- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

A crisis over Pakistan's new parliament demonstrated just how fragile is President Pervez Musharraf's effort to bring the country back from the abyss and how much Washington has riding on his success.
Pushed by Washington to hold elections for "a return to civilian government," Mr. Musharraf confronted a phalanx of Islamicist radicals calling for an end to collaboration with the United States, allying themselves with hypocritical secular politicians. He was able to convince enough members to cross the aisle (after suspending that 1973 constitutional prohibition) to form a slender pro-government majority. But bitter debate will continue over Mr. Musharraf's Legal Formation Law, constitutional amendments after his coup d'etat codifying his right to suspend parliament and authorizing the plebiscite endorsing his presidency.
Nor is it a happy thought for Washington that the two regional assemblies on the Afghanistan border have Islamicist majorities, now with Osama Bin Laden apparently alive in those border areas. There is more bad news: There is growing speculation, denied in Islamabad, that Pakistan traded nuclear know-how for North Korean missiles. Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned if such contacts continued after September 11, Pakistan again might face U.S. sanctions.
It would be easy to paint Mr. Musharraf as a doughty little warrior on our side (as the treachery of Jordan's King Hussein was presented for so long). That's romantic nonsense. The reality is Washington has put a lot of chips on Mr. Musharraf, that he has put himself in jeopardy (several assassination attempts), and that the outcome will be crucial not only to President Bush's war on terrorism but also the future of the Islamic world. Pakistan holds a unique position as one of the largest Muslim countries with a huge overseas diaspora that might shift the balance among the world's 1.8 billion Muslims.
Pakistan has always been an anomaly. Its existence goes back to personalities and conflicts in British India. Had Jawaharlal Nehru not welched on electoral agreements with Mohammed Jinnah, Pakistan might never have existed. For Pakistan was very much the whiskey-drinking, bon vivant, Bombay lawyer's creation he warned the Pakistanis in his last speech that their nation must not become a theocracy. But Jinnah, for all his sophistication, came to believe that ethnic myth among subcontinent Muslims that in any encounter with Hindus, somehow, some way, they would always be cheated through rhetoric and guile. So Pakistan, with that hapless egoist Louis Mountbatten running the show, came bloodily into being in the final moments of Gandhi's "Quit India" campaign against the British.
Whatever Mr. Musharraf did in the past (the Indians believe he played a major role in the bloody nose handed the Indian army two years ago, when the Pakistanis crossed the armistice line in Kashmir and that he worked hand in glove with the radical Islamicists who dominated Pakistan intelligence), today he is lending critical assistance to the United States. Perhaps it is a good thing that like India's "strongman" Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishjna Advani Mr. Musharraf knew personally the 1948 Partition horrors. He comes from the old Muslim world in what was once the Delhi Sultanate; Mr. Advani is from the Sindh around Karachi, Pakistan's huge and ungovernable port metropolis. Both know what barbarism Hindu-Muslim conflict can engender.
So, Mr. Musharraf is balancing the Punjab feudals, the Northwest tribals, the Sindhi landlords, the always obstreperous Baluch, and the Karachi UP-wallahs "refugees" like himself run by remote control by a fanatic ensconced in London. There are the purged renegades of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the unknown strength of Islamacist infiltration in his own military. Internationally, he, like other Pakistanis, is bound to a Kashmir settlement that fulfills the promise of partition that Muslim-majority areas would go to Pakistan. Abandoning the infiltrators who, with local supporters have pinned down 500,000 Indian security force members would hand a club to the Islamicists. He has to worry about anti-Pakistan Afghanistan Northern Alliance warlords and Mr. Karzai's longtime India connections. He owes a debt to the Saudis, who paid for his nuclear weapons development. And he is beholden to China, India's potential enemy since the 1964 Himalayas war, for his missiles, now reportedly offering missile frigates. And, of course there are, pressures from Washington, not always deftly or subtly applied (e.g., publicity about U.S. personnel in anti-terrorist operations inside Pakistan feeding domestic xenophobia).
Most of all, in India Mr. Musharraf faces a Hindu revivalist-led government, which is for the moment at least refusing to talk and pursuing Hindutuva (political Hinduism). On Dec. 12, that strategy will be tested in the state of Gujarat where a radical Hindu chief minister has encouraged pogroms against Muslims since terrorists burned a train of Hindu pilgrims last spring.
If the strategy works, the moderate, charismatic Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could give way to Mr. Advani. That would encourage those in New Delhi who fail to recognize that the first victim of Mr. Musharraf's failure and an implosion of nuclear missile-armed Pakistan would be India, not excluding reactions among its own 150 million Muslims (more than the entire population of Pakistan).

Sol Sanders is a veteran newsman and foreign policy analyst.


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