Looking past Musharraf and the role of the Pakistan Army

August 16, 2008

June photo of President Musharraf and Army Chief General Pervez Kayani/Ho NewAmid the feverish speculation about when, how and where President Pervez Musharraf will go, analysts are already looking beyond to the future of Pakistan in a post-Musharraf era. One theme stands out: while the consensus appears to be that the Pakistan Army will not step in to save Musharraf, it might well intervene in the not so distant future if it believes it needs to save the country.

“Musharraf’s departure will highlight the problems that confront the country, which is in the grips of a food and energy crisis. Inflation is out of control,” writes Tariq Ali in the Los Angeles Times. ”The price of natural gas, used for cooking in many homes, has risen by 30%. Wheat, a staple, has seen a 20% price hike since November 2007 … According to a June survey, 86% of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their new government.”

He adds that over the last 50 years the United States has preferred to work with the Pakistan Army rather than civilian rulers. ”Nothing has changed. The question being asked is, how long before the military is back at the helm?”

Waving the national flag at independence day ceremony/Mohsin RazaShuja Nawaz, who has just published a book about the Pakistan Army, writes in the Washington Post that the military “would rather not be drawn into the current political squabble. They want to give the civilians the ‘time and space’ to operate government as best as they can.”

But he says the civilian government must take action quickly to restore stability in Pakistan. ”If it fails, there is talk in Pakistan of another cycle of military intervention in the offing, this time on the Bangladesh model: of a longer duration, and using a civilian facade to restore the country’s economic health.”

“With inflation running at 25 per cent, the economy is a shambles,” says an editorial in the TimesOnline. “Investors are fleeing Pakistan, and the rupee has fallen to a record low against the dollar. Separatists, Islamists and extremists are gaining ground in the restless border areas, and Islamabad now seems incapable of imposing its authority. Twenty years after the suspicious death of Zia ul-Haq, the former military ruler, feuding politicians are again set to squander their chances. A restless army is waiting.”

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