Friday, December 5, 2008

Fear of a coup in Pakistan

Why did the Pakistan army do this? First, to deflect attention from the Mumbai attack into which the ISI was being dragged (ISI and

the army are very close after Pakistan army chief Kayani handpicked Lt Gen Pasha as the ISI boss). Second, it was signaling to the world that the civilian government didn’t matter; what mattered was the army.

The third reason is that it saw in the situation an opportunity to recoup the morale of its soldiers. The USpressed ‘‘ war on terror’’ on Pakistan’s western front is believed to have badly sapped the army’s morale. Many of the soldiers don’t believe in it — there were as many as 900 desertions last year.

Fourth, it reckons that by playing the India card, it could win back some of its lost credibility and authority among the people. Musharraf ’s last months had badly dented the army’s standing in Pakistani society and the ‘‘ war on terror’’ has eroded its popularity . With Zardari & Co seen as soft on India, the army was now sensing an opportunity of staging a comeback.

In fact, one estimate in New Delhi is that the Mumbai carnage , and the expected backlash from India, is aimed at a larger goal — to set the scene for an army coup. Top officials, however, discount the possibility — at least for now, although they don’t discount that the army is pushing to carve out its independent space and a bigger stake.

That’s where India’s dilemma comes in. If it were to flex its muscle, mass its soldiers along the border and tell Islamabad that it means business — as many people, incensed with the repeated terrorist attacks, would like the government to do — it could be playing into the Pakistan army’s hand.

New Delhi knows that the Americans have more levers on Pakistan than it has. But it doesn’t know how much pressure the US was willing to exert on Islamabad.

While there is an overlap of interest with India now (six American were, after all, killed in the attack), US’s bigger interest is in forcing Pakistan’s hand in the fight against al Qaida and the Taliban.

So, when Condoleezza Rice came over on Wednesday, she said all the right words but, in concrete terms, promised to press Pakistan on one thing — to ask for a ban on Lashkar-e-Taiba’s political wing, Jamaatud-Dawa . The Dawa is not an underground organization like Lashkar, although it recruits people for terror, as it did with captured Mumbai attacker, Ajmal Amir Kasav.

India is also uncertain of the implication of getting the US and others involved in the standoff. It fears that could lead to the internationalizing of the Kashmir dispute.

Everyone loves a good crisis , and all of them were looking to get something out for themselves from it if they could get their finger in the pie. That’s India’s second dilemma — it knows only the US can deliver but it doesn’t know if it’s a good idea to press it for help beyond a point.

Ask any top government official and he or she will say, ‘‘ We want outcome, not statements.’’ But they don’t really know how to secure

that outcome. Should it turn to the doubtful constable — in this case, the Pakistan army — for help? Not really. Should it insist with the friendly officer — in this case, the US — to make his boss wait and catch the thief first? It’s of no use, he won’t .

So, India waits staring at the various non-options , waiting for a bright idea to strike it. Meanwhile, the thief is at the safe distance, from where he is now thumbing his nose at you.

1 comment:

Dave said...

India should do no major overt actions. Although, moving a few troops the border will get the attention of the US and make sure they put enough pressure on Pakistan.

The best thing for India is to leave things alone and let Pakistan fall apart by itself - which will happen in 2-3 years. If it wants to hasten this breakup, India can covertly start funding the Pakistani Talibani - that should keep the Pakistani army quite busy.