South Asia Studies

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October 6, 2007

Pakistan: the Delicacy, and Inevitability, of the Political Transition Now Underway

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. Pakistani stability faces a troubled period despite the re-election by the combined parliamentary assemblies in the October 6, 2007, Presidential election, of Pres. Pervez Musharraf. The instability will arise regardless of whether the Supreme Court rules favorably on his eligibility for the office on or before October 15, 2007. The reality is that the door has been opened to the revived political ambition of former political party leaders who now see it as only a matter of time before Pres. Musharraf — now seen as a leader in his last term, and with reduced powers — leaves the political field entirely open to them.

Significantly, Pakistan’s political processes in the provincial and Federal assemblies have progressed well in recent years, with open and fair elections, in the absence of the old-style politicians. Indeed, the recent years have seen the political landscape change dramatically in Pakistan, possibly leaving only the major urban areas — particularly Karachi, Islamabad/Rawalpindi, and Lahore — recognizable in the old political terms. The powers of the rural landowners, who had contained tenant farmers through poor education and coercion, to put their own family members in power has been greatly reduced in the Musharraf era, due to a belated opening up of education and infrastructural developments in the rural areas.

Nonetheless, the power of the reinvigorated traditional parties will be used over the coming few years almost solely to remove Pres. Musharraf from office, or at least to reduce his power, and to constrain the Army from again removing corrupt politicians. As a result, corruption is likely to flourish again almost immediately and commitments to defense spending, infrastructure, and education are again likely to suffer.

The immediate concern about stability arises from the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which was approved in the early hours of October 5, 2007, by the Government and the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and which was sent to the Federal Cabinet for assent, which was given on October 5, 2007. Under this accord, indemnity from prosecution would apply across the board to all the governments which had ruled the country between 1988 and October 12, 1999, including the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. This means that Ms Bhutto, although implicated in widespread corruption (for which her husband, Asif Zardari, was convicted and later released), will escape prosecution.

An electoral college based around the bicameral legislature conducted the Presidential election. The 342-seat lower house is the core of the 1,170-member (but 702-vote) presidential electoral college which also included the 100-seat Senate and four provincial assemblies, however the overall voting number was reduced by the resignation of about 85 members of parties seeking to block Gen. Musharraf’s re-election. The lower house — the National Assembly — is due to complete its five-year term on November 15, 2007.

Chief Election Commissioner Qazi Muhammad Farooq announced on October 6, 2007, in the national parliament that Pres. Musharraf had won 252 votes in the National Assembly and Senate while one of his opponents, former Supreme Court judge Wajihuddin Ahmed, won two votes. The provincial assemblies returned similarly clear margins. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, of the dominant PML-Q party, a supporter of the President, said: “This is a very welcome result.”

Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan will inevitably signal a return to the politics of the street, and will involve, once again, considerable maneuvering between the PPP, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), and various other parties and factions. Moreover, if, as anticipated, a power-sharing government takes office — especially when Pres. Musharraf resigns as promised from the Army, potentially limiting his authority — it should be assumed that a degree of corruption and mismanagement will once again surface. This alone will spell uncertainty for progress in the rapid growth of Pakistan’s economy, and the decentralization of infrastructural projects, education, and public services.

The progress during the Musharraf Presidency in these areas has been remarkable, despite the country’s involvement in a counter-guerilla war, involving the historical opening up of the Tribal Areas to Federal control.

In reality, although Pakistan is engaged in a pivotal struggle with externally-sponsored and to a large extent externally-based insurgents and terrorists, as well as a struggle to literally open up rural Pakistan to modernization, great strides have been made in a number of key areas. It now remains to be seen as to whether re-engaging Ms Bhutto in the political process will stop, or slow, this process.

There are some 45,000 villages in Pakistan, and to a large extent, during the earlier Bhutto period of governance — and certainly during the Nawaz Sharif administrations — rural education was almost non-existent, and the only educational resources open to poor rural families were often madarasas (Islamic religious schools). Some (although probably a small minority) of these were radical and supported the recruitment into the jihadi movements. But their output, in terms of education, did not equip Pakistani children for careers in the workplace. The past few years, however, has not only seen some Federal Government attempts to upgrade rural education, but it has also seen a substantial rise in private sector primary education.

