US now viewing Pakistan without Musharraf: Stratfor
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: There are indications that the Bush administration is now imagining a Pakistan without Gen Pervez Musharraf, according to Stratfor, an American news and analysis service.
In two commentaries in the wake of Richard Boucher’s April 5 statement in Islamabad about America wishing to see the ascendancy of civilian rule in Pakistan, Stratfor says this shift in Washington’s thinking will create further domestic problems for the Pakistani leader, since his political opponents view the US statements as a signal to intensify their efforts to oust him. The analysis also noted US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley’s comment that the Bush administration will work with Musharraf to ensure that Pakistan’s 2007 elections are “ free and fair,” as well as Condoleezza Rice’s congressional testimony earlier this month.
“These statements from the highest echelons of the Bush administration illustrate that the United States is no longer fixated on supporting Musharraf,” says Stratfor. “This is probably because Musharraf’s usefulness to the United States is fast becoming negligible. The principal reason the Bush administration supported the Musharraf regime was due to Pakistan’s critical role in the US-jihadist war. It would appear Washington believes it does not need Musharraf at the helm for the United States to continue to prosecute its struggle against militant Islamism, and no longer believes the Pakistani state would collapse without Musharraf. Moreover, the Bush administration likely feels Musharraf is no longer able to keep domestic affairs in order, and sees pinning Washington’s entire Pakistan policy on one individual as a liability. Thus, Washington has decided to put some distance between itself and the Pakistani president.”
The analysis cautioned that this does not mean that Washington would like to see Musharraf ousted. Instead, it reflects a decision to initiate a contingency plan to avoid being caught off guard in light of political instability in Pakistan in the months ahead. Not supporting Musharraf the way it has before will allow Washington to ascertain potential alternative political players capable of stepping in and filling the void in the event Musharraf is no longer able to maintain his position.
“Washington’s statements will catalyse Pakistan’s opposition political actors into accelerating their efforts to mobilise public support to oust the general from power; the opposition will view the US statements as a sign that Musharraf is vulnerable because Washington is considering other options. This could result in a political upheaval leading to early elections, which under normal circumstances would be held in late 2007,” added Stratfor.
In a second commentary, Stratfor said the Bush administration has kept itself from assuming a tough position against the Musharraf administration, even though Islamabad’s cooperation against Al Qaeda, from the US point of view, has remained “sub-par”. Washington has chosen to overlook the fact that the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim state is ruled by a military leader, even amid its wider push for democracy in the Muslim world. “Now, however, it appears that the United States wants to correct not only the political aberration that has allowed Musharraf to hold two offices - the presidency and military chief of staff - simultaneously, but also that there is a concern about the political role of Pakistan’s military establishment. Put differently, as the mount, Washington is working toward a political order in Islamabad that can help to contain the instability stemming from the imbalance in civil-military relations,” according to the analysis.
Stratfor points out that the focal point in the US-jihadist war no longer is South Asia, but the Middle East. Capturing jihadist leaders such as Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Mohammed Omar remains a priority for the Bush administration, but as time goes by, it has become clear that the jihadists’ strength has been reduced - to the point that Al Qaeda now seems to be, at best, a regional player, and largely unable to carry out meaningful attacks, even on its own turf. The Bush administration is realising that rocking the Pakistani boat will not lead to instability of unbearable proportions. Given Pakistan’s history of military rule, Washington has surmised that instability alone does not threaten Pakistan’s survival. “And it appears that backing an autocrat in a military uniform is a path Washington no longer wishes to tread,” the analysis concludes.