All the wrong things

By FIFTH COLUMN - Abhijit Bhattacharyya
  • Published 8.11.07

Although Bollywood is much maligned for churning out mindless blockbusters, at times, it also obliquely depicts the ground realities. They might be in the guise of apparent absurdities — as when the police chief turns out to be the mafia don or when the villain escapes detection in the garb of a holy man — but one cannot doubt that police chiefs and holy men are often dubious characters. The events in Pakistan resemble a Bollywood potboiler, and the president, as the chief protagonist, is as suspect as a Hindi film character.

By imposing martial law, one does not quite know if Pervez Musharraf is trying to dissolve the State or re-deploy its assets. Is this his own little game or one dictated by the ‘friendly forces’ that wish to see endless turbulence, leading to a break up of the state? But then why doubt the intentions of the General? Is he not a battle-scarred veteran fed up with Islamic fundamentalists?

True or not, the fact is that whenever the generals of Pakistan have seized the reins to rule a nation in distress, the end result has been disastrous. Wittingly or unwittingly, Pakistan’s generals have always played into the hands of bigger powers on the world canvas who have used the country as a pawn in their game.

When the India-Pakistan war of 1971 saw the birth of Bangladesh, it appeared that a weak Pakistan was serving the interests of strong friends. The United States of America did not like the demise of a united Pakistan, nor did it like the Pakistan army’s butchering of its own people. But it did not probe further.

All the wrong things

The former Soviet Union did not bother so long as India remained a captive military market and Kabul had a trouble-free zone bordering Pakistan. China, too, appears to have had understood the futility of championing the cause of the marshals in an area that was beyond its strategic interests. Also, it had probably thought that a compact Pakistan would be a stronger nation. All in all, the demise of a united Pakistan in 1971 meant little to the international powers. It did not make India more powerful because, eventually, the political, economic and ethnic problems of Dhaka got transferred from Islamabad to Delhi.

Today, however, things are more serious. Musharraf’s “counter-coup” in 1999 was to save himself from being court-martialled. His action in 2007 could be likened to an “encounter-coup” to not only keep his power and position intact but also to carry the burden of US sponsored “global war on terror”. But while fighting his proxy war, Musharraf appears to have opened too many internal fronts — against the mullahs, merchants, press, the Balochis, Waziris, Yusufzais, Afridis, Bugtis, Afghans and the indigenous Islamic fundamentalists. The most poignant reality of this multi-front warfare is that Musharraf can only fall back on his own regiments and the band of tried, tested and loyal generals of the Pakistan army. But then Musharraf could also be under immense pressure from a section within the army to perform and protect the soldiers from being butchered by taliban.

How things change! Time was when the Pakistan army — training, motivating and aiding the suicide attacks on the Soviet troops in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1988 — served as an Islamic army. Now the Pakistan army fights for the Pentagon from Karachi to Khyber. But now it not only faces the Kalashnikov-wielding jihadis, but also the verbal volleys from the Western allies.

Understandably, Musharraf’s martial law is a last ditch act of self-defence. In the process, however, the possibility of the emergence of a weaker Pakistan increases. Musharraf may end up repeating the mistake of Yahya Khan, who managed to break the country and its army by doing all the wrong things.