Chaos jitters for India

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By OUR BUREAU in Delhi
  • Published 28.12.07

New Delhi, Dec. 27: The fatal attack on Benazir Bhutto was part of concerted efforts to frustrate Pakistan’s painful trek towards democracy and hurl the country into chaos that would only harm India, intelligence experts said today.

The assassination, they pointed out, was preceded by an attack on supporters of Nawaz Sharif, another former Prime Minister, at a rally earlier in the day.

“This is a terrible tragedy that could make things much worse in Pakistan,” said A.S. Dulat, a former director of RAW.

“This is a clear indication that the Pakistani intelligence establishment is on the verge of a breakdown,” said Ajit Doval, former director of the Intelligence Bureau.

The experts said the biggest concern for India was the period of uncertainty that is bound to follow. “If Islamic groups gain leverage over any government in Pakistan… even for a short period… it could have negative effects for India,” Doval said.

Intelligence sources said America’s efforts to facilitate Benazir’s return to Pakistan could have made her appear pro-US and a target for extremists. Dulat said those who saw her as pro-US and wanted to destabilise the democratic process were likely to be behind the assassination.

Analysts see two possible scenarios unfolding in Pakistan — a return to absolute martial law, or an elected government too weak to stand up to the demands of extremists.

“In either case, Islamic extremists in India are likely to gain,” said Malay Kumar Dhar, a former IB official.

Doval said a return to martial law could militarise the mindset, harming the Indo-Pak peace dialogue.

International experts believe the Pakistan army is still strong despite the challenge from extremists. “There is no evidence that the army is fragmenting,” said Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC. “Pakistan’s army sees itself as the country’s only strong institution…” she said in a report released in November.

But she cautioned that more trouble could affect the army’s attitude towards future governments.