considerable de-escalation.

The problem that the two sides have failed so far to address is mutual mistrust. India feels it cannot trust General Musharraf in view of his role in Kargil and what New Delhi sees as his hostility towards India. General Musharraf, on the other hand, cannot risk befriending India without some quid pro quo especially in the wake of his abandonment of the Taliban not too long ago.

The general’s self confidence notwithstanding, he has too much mistrust to contend with. India does not like him. Pakistani politicians remain suspicious of his intentions. His switching of support from the Taliban and Islamic militants to the United States has infuriated the Islamists. They are now threatening his life as well as targets in Pakistan with increasing ferocity. There has been at least one major terrorist act in Pakistan almost every month since the beginning of 2002.

That leaves only the west supporting him but only barely. The mood in Washington and London seems to be that there is a question mark looming over the extent to which he will fulfil his promises on relations with India and on domestic reform.

If General Musharraf was less of a risk-taker, he would have handled his domestic critics first. He would have started genuine dialogue instead of playing games, such as nominating anti-PPP politicians to the Sindh cabinet or working overtime to disqualify politicians he dislikes. He would also have been a little more honest and forthcoming about his rigged referendum. But he has chosen to take the high road in his pronouncements (‘‘Trust me’’) and the low road of manipulative politics in his actions.

After an honest deal with the political forces, Musharraf could also have levelled with the mainstream political Islamists. He could have told them that he went along with the jihadi worldview for as long as it was sustainable but now it is no longer so. Pakistan religious parties were not really jihadi to start with. They were more like religiously-motivated political parties seeking political power.

General Musharraf could have asked these groups to revert to their original form, isolating the hardcore militants who would then have been easier to deal with. Instead, he chose to occasionally mock all maulanas, ensuring that anyone with an Islamic bent of mind finds it difficult to support him even if he agrees with his reasoning.

With the home front consolidated, General Musharraf could approach India. He could tell New Delhi Pakistan had paid a price for not confronting terrorists in the past. India needs a settlement over Kashmir as much as Pakistan needs it. ‘‘We will help you get rid of violence if you will help us by agreeing to a political process,’’ he could say. And until such time as he can win India’s trust, he could ask his friends in Washington to act as guarantors of his word.

Due to the credibility gap that has arisen from Pakistan’s roller coaster ride since September 11, several issues are no longer receiving international attention. New Delhi’s denial of access to Jammu and Kashmir for international media and human rights groups limits the potential for agitating Kashmiri rights through political means. India’s refusal to discuss Kashmir’s future with Pakistan has been accompanied by international indifference over the issue.

This in turn has led to the belief in Islamabad that militancy and violence may be the only means of internationalising what Islamabad considers to be the core issue in India-Pakistan relations. Perhaps a balanced acknowledgement—‘‘While Pakistan is at fault in the way it handled militancy, India has not handled Kashmir as a political issue the way it should have’’—would find more takers than outright denials.

Pakistan’s involvement with jihadi groups and its tolerance of armed extremist religious groups has contributed to ineffective law enforcement. Sectarian and ethnic murders as well as unexplained bombings have been a common occurrence for the last several years. According to an estimate by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, six million weapons are in circulation in the country in private hands. The most notable of these is the Kalashnikov assault rifle, the weapon of choice during the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance.

Even if a final decision is taken to root out Islamic militancy, it will be years before the terrorist networks are completely eliminated. Resources of the police and intelligence-gathering agencies are over-stretched as the military government uses them to stay in power. The terrorists know that and take advantage of the state’s weakness. They have nothing to protect, only targets to destroy.

To get out of the corner where everyone but his closest advisers think he is, General Musharraf should move towards normalising relations with India besides winning the confidence of Pakistani politicians. From Pakistan’s point of view, normalisation of ties with India would involve the beginning of a process of dialogue over the future status of Jammu and Kashmir. The international community can encourage such a process, even without an immediate resolution of the dispute.

Al Qaeda’s New Enemy

Indian Express, July24, 2002

The recent car bombing outside the US consulate in Karachi confirms the fear that Pakistan has now become a main target of al-Qaeda and its fellow travellers. The attack followed last month’s car bombing, which killed 11 French naval engineers in the same city. The incidents were preceded by a suicide bombing at an Islamabad church in March.

