Only Musharraf’s presence kept coalition together: Observer

* Paper says although undemocratic, Musharraf’s rule offered ‘strategic clarity’ to US
By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Hostility to an unpopular president was the only unifying force in a fractious coalition government in Pakistan and with his departure, the stage is clear for a ruthless power struggle between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), according to an editorial in The Observer.

The London-based Sunday paper monitored here points out that Musharraf’s rule was undemocratic, but, viewed from Washington, it offered “strategic clarity”. The general was an ally in the ‘War on Terror’. The promise to purge his country of jihadi militants earned him billions of dollars in aid. But he failed, not least because he looked like a White House client.

Backlash: Musharraf’s apparent subordination of the national interest to serve American policy was always going to provoke a backlash that was part nationalist, part Islamic in character. That backlash made Musharraf’s regime more reliant on Washington and more repressive. Not surprisingly, many Pakistanis do not now associate domestic political freedom with US foreign policy. That does not mean that Pakistan is a hot-bed of Taliban-style radicalism.

The newspaper points out that more Pakistanis were murdered by the militants last year than were killed in the 9/11 attacks on the US. Pakistan struggles to reconcile civilian political determination to keep extremists at bay with military strategic preoccupations that predate the US ‘War on Terror’. In particular, the country’s military and intelligence establishment have historically seen collaboration with the Taliban as a weapon against India. Those forces are increasingly alarmed by a nascent alliance between Delhi and NATO-sustained Afghanistan.

The ability of the Taliban fighters to seek refuge in Pakistan is a source of constant frustration for NATO commanders in Afghanistan. But even if Pakistan were capable of expelling the Taliban and Al Qaeda from its ungovernable tribal regions, it would need some incentive greater than kudos and cash from Western capitals before it tried.

According to The Observer, when Musharraf was in power, Western leaders avoided engaging with the nuances of Pakistan’s strategic perspective. His departure makes that task essential. The West, which essentially means Washington, must spend much more diplomatic energy smoothing relations between Islamabad and Delhi. The case must be made to both of South Asia’s nuclear-armed Cold Warriors that detente would deliver substantial security and economic benefits across the region. Musharraf’s image as ‘pro-Western’ helped turn Pakistanis anti-Musharraf. A sensible new diplomatic strategy would focus not on fashioning Pakistan into a Western client, but on promoting a stable and democratic Pakistan, which would ultimately be more likely to see its own interests and those of the West coinciding.

Source: Daily Times, 25/8/2008

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