Pakistan at war on many fronts
My friends in Pakistan tell me that careers of two key figures are at stake in their country: President Asif Ali Zardari and Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. The latter’s future will be determined by the outcome of the South Waziristan operation and the former’s on the view Parliament and the judiciary take on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).
The Ordinance ensured indemnity for Zardari and his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, against corruption cases. It was part of a deal Benazir reached with Pervez Musharraf before returning from self-exile to Pakistan— and falling to a pistol-bomb attack in Rawalpindi.
Zardari today is more a subject of derision than of respect in Pakistan’s power structure. The opposition to his continuation in the high office is eclectic: powerful media barons, intelligence operatives, services personnel and PPP veterans sidelined upon his post-Benazir ascendance in the party-government hierarchy. At a recent interaction with media persons, the President was at the receiving end of a barrage of embarrassing questions. Sample this: You went out of the way to befriend India. But their PM (Manmohan Singh) snubbed you at Yekaterinburg (with his famous statement: “My mandate is to tell you that Pakistan’s territory should not be used for terrorism against India”) and ‘gifted’ Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement.
Bystanders reported that Zardari was downcast and had no convincing answers that could change popular perceptions about his fast-dwindling importance and utility within the country’s power structure. All that’s wrong —from the Pakistani standpoint —with the Kerry-Lugar law has also been placed at the beleaguered President’s doorsteps. Even the army led by Kayani joined the chorus against the “conditions” the US has laid down for administering the $ 7.5 billion non-military assistance.
The NRO was placed before Parliament for its endorsement in the middle of a fierce debate on the Kerry-Lugar law. That was also the time when the army launched its ground and air attacks in Waziristan, triggering a spate of retributive Taliban-Al Qaeda attacks on security-military assets and individuals across the country.
The irony and grave implications of the lack of consensus between Pakistani institutions and political entities in the face of a veritable war need no emphasis. Such is the sense of fear that the Presidential House, the Parliament Complex, the Prime Minister’s residence and offices and even the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi are considered vulnerable to attacks. The multi-layered security rings around them are only as strong as a fidayeen’s resolve to die.
The overall gloom is compounded by the barely concealed distrust of Pakistan by its neighbours— India, Afghanistan and now Iran that has accused the Pak ISI of backing the Sunni Jundullah that recently killed revolutionary guards near the city of Sarbaz along the Balochistan-Iran border. “Our army has to succeed in Waziristan. If that doesn’t happen, much else would, most certainly,” said a senior journalist whom I’d rather leave unnamed. Amid so many war fronts, he continued, India would be unrealistic if it were to make tough action against Hafiz Saeed (who’s Lashkhar-e-Toiba hasn’t turned anti-Pakistan) a precondition for returning to the negotiating table.
Well, with key government and establishment figures deeply unsure of their ground, early resumption of dialogue looks remote anyway. Conditions within Pakistan are more to blame for the delay than the conditions India has put forth for resuming talks.