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Delhi sees Pervez plot in hardliners’ win

New Delhi, Oct. 11: India feels the “carefully-crafted” outcome of the general elections in Pakistan will help President Pervez Musharraf strengthen his position not only in the country but also in his dealings with the West, particularly the US, with whom he has joined forces to fight global terrorism.

India is cautious in its response to developments in Pakistan and has not come out with a statement yet. However, in private, Pakistan-watchers in the Indian establishment are not impressed with General Musharraf’s experiment with democracy.

South Block is of the opinion that a hung National Assembly — the Pakistani parliament — will help Musharraf play a far greater role in the affairs of the country. A Prime Minister and cabinet, which will definitely be handpicked by the President, will always be indebted to him and be dependent on his whims for their survival.

The victory of hardline religious parties in the National Assembly, as well as in key provinces like Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province, is seen by India as part of Musharraf’s gameplan to run with the hare and hunt with the hound.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal — the coalition of five hardline Islamic religious parties led by Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani, which also includes fundamentalist leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Qazi Hussain Ahmad — fought the elections on an anti-American plank. The coming together of these organisations in the wake of the US declaring a war on terror was a sinister development by itself. But indications suggest that the formation of the coalition was not without Musharraf’s blessings.

Indian officials argue that Musharraf supported the formation of the coalition to, on the one hand, keep the Americans happy by joining the global war on terror and, on the other, gain the support of religious fundamentalists by allowing them to win in the elections. These forces, Delhi believes, can be used if Musharraf desires to foment trouble in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

Besides, Musharraf can convince the US of the great risk he is taking by supporting the war against the al Qaida and the Taliban by showing that these parties are now in majority in the assemblies of Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province.

However, the victory of these religious parties in the two important provinces bordering Afghanistan will also be a cause of concern for the Americans. The leaders of these groups were known to have supported Taliban and al Qaida members. Some reports suggest they continue to do so.

To strengthen his position, Musharraf also increased the strength of the national assembly from 217 to 342, relocated and redistributed constituencies to break the stronghold of his political rivals and pushed through a series of amendments to the constitution in the run-up to the elections. The provisions that empower him to dismiss the Prime Minister and his cabinet, ensure his stranglehold over the parliament and make a “mockery” of democracy in Pakistan.

But Indian officials are aware that these things will not have an adverse impact in the US and other western countries dealing with Musharraf and may only improve his standing in the West and make Washington and other key players more dependent on the army ruler in their fight against al Qaida.

“This doesn’t mean we will remain quite. We will continue to express these views in our interactions with the US and other western leaders,” said a senior South Block official.

But apart from sharing these views, there is not much else that Indian officials will be able to do at this juncture for Musharraf will remain the darling of the Americans for some time now.

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