Who’s Behind the Mess?

This is pretty much all you need to know about the current situation in a nutshell, straight to the essentials.

Musharraf and the Bear’s Bad Bargain

While many are portraying the resignation of Musharraf as either a bad thing or a good thing, in effect it happened two months or more ago. His old friends and associates have been ignoring him, the stalwarts in PML-Q and MQM have deserted him, and even General Kayanni who he appointed as his replacement Chief of Army Staff has deserted by ducking meetings. His popularity with the Pakistani people of all stripes is almost as low as the US congress is with the American People. He lasted the six months past the elections that I previously predicted he would make it at least as far as, but not much further.

The religious conservative nature of more than half of Musharraf’s base has been decaying since 2006 — it started when he turned his back on the government sponsored terror camps for Kashmiri Jihadis, and this turned some factions within the army and ISI as well.
It accelerated as he started flushing the Afghanistan Refugee camps and repatriating them, with the hudood ordinance wrangling for women’s rights, with the de-certifying of madrassa diplomas, and sped up more with the well-constructed Al Qaeda’s cape of Lal Masjid Mosque to Musharraf’s bull.

Then he lost the urban moderate part of his base with the barring of the Judiciary and the censoring of media in the run-up to elections. If there’s someone in Pakistan that Musharraf hasn’t pissed-off, I’m certainly not aware of who it is. At some point you have to step back to admire his tap-dance across the razor wire of Pakistani politics, and the panache with which he carried off several actions of his tenure as president in a country so factionalized you need a score card to know how to dress when you travel.

In the end patronage is what got him post election. The political and business communities in Pakistan thrive on patronage, and without his partie’s people in the bureacracies and positions of power Musharraf has been a thin paper icon and not a real power the past few months, and the final dregs of his support trickled away.

With Musharraf now gone, the US got the bear’s bad bargain from him, as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been securely in Taliban hands the past two years, and during the last year and a half they’ve made steady progress in trying to take over the North West Frontier Provinces (NWFP). Ayman Al Zawahiri and Bin Laden have been directing events, and they’ve created the next generation of Jihadi leadership under his nose. There’s been billions in aid and hardware spent, and now like the bear in the story, we are rambling off with empty paws.

The effects of Musharraf’s departure, like all multi-faceted events, are much more complex than any single pundit can predict, but I will do my best to sketch some possibilities here.

This will put Zardari, a questionable character in his own right, in charge of PPP, as the likely next president – if it’s not then it will be a puppet of his. (This goes with the usual codicil in Pakistan: If he lives, his name probably heads Baitullah Mehsud’s assassination list of 300.) There’s a slim potential to make Nawaz Sharif president, but the chances of that aren’t likely.

I think you will see Al Qaeda declare that PPP is just the newest US puppet, and they will continue their war against the government of Pakistan; they need to do that to survive. Brokering peace in the frontiers isn’t likely except under one scenario, and it’s probable that it will be floated or tried at some point so watch for the following possibility:

I would wager that the the new government would be willing to turn Jihadi ire away from Afghanistan and back towards India and the Kashmir standoff if they think that will bring them peace. With the Kashmir intifada heating up, it’s a likely ploy and scenario to regain the conservative sympathizer vote and to shore up the peace in the frontiers. Without an external enemy to focus the jihadis upon the jihadis will continue to eat the state of Pakistan.

The other challenges before the government are many, and how they answer them will be instructive over the next few months. The economy is floundering, in stagflation from energy and food inflation, coupled with decreased productivity and increased joblessness. Hunger is beginning to stalk the subcontinent once again, and that’s something that could snap the populace into their face very quickly if not abated.

Pakistan is energy deficient, which leads to many of their other woes for you can not support a dense population without abundant, cheap energy.

If they agitate in the Kashmir too much, they will find food supplies shortened, which certainly won’t help matters.

Then of course there are the Islamists, who are trying to overthrow the Government of Pakistan, and if they fail in that, they will next attempt to create the breakaway state of Pashtun land (there are many spellings for the envisioned state to be carved out of FATA, Southern Afghanistan, and NWFP, I’ve anglicized it.)

So lots of challenges, and at this point I have no firm predictions.

For a run down on potential candidates, here’s a list from Pakistan policy blog.

 Also just a couple notes to correct some misconceptions in other articles I’ve seen in the blogosphere:

It was Richard Armitage who took the message to Pakistan that we would bomb them to the stone age if they did not cooperate according to Musharraf’s memoirs.

It was under Bhutto that the Kashmir genocide through forced migration started, and prior to that General Zia al Haq had been using Bin Laden and AQ to cleanse the hinterlands of Pakistan, like Chitral etc.