General Pervez Musharraf’s spokesmen have tried to link the recent wave of terrorism to Pakistan’s conflict with India. New Delhi and Islamabad routinely blame each other for terrorist attacks. But such mutual name-calling diverts attention from action against al-Qaeda-linked groups that have created an underground network stretching from Kabul in Afghanistan to Kolkata in India. The US helped pull back the south Asian rivals from the brink of war. It must now press their leaders into joining forces against the terrorists.

Pakistan’s past support for Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir is an embarrassment Gen Musharraf must face. The fear of being seen to back Kashmiri militants has led to Pakistani denials about any al-Qaeda presence in Pakistan. But having made an irreversible commitment to opposing the extremists, Gen Musharraf no longer needs to deny that terrorists hiding in its cities pose a threat to Pakistan and the world.

During the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance, militants from all over the Muslim world passed through Pakistan to participate in the Afghan Jihad. They were, at the time, supported by the intelligence services of the west as well as Islamic nations. Some of them created covert networks within Pakistan, taking advantage of poor law enforcement and the state’s sympathetic attitude towards pan-Islamic militancy. Now that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been uprooted from Afghanistan, they are using their former transit station as a temporary staging ground for terrorist operations.

Gen Musharraf’s continuing war against domestic political rivals and the on- going confrontation with India gives the terrorists an advantage. They have nothing to protect, only targets to destroy. Gen Musharraf, by contrast, must safeguard Pakistan’s interests in addition to keeping himself in power. Pakistan’s limited resources of state are stretched thin.

It is time Gen Musharraf faced, without hesitation, the domestic and regional consequences of his decision to reverse Pakistan’s 25-year-old involvement with Jihad and Islamic militancy. The easing of the recent stand-off with India has given him crucial breathing time. This opportunity should be used to develop a domestic political consensus and a diplomatic strategy for dealing with India.

All of this would require political skills that Pakistan’s military ruler has not yet displayed. He would have to roll back the jihadi movement, without seeming to do so on American or Indian orders and without getting an immediate quid pro quo over Kashmir. He already faces defiance from Pakistan’s militants and religious parties. These groups have become accustomed to state patronage and look upon Gen Musharraf’s avowed policies as a threat to their existence. Gen Musharraf’s success in controlling extremist Islamists depends on support from mainstream political parties and easing of pressure by India.

The problem so far has been that Gen Musharraf hates Pakistan’s politicians almost as much as he dislikes India. He is loath to compromise with either. India is aware of Gen Musharraf’s problem. That is why it refuses to withdraw its troops from Pakistan’s border – despite the easing of recent tensions. India wants to use its troops for the non-military purpose of causing economic hardship for Pakistan in terms of the cost of battle readiness.

Believing as he does in his good luck, Gen Musharraf could be tempted to take on the militants and Islamist ideologues without cutting a deal with mainstream politicians at home. He could also try to keep up his anti-India rhetoric at least in public, which may not go down too well with Hindu nationalist hardliners on the other side of the border. These hardliners may then seek out ways of embarrassing him, which would bring India and Pakistan back to rattling sabres at each other.

India and Pakistan must not ignore the fact that both countries are now equal targets for terrorists linked to al-Qaeda. The extremist Islamists want war in south Asia so that they can operate in the region with impunity. To ensure that India and Pakistan stay focused on fighting global terrorism, the international community, particularly the US, should encourage these neighbours to overcome their legacy of mutual distrust. The US should also tell Gen Musharraf to change his course at home, without which the vulnerability of his regime to extremist pressure will only increase.

U.S. Pressure is Needed to Stabilize South Asia

Asian Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2002

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s just-completed diplomatic mission to South Asia reflects continued international concern about the risk of war in South Asia. Mr. Powell urged India to ease tension caused by its build-up of troops on the border with Pakistan, as well as to free political prisoners and allow international observers in Kashmir ahead of an election in October. At the same time, he put pressure on Pakistan’s Gen. Musharraf to stop the infiltration of Islamic militants into Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Mr. Powell acknowledged a decline in that infiltration, but India is far from fully convinced. It is trying to keep Pakistan under pressure to take advantage of a global environment that is hostile to all militant or terrorist movements. The U.S. must now impress upon India the importance of dialogue and normalization of relations with Pakistan. India has removed some of its forces along the Pakistan border but has refused to withdraw all its troops to peacetime locations. As a result, brinkmanship between the nuclear rivals continues despite some de-escalation since May, when war seemed imminent.

