by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 5, Ramadan, 1436)
Throughout its tortuous history, Pakistan has staggered from one crisis to another; but general Pervez Musharraf has brought it to the brink of unprecedented disaster. His military assault on the people of South Waziristan has been compared by some observers to the disastrous policy pursued by general Yahya Khan in East Pakistan, which led to the country's break-up in 1971. The army attacked Waziristan not because the tribesmen were any threat to Pakistan, but to support the US's brutal policy in Afghanistan. Pakistani rulers have historically ignored the wishes of the people, taking them in directions they do not wish to go. In his total subservience to the US, however, Musharraf has shown a brazen disregard of public opinion that borders on the scandalous. The US is hated not only by the Pakistanis but all over the world, because of its record of hegemonic brutality, of which George Bush’s policies are only the latest and most blatant example.
The indecent haste with which Musharraf agreed, without consulting anyone, to join the US's war on Afghanistan was projected as having "saved" Pakistan from US attack. The widespread revulsion among the masses at this surrender to American bullying was dismissed with contempt; the people know nothing, sycophantic officials argued, Musharraf and his advisors knew best. Anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan were dismissed as the ravings of "religious fanatics". In the immediate aftermath of the removal of the Taliban from power, there was much drum-beating about Musharraf having got it right, but gradually the folly of this policy and the people's resentment against it began to resurface.
Even the military has not been immune from these sudden policy shifts, whether on Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, the nuclear policy, or the war against its own people. The military was once the country’s most respected institution, but Musharraf's policies have caused huge anger again it; resentment against the military is such that officers no longer dare go out in uniform in major cities. Musharraf himself survived two assassination attempts in quick succession last December, and there have also been attacks on other senior military officers. Despite heading the most powerful institution in the country, Musharraf has become a virtual prisoner in his own house. The Corps Commander in Karachi was targeted in broad daylight on June 10, although he escaped unhurt. When Musharraf decided to visit the targeted officer, in order to show his support and confidence, large parts of Karachi had to be virtually shut down in order to ensure his security. People were not allowed anywhere near Musharraf's travel route, causing them great inconvenience and increasing their resentment further.
The military itself is now deeply divided. Many junior and mid-level officers are unhappy with Musharraf's subservience to the US, especially his u-turns on Afghanistan and Kashmir, and the attack on Waziristan. For 25 years, Afghanistan was projected as Pakistan's strategic depth; that policy was abandoned as the result of a single phone call from the US secretary of state Colin Powell after 9/11. In May, the government denied reports of a purge of dissatisfied army officers, claiming that only a few soldiers were involved; it is now known that several officers, up to the rank of colonel, including some who refused to participate in the Waziristan operations, are under arrest and are being held in appalling conditions in the notorious Attock Fort, originally used as a detention facility by the British colonialists.
It would be wrong to conclude from all this that Pakistan's civilian politicians would do any better. Pakistan's tragedy is that its ruling elites are thoroughly corrupt and incompetent; cowardice is their basic characteristic and subservience to alien masters their natural instinct. Leaders of so-called Islamic political parties have proved little better. At a time when the masses are ready to overthrow the corrupt order, there is no sign of any leadership to enable them to do so. Unless sincere leadership emerges from within its people, Pakistan will continue to stagger from one crisis to the next. History, however, abhors a vacuum; the appalling and devastating incompetence of Pakistan's leaders, and their total, contemptuous disregard for the alienated masses, make an explosive mix. Should this trend continue, without the emergence of a leadership genuinely reflective of the aspirations of ordinary Pakistanis, the country's future may be even grimmer than its present condition.