May 24, 2020
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The Axis Of Anarchy

Not Musharraf but the Afghan war has led to the chaos in Pakistan

The Axis Of Anarchy
The Axis Of Anarchy
When society goes into panic, it looks for a scapegoat. Not just Pakistan, but the entire world has elected Musharraf to take the blame for the onrushing disintegration of the Pakistani state. Nothing demonstrates this better than his utter failure to convince his own people that neither he, nor any arm of his government, had anything to do with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Notwithstanding the suspicious confusion over the cause of her death, as Musharraf pointed out in an interview, the government had given her the heaviest security cover it was capable of. She was in a car that was bullet proof and, as it turned out, bomb proof. Nothing would have happened if she had stayed in the car and waved to her adoring fans from its safe confines.

It was she who chose to defeat all these security measures. The government could have planned to assassinate her; it could even have hired assassins from among the jehadis to kill her. But it could neither have made her defeat the security precautions, nor chosen the time when she would do it. Even if they were sure she would break the security cordon sooner or later, the assassin (or assassins) would have had to follow her and stay close. And hence, it is inconceivable that he/they would not have been noticed and challenged by her regular security detail.

The West is also in panic. This is reflected in the way the media there is turning her death into a requiem for democracy. According to them, Musharraf had lost the support of the people because, in his anxiety to retain his uniform, remain the head of state and forestall any challenge to his plans that could be mounted through the judiciary, he began to flout both the letter and the spirit of Pakistan's frail constitution. The public anger this aroused destroyed his legitimacy and opened the way for the resurgence of the jehadis.

The only hope of preventing their further rise lay in the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Western-educated Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan's only political party that had remained immune to Musharraf's blandishments, was, therefore, Pakistan's last hope of stemming the rise of jehad and the disintegration of the state. Her assassination could hence prove a mortal blow not only for Pakistan but also for the war on terror.

The truth is that Benazir was anything but a democrat. Her history apart, the treatment of the ppp in her will as her personal chattel to be bestowed upon whomsoever she wished, laid bare the feudal and authoritarian core of her being.

And Musharraf did not begin to lose his popularity when he flouted the canons of democracy, but four years earlier when it became apparent to the Pakistani people that the war in Afghanistan was not going to end anytime soon; the killing, mostly of civilians, would not stop. Pakistan had been forced into becoming a party to it and Musharraf was unwilling or unable to extricate it from the lethal quagmire.

Musharraf began to flout the constitution not because he had fallen in love with power, but because Pakistan's involvement in the Afghan war was destroying the army from within, and the army was, and still is, the final bulwark of the Pakistani state. Since '04, some of Pakistan's most eminent retired policymakers and generals, such as Shafqat Mehmood, Najmuddin Sheikh and former ISI chief Asad Durrani, had been warning the government to get out of Afghanistan because the army did not consider it as 'our war' and was, therefore, increasingly unwilling to fight it. But the fissures came into the open last September when a handful of Taliban were able to capture 214 Pakistani soldiers, including a major and a lieutenant colonel, without firing a shot. What has not come into the limelight is the increasing number of desertions from the Pak army. Radio chatter picked up by Indian intelligence agencies suggests as many as 150 soldiers deserted to the Taliban in a single week in October.

Every mistake Musharraf has made in the past two years, from ordering the killing of Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti in August '06 to his attempt to keep his uniform, be elected by the outgoing parliament and change the chief justice of the Supreme Court, has been triggered by an increasingly desperate bid to keep the army behind the state in this supreme moment of crisis.

Benazir's assassination has finished Musharraf and will certainly bring a ppp government to power. But instead of ending Pakistan's problems, it might exacerbate them by making it more difficult to keep the army under the throne instead of upon it. The fact is that the drift into chaos and jehad will not stop till Pakistan pulls out of the Afghan war. Since the war cannot be fought without Pakistan's active cooperation, the choice before NATO and the US is stark: pull out of Afghanistan or turn Pakistan into the next, the largest and the most virulent recruiting ground for the jehad against the West (and, of course, against us).
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