* US journal says Musharraf at his weakest, but if he leaves, VCOAS would step up
* US must change policy of supporting ‘strongman’
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Contrary to some doomsday scenarios, even if President Pervez Musharraf were to leave the scene, Pakistan is not likely to descend into anarchy, nor will its nuclear weapons fall into terrorist hands, or its government come under the control of mullahs and militants, according to a detailed analysis printed here.
Sydney J Freedberg Jr, writing in the current issue of National Journal, states that the alternatives to the Pakistani military leader do exist, but they “may require consideration sooner rather than later”.
According to Alexis Debat, a former French counter-terrorism official, “Musharraf has never been weaker. His core constituency is the military, and there are indications that he has started to lose that as well.” He quotes Stephen Cohen of Brookings who says that “there’s a lot of anxiety about Musharraf’s reckless behaviour,” adding, “Musharraf has one good friend in the world: Bush.”
Freedberg calls Musharraf “a consummate institution man, the product of a lifetime in the Pakistani army.” He also quotes South Asia expert Marvin Weinbaum who says that were Gen Musharraf “to be taken out tomorrow, there would be strong continuity” because the vice chief of the army would step up.
According to Freeberg, “If the United States wants a different future for Pakistan, the experts say that Washington is going to have to adopt a different policy. Americans need to break themselves of the habit of relying on one personable strongman and reach out to people they may dislike. Real change comes slowly, by persuading one person at a time. It does not come from counting on one person at the top.”
Freedberg argues that military discipline also means that real democracy is a lot further away than next year’s promised elections. Intimidation of candidates, suppression of turnout, bribery of voters, and blatant gerrymandering are common in Pakistan. He quotes Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Mahmud Ali Durrani as acknowledging that the military is growing weary of ruling. “Every time a military ruler has come in, the people have welcomed him with open arms. But with the passage of time, that shine seems to go away, because it’s a difficult country to govern. And for every military leader, believe it or not, one of his major agenda points was to bring back democracy.”
Freedberg writes, “Musharraf is not a lonely hero holding his country together. He is just the latest leader to stand precariously atop Pakistan’s three ever-shifting tectonic plates – the generals, the politicians, and the mullahs. Sooner, not later, he will lose his footing. To understand what might happen next, it’s important to understand the three major power centres at work in Pakistan.” These he identifies as the army officer corps, which remains loyal to the institution of the army, the civilian secular politicians and the religious elements.
Source: Daily Times