Pakistan in a maelstrom?

March 11, 2009

udaybhaskar1( C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own)

The Ides of March have been linked with deep political intrigue and pre-meditated violence and history notes that Caesar paid a very heavy price for not paying heed to the sage advice rendered unto him.

Pakistan is no Rome but the pattern of recent events that include the ‘conquest’ of the Swat valley by the Taliban, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and the blowing up of the shrine of the Sufi-saint Rehman Baba at the foothills of the Khyber Pass by Sunni extremists are cumulatively indicative of a socio-religious tsunami whose tectonic implications go well beyond the political contours of Pakistan.

Concurrently the country is poised on the cusp of an irreparable breakdown between the two major political parties – the PML(N) led by former PM Nawaz Sharif, and the PPP led by the Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari.

This tragic paradox is heightened by the reality that while the disparate extremist groups that are broadly classified as the Pakistan Taliban are uniting under a common banner and leader – the political forces that can counter such ideology are splintering.

But then historically Pakistan has been plagued by myriad domestic contradictions and paradoxes and long-time Pakistani watchers see the current turbulence with a sense of déjà vu.

From the first military take over of Pakistan by General Ayub Khan in October 1958 to the more recent coup by General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999, the khaki constituency has always been the central element of power in the national matrix.

Even when civilian leaders have been elected – their authority has been notional. The real power centre remains the Pakistan Army and its Chief who represents the multi-dimensional corporate interests of the ‘fauj’ as an institution.

The military are the guardians of the national interest, which they define and then proceed to protect – even if it means cynically exploiting religion – as General Zia-ul-Haq had skilfully demonstrated.

The current political impasse wherein Nawaz Sharif has threatened to go on a ‘long march’ culminating in Islamabad on March 16 is a challenge to the legitimacy of the Zardari regime.

The huge crowds that attended the PML(N) rallies in Lahore and Abbotabad over the last few days are case in point. The Supreme Court decision against the Sharif brothers and the imposition of Governor’s rule in the province of Punjab has resulted in Sharif exhorting government officials not to obey illegal orders, thereby inviting charges of sedition – and the possibility of life imprisonment.

In this turbulent and contested domain where rumour is rife, there is talk of the khakis coming back – ‘reluctantly’ – as they did in 1958 and all eyes are on General Pervez Kayani, the COAS. The possibility that General Musharraf will make a comeback as an acceptable President is yet another strand.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani remains the dark horse in the melee.

The Ides of March have always been preceded by intense speculation on the street.

On the eve of his departure to Tehran (March 10), President Zardari observed: “Our focus on fighting extremism and terrorism remains strong and cannot be diluted. The people of Pakistan have made tremendous sacrifices in this fight and are determined to see the return of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

A day later, his very articulate and persuasive information minister, Sherry Rehman is denying reports that President Zardari has been advised to stay back in Dubai – for his personal safety.

Public opinion has not forgotten the dastardly assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. The same Taliban constituency with its anti-women virulence was behind the violent end of Bhutto. Her widower is caught in a maelstrom that is fraught with many disturbing possibilities.

The Ides of March will soon be upon Pakistan and both the ideology of Islam and the relentless pursuit of political power will be cynically contested.


It is clearly advent there is a political instability in the country, which is deterimantal to the world and to the people of Pakistan. The common man is caught in the cross fighting for power between Taliban and the so-called government authorities. The dissidents expressing their grievances are either exterimanated or kept under house arrest. It is sad plight for the citizens. Moreover, the rise of Taliban and Islamic fundmentalism is dangerous as Pakistan become the hub for terrorism.


The 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and recently the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Punjab have proved that Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. From Balochistan to FATA to NWFP to Punjab (where there is an army headquarter), there is no place where Pakistani citizens can live safely. The terrorist outfits, anti-Indian groups and other fundamental fanatics are the major cause of concern. Plus, ethnic conflicts (like in b/w Balochis and Sindhis) make the situation even worst.
When Pakistan ushered in a democratic government in February last year, there was widespread expectation that it would bring some political stability to the country after a period of popular agitation against a military ruler. But it is now clear they have not. Their ministers sing different tunes and many times take u-turn in probing Mumbai attacks. Pak has become a terror hub hence, the country is not a threat only to India but to world.