Gen. Musharraf’s decision to move Pakistan away from Islamic extremism after Sept. 11 was an act of courage that has endangered his life. Since then, he has made several mistakes in handling Pakistan’s return to democracy. His approach to India-Pakistan relations is also not without fault. But he still deserves U.S. support, qualified with nudges in the right direction, to complete the mission of tackling Islamic extremism.

Pakistan has helped arrest several al Qaeda figures escaping from Afghanistan. Its military bases were critical to the U.S. war effort and its intelligence cooperation remains useful. If the U.S. does not use its influence to help Pakistan start a political process over its deadlock with India in the dispute over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, it would be making things unbearably difficult for its ally.

Gen. Musharraf cannot risk making further concessions to India without some quid pro quo over Kashmir. Pakistan’s Islamists hold him responsible for abandoning Afghanistan’s Taliban. A perceived sell-out over Kashmir would be just too much for Pakistani public opinion to swallow. It is also unfair to make all the demands on Pakistan and ask for nothing from India.

Until now the United States has focused on pressuring Pakistan into withdrawing support for Islamic militants responsible for attacks inside Kashmir and India. It is time to exhort India to start a process of dialogue with Pakistan. Pakistan has already paid a price for not confronting the terrorists in the past. They brought their battles to Pakistan, while holding out the promise of helping in Pakistan’s conflict with India.

But now that phase is over. India needs a settlement over Kashmir as much as Pakistan. In return for helping India get rid of the violence, the U.S. must help Pakistan secure a political process. Until such time as Musharraf can win India’s trust, Washington could act as guarantor for its ally’s word.

An end to terrorism and militancy is a legitimate demand, but India should not use it to close discussion over another equally legitimate demand — the rights of the Kashmiri people as recognized by the United Nations. The induction of Islamic militants from around the world has linked the violence in Kashmir to the international jihad movement. But the insurrection in Muslim-majority Kashmir was indigenous in its initial phase and still has support there. It represents genuine Kashmiri frustration with Indian rule.

Since the beginning of the insurgency in 1989, India has denied international media and human rights groups access to Jammu and Kashmir. This has limited the potential for Kashmiris to agitate for their rights through political means. India’s refusal to discuss Kashmir’s future with Pakistan has also been accompanied by international indifference over the issue, which has led many Pakistanis to think of violence as the only means of securing international attention. A balanced acknowledgement from New Delhi — “While Pakistan was at fault in the way it handled militancy, India has not handled Kashmir as a political issue the way it should have” — would go a long way toward starting a reasoned dialogue that reduces the incentives for resorting to violence.

The international community intervened in January and then again in May to prevent war, after India massed troops on the border to retaliate against terrorist attacks, including one on the Indian Parliament and another on the families of Indian troops. The focus of international diplomacy on both occasions was to demand that Pakistan stop infiltration of militants across the line of control that divides Kashmir between Indian and Pakistani controlled parts.

But there are at least seven militant groups that are completely indigenous to Indian-controlled Kashmir. Even if it wanted to, Pakistan cannot control the behavior of all groups operating in the region. Pakistan has a terrorism problem of its own, which requires firm action by its government. It may take years for terrorist networks to be completely eliminated. Peace between India and Pakistan should not be put on hold for that indefinite period.

The problem that India and Pakistan have failed so far to address is mutual mistrust, and it is here that America can help most. Even without a breakthrough during the Powell visit, the U.S. must continue its efforts to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. India feels it cannot trust Gen. Musharraf, in view of his strong commitment to seeking an end to Indian rule over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. New Delhi sees this as hostility towards India and points to Gen. Musharraf’s role in the Kargil conflict in 1999 as well as to his belligerent pronouncements. Pakistan, on the other hand, is convinced that India will use every excuse available to avoid negotiations leading to Kashmiri self-determination.

After Secretary Powell’s visit, the U.S. must also play a more direct role in ensuring Pakistan’s transition to democracy. The U.S. understandably does not want to be seen as interfering in the domestic affairs of an ally. But Gen. Musharraf has taken U.S. support to mean he can change labels on his military regime without actually relinquishing power to an elected parliament. He is proposing to change Pakistan’s constitution by decree and exclude major political figures from a stage-managed parliamentary election.

Such moves could create unrest in Pakistan, which might take an anti-American turn. As a friend, the U.S. must advise Gen. Musharraf to allow a genuine (as opposed to manipulated) democratic process, which would restore Pakistan’s credibility. The U.S. needs a stable Pakistan as its ally. It should use its leverage with India over Kashmir and with Musharraf on democracy to ensure that stability.