Pakistan on Brink of Anarchy? : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Does this threat get worse, the longer the War in Afghanistan lasts?


Copyright, The Irish Times, Fair Use for Education and Research Use Only

Pakistan is on brink of anarchy.

The air strikes against Afghanistan are convulsing neighbouring Pakistan. Miriam Donohoe, in Peshawar, assesses the prospects of the military government retaining its grip on power.

PAKISTAN: The launch by the United States of its long-expected strike on Afghanistan last Sunday has lit the fuse of a potentially explosive time-bomb in neighbouring Pakistan. America's war on terrorism has bolstered radical Islamic groups all over the country, throwing Pakistan into a dangerous new phase of political instability.

The Pakistani leader, Gen Perez Musharraf, has been battling against rising protests following the September 11th attack on New York and Washington, with hardline Islamic groups making their opposition to Pakistan's support for the United States action very clear.

But the start of military strikes by America and its allies on Afghanistan six days ago has led to an escalation of Islamic activity. So far this week, several people have been killed in anti-American rallies. Yesterday, the first Muslim day of prayer since military action began, radical Islamic groups mobilised in all of Pakistan's large cities.

Gen Musharraf said recently that the Islamic extremists in Pakistan had only between 10 and 15 per cent of overall support in the country. But that is still 15 million people out of a population of 140 million. "Fifteen million are capable of doing a lot of damage" one senior police officer in Peshawar told The Irish Times. "If they organised themselves properly, yes, they could be a serious threat." The loud and violent protests on the streets of Pakistani cities, as well as rumours of dissent within the army, have fuelled speculation this week that Gen Musharraf's days could be numbered. On Wednesday rumours of a coup swept across the country when a government building went on fire in the political capital, Rawalpindi. The fire was in fact due to an electrical fault.

The general's grip on power still appears to be firm, and in the last week he has started to consolidate his leadership and to promote to senior positions people on the same wavelength as him. One of his first actions was to send three of Pakistan's top pro-Taliban political leaders into house arrest for three months. But his strongest pre-emptive strike came a few hours before the United States began its attack on Afghanistan. Gen Musharraf, who is also the army chief of staff, forced the resignations of two generals and effectively sidelined a third. All three were architects of Pakistan's pro-Taliban policy in the past. They were also instrumental in bringing Gen Musharraf to power after the military coup in October, 1999. In his most significant move, Gen Musharraf forced the hardline Intersevices Intelligence Agency head, Lieut Gen Mahmood Ahmad, to resign, replacing him as army vice-chief of staff with the more junior Lieut Mohammed Yousuf. Gen Ahmad was close to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, but failed to persuade him to give up Osama bin Laden during two trips to Afghanistan in recent weeks. Gen Musharraf also elevated another hardline Islamicist, Lieut Mohamed Aziz, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, a job with the rank of full general.

The reshuffle came a day after Gen Musharraf indefinitely extended his own term as army chief, which had been due to expire on October 7th. While the reshuffle does not guarantee that Gen Musharraf won't face any future threat from within the army, it does appear to reduce the risk considerably. Another factor on his side is that most of the rest of the world does not want mullahs in power in Pakistan and the reality is that currently there are few alternatives to Gen Musharraf.

A takeover by fundamentalist Islamic factions in Pakistan would indeed be calamitous. According to the deputy national security adviser for President Clinton, Jim Steinberg, this would lead to an armed Islamic nuclear state. "That would be a very serious unintended consequence" he said. The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, due in Islamabad early next week for talks with Gen Musharraf, said that he was confident that the Pakistani leader could manage the domestic consequences of helping America. "I have no concerns about their nuclear progamme," he added.

While the anti-American protests are getting louder and bloodier, Pakistan is a country where popular politics is often conducted on the streets. According to observers, the protests are still not viewed as a major breakdown of public order. The former prime minister, Benazair Bhutto and the ethnic Muttaheda Quami Movement in Karachi have mobilised much bigger crowds in the past. The reported number of deaths in protests so far is smaller than many people had feared. Many protests so far appear to have been uncoordinated and disorganised and not part of a well planned campaign to destablise the government.

While many Pakistanis have been angered by what they consider an unwarranted attack against the Taliban, at the same time the majority of Pakistan's 140 million Muslims have preferred to remain on the sidelines, discussing the crisis over tea at home, or in the market, rather than taking to the streets. However as long as the protest goes on, speculation will continue about the government's stability. Ilizas ul Hac, a leader of the Muslim League, predicted this week that if the bombings do not stop soon people would slowly go over to the protesting side. He said there is a risk that the leaders will lose their grip on the country. "The sympathy of the Pakistan people are still with the American victims but the problem is no solid evidence against Osama Bin Laden has been presented." he said.

Last Thursday General Musharraf called a meeting of the country's top security chiefs, after which he announced an immediate crackdown on law-breakers, including Afghan refugees. After the meeting law enforcement agencies were directed to arrest anyone involved in causing public disorder. They were asked to ensure that mosques and other religious premises are not used for creating hatred. The meeting decided that Afghan refugees who were creating law and order situations would be deported immediately. The refugee problem is another factor adding to instability in the country. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week that refugees are given shelter in the country and they should confine themselves to being refugees and should not start any political agitation. "If anybody indulges in such activities they should be sent back." But the volatility may be difficult to control.

There are increasing reports of clashes between Pakistani forces and Taliban fighters in the near-lawless border region where the country's Pashtun minority lives in often deplorable conditions. The Pashtun have close ties to Afghanistan, and although not completely supportive of the Taliban, many are angry that Pakistan has lent its support to US attacks on a Muslim country. Resentment towards refugees is growing. They are being accused of causing crime and draining the already scarce job market and haphazard social welfare system. Refugees are blamed for injecting political instability and Islamic fundamentalism into Pakistani society, which has become a haven for Taliban holy warriors. In recent days, there have been growing demands from Pakistanis that all Afghans be put in refugee camps - and kept there under gunpoint.

Gen Musharraf is playing a difficult balancing act, keeping one eye on the US attacks in Afghanistan, and the other on domestic opposition to his government's alliance with America. He can't afford to let his eyes off either ball. It won't take much for the time-bomb that is quietly ticking in his country to go off.

-- Robert Riggs (, October 13, 2001


Pakistan will fall from within.

-- jimmie-the-weed (, October 13, 2001.

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