It has been demonstrated that whenever a village has at least 10 educated women, there is sufficient momentum to create a private school. The resultant explosion of private schools throughout the Pakistani rural sector has not cost the State anything, and, moreover, the students’ results have widely been better than those achieved by the expensive State education system. The result has been a greater influx of literate, and often basically job-oriented, students into the marketplace. Progress was also being made in the skills training arena, specifically to further educate youth into the workplace. This has been a primary driver in reducing recruitment into the jihadi movement, which was often the only source of real financial opportunity for many youth.

At the same time, the Federal Government had, under the Musharraf Administration, inserted troops permanently into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)1 for the first time, a feat of arms and diplomacy not widely appreciated outside Pakistan, and particularly not widely understood for its difficulty and complexity by most US officials who have, from time to time, complained about the fact that some Afghan jihadists have found sanctuary in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Pakistan Army now maintains some 80,000 troops in the FATA, and has begun to help develop the tribal areas and to spur the development of their political structures, such as the jirga (assembly). Giving tribal leaders sufficient “space”, and yet sufficient protection and long-term comfort to know that alignment with the Federal Government will not cost them their lives or positions, is key to gradually bringing the FATA into mainstream Pakistan statehood.

Pakistani officials note that while Pakistan has deployed 80,000 troops into the FATA, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has only injected some 40,000 multinational forces into Afghanistan, which is much larger and which is the core problem. The Pakistani forces in the area consist of a division each in North and South Waziristan, along with paramilitary forces. The ceasefire signed with tribal leaders on June 19, 2006, has enabled a sense of normalization to be brought to the area, including the opening of schools in Waziristan. It is, however, not possible to stop crossings of the nominal Pakistan border with Afghanistan in the area, given that families and tribal members live on both sides of the artificially-delineated “Durand Line” which marks the modern state borders. Some 200,000 crossings a day occur over this border, mostly in the course of normal daily life, although the Utmanzai tribe did agree to Pakistani Government insistence that there would be no movement of jihadists, or Taliban, from the Afghan side into Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The borders in the area are long and porous: the Pakistani Baluchistan border with Afghanistan is 1,200km; the Pakistani North-West Frontier Province border with Afghanistan is a further 1,360km, and, along the border are many villages divided between the two countries. There are some 31 refugee camps in NWFP alone, and through 2007 it was planned that 17 camps, with 229,473 refugees, would be repatriated back into Afghanistan, helping to limit both the burden on Pakistan and the prospect of cross-border jihadi activity. In all this, the Pakistan Army has been on a steep learning curve since going into the FATA, and Pakistani sources have said that the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan would sooner rather than later have to reach similar deals with Afghani societies that the Pakistan Army reached with tribal leaders in the Waziristan areas of FATA.

The process has been quiet and solid in the FATA. Virtually all satellite and cellphone activity among the “miscreants” had been eliminated by early 2007, forcing all cross-border activities of the Taliban and pro-al-Qaida groups to be by human courier, substantially impacting its efficiency.

At the same time, the Indian Government has created a string of “consulates” along the Afghan side of the Pakistan border, largely as intelligence collection facilities, and the large number of Indian intelligence officials were working closely with Afghan intelligence officials. This has caused the Pakistan Government some concern, given that the US has facilitated the Indian intelligence build-up against Pakistan to be conducted while the Pakistan Army and Government have been working with the US in the area. There is more than a little feeling in Islamabad that this has been an act of poor faith on the part of the US toward Pakistan, on which the  US is completely reliant.

Meanwhile, in the delicate process of evolving the power structure in Pakistan, Pres. Musharraf has carefully adhered to the rule of seniority in the promotion chain, to ensure that the Army itself was satisfied by the changes which would occur when he resigned from the Army. Pres. Musharraf said on October 2, 2007, that he had nominated Lt.-Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, outgoing Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to succeed him as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) when the post became open. Pres. Musharraf was due to resign as COAS, and from the Army, after being sworn-in for a new term as President on or before November 15, 2007. In preparation for the move, Lt.-Gen. Kiyani was promoted to general and appointed as the Vice-Chief of Army Staff, replacing Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hayat, who retires. Lt.-Gen. Tariq Majeed, presently Corps commander, Rawalpindi, was also promoted to General and appointed as Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, in place of Gen. Ehsanul Haq, who retires.