Posted by apra | Report as abusive

The Pakistani scenario is in fact quite simple. The army is making sure that the Taliban, its own protege, is allowed to prosper. It is just not fighting the Taliban. This has two great advantages.

Firstly, it can demand more money from the Americans – “No money,No fight”.

Secondly, this creates the right conditions for an army take-over to “save Pakistan”, preferably just after getting a big commitment of American dollars.

That Musharraf and Zardari had a pre-election deal to keep Nawaz Sharif out is one of the best known “secrets”. In all likelihood, with his own loyalists already installed as chiefs of the army and ISI,the return of Musharraf is only a matter of time.

Posted by Jaiho Maharaj | Report as abusive

Wait, I though Islam was a peaceful religion.

Posted by LDC | Report as abusive

Zardari government’s days are numbered. The army will take over. Kayani will declare Marshall Law. The Taleban
sympathizers will wield greater influence. The events in SWAT valley will be repeated elswehere. Pakistani citizens will start realizing that their enemy is not on the Eastern border but on it Western border. The Army will attempt a Kargil-like misadventure to divert public attention. The pattern will repeat.

Posted by Madhav Kale | Report as abusive

At the moment it looks like pakistan has a big vaccum for good leadership, in all there is no one better than Musharaff to bring in peace and order in to pakistan. Though reinstating CJ may look like a democratic victory, i suspect this will bring in more chaos in public and push pakistan to the brink when the new CJ does anything against the Shariffs, Musharaff and or Zardari..He has do do something of that sort..thats why people protested to bring this CJ back isn’t it ??
At the output of this situation as the US believes it will be worst affected if pakistan becomes a failed state…then it takes very less time for US to pass a secret order to Kayani (offcourse will a few more billion $$) to take over pakistan and bring back Musharaff as new leader.

Posted by Anitha | Report as abusive

@Yamini – “The common man is caught in the cross fighting for power between Taliban and the so-called government authorities.”

– IF that was true why didn’t we see even a single protest from people of pakistan against Taliban ?? Just becuase the lawyers in pakistan protested for judges..doesn’t mean they are moderates..they DID NOT protest against terrorism, they DID NOT protest against govt for not providing safety for minority Shia’s when the mosques were bombed. This should simply prove to you the public by and large are in support to terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.

Posted by Anitha | Report as abusive

I know what exactly happening in pakistan, people not able live their life, because govt, supporing D.Ibrahim, O.Laden, and so many terrorist activities…specially against india, and usa. But now country is paying back their own misbehaviour. Paki’s people need to understand

Posted by GOPAL | Report as abusive

As you so, so shall you reap. Pakistan is now paying for its usage of terror as an instrument of state policy to hurt India. They have been trying to bleed India dry for so long that it seems to be more or less the sole purpose of their existence now. The use of terrorists to maintain a perpetual state of conflict with India is now backfiring upon them as their pet Taliban has strengthened, thanks to the religious bent of the movement, and to the focus of the government on portraying the nation as an Islamic nation opposed to Hindu India. Pakistan has been running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, claiming the terrorists fighting for them in the east are freedom fighters, unlike the ones in the west, who are supposedly enemies of the state.

The endgame would probably be a collapse under the weight of their own contradictions. Unsurprisingly, it would be the most positive possible outcome of the current maelstorm they are currently in.

Two words can sum up the reasons for Pakistan’s current unenviable position: Bad Karma.

Posted by Sudarshan | Report as abusive

Pakistan has its own way of abbreviating ghastly attacks made on India and other countries.The so called leaders are towards conquering pakistan and not to maintain stability. The politics of this status clearly raises eyebrows, whether are we near a country or a place of terrorist upliftment. The interventions of US,UK may help them and not India. This is like taking control of pakistan and its neighbour Afghanistan. India’s political strategy itself is not clear for a peace bronging solution between the two. We need to bring people united with effective understanding and not temporary solutions which may not yield results

Posted by Satya Venkataraman | Report as abusive

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