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The subterranean world of Pakistanís byzantine politics

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 4 January 2008


The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Liaqat Park, Rawalpindi, on December 27 exposed to the world the seething struggle being waged in Pakistan not far beneath the surface between the fundamental religious right and the moderate Western leaning and centre.

Benazir was firmly in the Western camp. In order to try and maintain a hold on power Musharraf slides between the two, satisfying neither. The military is split along the same lines with the powerful intelligence service, the ISI, backing the Taliban while paying lip service to US requests. Musharraf is a captive to this powerful deception.

Benazir’s return to Pakistan was brokered by the US who believed she would put a democratic face on Musharraf’s regime thereby saving their face and allowing Musharraf to stay in office and fight the US war on Terror which he wasn’t.

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Benazir’s assassins were likely known to the ISI and quietly or actively encouraged.

The US once again backed the wrong horse, or horses, in the form of Musharraf and the born-to-rule Benazir, although in the case of the latter they had little choice as, with their backing, Musharraf had snuffed out the democratic process which might have seen the emergence of other civilian leaders.

To put it mildly Pakistan is in a mess and has been so for some time. In the subterranean world of Pakistan’s byzantine politics, where allegiances are flexible and opposites join, a slow civil war is taking place.

With homemade nuclear weapons at the centre of Pakistan’s international relations the stakes are high.

US policy in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and now Pakistan has failed. To take a broader view, US policy in the Middle East and the sub-continent has failed both in terms of politics and policy. Its position on climate change provides a loose rein for India and a noose for Bangladesh.

The US is floundering, a dangerous dinosaur, blundering half blind through the world’s china shops.

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From whichever way I look at it, the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. Topography, climate, lack of infrastructure, lack of allied troops, lack of secure supply, lack of UN and NATO will and a lack of knowledge relating to the history of the region combine to make the war a folly. If not already, the war will soon be a war of forts and resemble, to all but the mercenaries, a colonial occupation.

With the murder of Benazir the politics and war in Afghanistan has lurched East. Is the ISI in control? No, but it is trying.

India is looking on askance at the rise of fundamental politics on its doorstep, well not quite looking on as it is an active player inside Pakistan. It also reads the politics of Pakistan better than most and certainly better than the US.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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