December 27, 2007

This signals death of Pak institutions

28 Dec, 2007, 0116 hrs IST,Sundeep Waslekar,

Sundeep Waslekar

Benazir’s death isn’t just of a political leader. It indicates the possibility of the impending death of Pakistan itself. It all started with General Musharraf’s decision to force a state of emergency in Pakistan on November 3.

Of course, the writing has been on the wall for a while. Nearly a year ago, Pakistani army had eliminated Akbar Bugti, one of strongest Baluch leaders and a former king of Baluchistan. Last week, Nawaz Sharif was been barred from entering electoral politics. Now Benazir, known as the daughter of Sindh, who was trying to revive democracy, has been killed.

All these developments demonstrate that Pakistani political institutions are dying. The longer the Army stays in power, the greater will be the deterioration of institutions in that country. Ms Bhutto’s death has to be seen not merely as the death of a leader, but more importantly, the symptom of a dying system.

Some months ago, I had met Ms Bhutto in Dubai. What struck me as remarkable was the manner in which she was rethinking the relationship with India. She spoke about her desire to restructure the relationship between the two nations from a strategic platform to an economic platform. That meant that Kashmir would no longer be the centre of the relationship.

As things stand today, the Pakistan government do not allow Indian investments into their country, till such time the Kashmir issue is resolved. Benazir wanted the focus to shift to a new economic agenda based on trade, investment and people-to-people flow. Her sense was that the long-pending strategic issues, such as Kashmir, would resolve themselves over time. She felt that devising a new economic agenda would be a smarter way in normalising the relationships.

It is difficult to say whether Benazir would have succeeded in her endeavour, but the hope for change has now disappeared. Nawaz Sharif, who also shared similar views on how to mend relations with India, is now isolated and also politically weak. Therefore, any scope for fundamental change in Indo-Pak relations is now all but over.

For India, her death is yet another signal to the sharply deteriorating security environment in the region. Already, Bangladesh and Nepal are in a state of chaos and Sri Lanka is unable to emerge out of its ethnic conflict. Now, with Pakistan likely to plunge into turmoil, India finds herself surrounded by countries in chaos on all sides. This presents an unprecedented security challenge for us. Never before in our history have we had to face uncertainty on all parts of our border.

General Musharraf has systematically destroyed political parties. Now, the General’s rule may result in the loss of Pakistan itself.

(The author heads a think-tank that advises governments and corporates on strategic affairs)

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