President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is presently on a visit to West Europe. He arrived in Brussels on January 20, 2008. After Belgium, he was scheduled to visit France and the UK and address the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland before returning to Pakistan. He is expected to meet Ms Condoleeza Rice, the US Secretary of State, at Davos. His programme, drawn around his participation in the Davos Forum, had reportedly been drawn up before the assassination of Mrs Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
He has stuck to his travel plans despite the wave of suicide terrorism sweeping across Pakistan, the public anger over the shortages in the supply of essential commodities such as wheat, flour and oil, the growing threat to political stability arising from the till-now uncontrollable activities of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan headed by Baitullash Mehsud of South Waziristan and the persisting Western dilemma over how to prevent Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organisations from assuming control over Islamabad just as they assumed control over Kabul in September 1996, and taking possession of its nuclear arsenal and material. This shows his anxiety over the inexorable erosion of his credibility in the eyes of the West and the need felt by him to counter this. His credibility in Pakistan is already weakened and the present weakening of his credibility abroad could make his position increasingly untenable even if he sticks to his public commitment to ensure that the forthcoming elections would be free and fair and to work with whoever comes to power as a result of the elections.
It is clear that the future stability of Pakistan and Afghanistan and the ultimate outcome of the so-called war against global jihadi terrorism are going to be decided in the Pashtun homelands of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan and the adjoining Afghan territory. Neither the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan nor the Pakistan Army have been able to come out with a workable strategy which would effectively neutralise the rainbow coalition of jihadis, which has been operating from the tribal belt and which is determined to defeat the US-led coalition on the one side and the Pakistan Army on the other. Such a strategy has to simultaneously address the legitimate concerns and anger of the Pashtuns over matters such as the Pakistani commando action in the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July last and the large civilian casualties in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan due to what is perceived as the disproportionate use of force by the US-led coalition.
The rise of the jihadi monster now seeking to spread havoc across this region was unwittingly facilitated by the unwise policies of the West in general and the US in particular. These policies were based on a hotchpotch of opportunistic tactics, without any strategic lucidity. The failure of each unwise tactic to produce results led to even more unwise tactics. Initially, there was an unwarranted over-lionisation of Musharraf, who used the Western political and material support not to crush the jihadis as he claimed to be doing, but to decimate the political opposition to him at home in order to ensure his continuance in power.
His over-focus on this political opposition to him and his under-focus on the spreading jihadi fire from the Pashtun belt have created a situation where Pakistan has become a volcano, which could explode any time. By the time the US realised the folly of its over-lionisation of Musharraf and embarked on a policy of cutting him down to size without seeming to do so by encouraging a democratic process and facilitating the re-emergence of the political class as the rulers and policy-makers of the country, Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda jihadi organisations had developed a capability to frustrate the US not only operationally in the tribal belt on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but politically in the rest of Pakistan.No political leader, who is perceived as enjoying the confidence of the US, is safe from assassination.
Benazir paid a price for the perception that she was the new card of the US to counter the jihadis. Every political leader in Pakistan is afraid whether the elections could be held as scheduled and, if they are, whether he or she would continue to live in order to be able to contest, win and come to power. The entire political process in Pakistan is at the mercy of the jihadi terrorists. Baitullah Mehsud is already threatening to step up the suicide attacks through his volunteers if the Army does not call off its operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. It is not an empty threat. If he carries it out, there will be more12/27s making the holding of free, fair and peaceful polls even more difficult than it is today.
The time has come for the West to come to a parting of the ways with Musharraf. The present jihadi chaos cannot be reversed and the political situation normalised so long as he continues in power. The question is no longer whether he should go, but when and how--even before the elections or after the elections, if so, how soon after the elections? This question has to be raised and debated. It has to be made clear to Musharraf that there cannot be even a semblance of normalcy in Pakistan so long as he sticks to power by hook or by crook. His perceived utility in the so-called war on terrorism has been compromised by his manipulatory policies.
Musharraf has always been known as a manipulator par excellence. He survived in power so long by manipulating public opinion and political forces at home and abroad. His non-apologetic statements during the course of his present travels in West Europe show that he still believes he can continue to survive in power in Pakistan through skilful manipulation of Western fears about the prospects of a victory of the pro-Al Qaeda jihadi forces and their getting control of the nuclear arsenal and material. It has to be made clear to him that the time for manipulation is over and that the time for exit has come. The sooner he announces his intention and plans to quit the better it will be for him, Pakistan and the international community. The Western policy of continuing to swim with Musharraf despite its reservations over his policies and actions could prove catastrophic, if not reversed quickly.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.