Maj.-Gen. Nadeem Taj, the Commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy, was, on September 21, 2007, announced as being promoted to the rank of lt.-gen, and designated to take over as the DG, ISI. Gen. Taj, at that time, effectively began duties as DG ISI, although officially all the posts were to become active as of October 8, 2007. If and when Gen. Kiyani takes over as COAS, he would become the first DG, ISI, to be appointed as the COAS since Pakistan became independent in 1947.

Meanwhile, the incoming VCAS and probable new COAS, Gen. Kiyani is known to be an extremely professional, apolitical officer, who has demonstrated loyalty to Pres. Musharraf, but is also known to be friendly with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

It is possible that a relatively stable modus vivendi — or at least a polite remove — can be achieved between the Army and Benazir Bhutto’s PPP when power sharing begins, given that both Ms Bhutto and the Army hierarchy are less than likely to openly embrace militant Islam, or even to allow Saudi Arabia the kind of access for Wahhabist proselytization which had, in the past, radicalized parts of Pakistani society. One senior Pakistan official recently said: “We are paying a price for having used Islam as a crutch [in the past].” However, exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who may be allowed back into the country under the terms of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, has, in the past, leaned heavily on an Islamically-driven political base in Pakistan, and is seen as likely to do so again if given the chance.

The past Pakistani policies of (a) using Islam as a tool of strategy, and (b) trying to achieve a geographic aspect to “strategic depth”, as espoused by the late Pres. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, are now finished. One senior Pakistani source told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs: “All that [strategic] ‘depth crap’ of the old days is gone, and many of the old ISI alumni who became involved in supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan are now on the watch list.”

Even so, the transition in Pakistani politics as Pres. Musharraf prepares to move out of uniform remains delicate. There is still a significant base of radical Islamism in the country, despite the reality that national wealth is rising rapidly. In September 2007, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) lowered its forecast for Pakistan’s economic growth rate to 6.5 percent for the current fiscal year against the 7.2 percent target set by the Government for the year. Nonetheless, the growth rate is still impressive. And Pakistan expects its industrial production to increase to 25 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015 from the current 19 percent, to be supported by increased output from five “priority sectors” such as automobiles, construction, engineering, chemicals, and fertilizers. Equally, Pakistan is pushing hard to increase the rôle of its information technology (IT) sector, which it sees as a major component of future export earnings as Indian IT exports become less financially competitive. The Government in early October 2007 estimated that industrial production would increase by 10.9 percent this fiscal year from 8.45 percent the previous year.

As Pakistani officials note, the transition had to happen sooner or later, and now there can be no delaying it. The question remains, however, as to whether the transition will cause politics to be refocused — as it was in the past — on old style corruption, and less on strategic planning for the country.


1.  The online reference service, Wikipedia, fairly well sums up the tribal areas. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), also known as Ilaak-e-Ghair in Pakistan are areas of Pakistan outside the four provinces, comprising a region of some 27,220 km² (10,507 mi²). The FATA are bordered by Afghanistan to the west with the border marked by the Durand Line; the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab to the east; and Baluchistan to the south. The total population of the FATA was estimated in 2000 to be about 3,341,070 people, or roughly two percent of Pakistan’s population. Only 3.1 percent of the population resides in established townships. It is the most rural administrative unit in Pakistan. The Tribal Areas comprise seven Agencies, namely Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, North and South areas of Waziristan and five FRs (Frontier Regions) namely FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Tank, FR Banuu and FR Dera Ismail Khan. The main towns include Miranshah, Razmak, Bajaur, Darra Bazzar and Wana. The seven tribal areas lie in a north-to-south strip that is adjacent to the west side of the six frontier regions, which also lie in a north-to-south strip. The areas within each of those two regions are geographically arranged in a sequence from north to south. The geographical arrangement of the seven tribal areas in order from north to south is: Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan, South Waziristan. The geographical arrangement of the 6 frontier regions in order from north to south is: Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Dera Ismael Khan.