Pakistan: Musharraf Ought to Give Up the Uniform

Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen Former Brookings Expert

August 5, 2006

Is Musharraf our last hope? Will Pakistan truly go into the hands of fundamentalists if he is not supported?

Certainly not our (or India’s or Pakistan’s) last hope; when I testified before Congress several months ago I described his position as “help me, or else” with him holding a gun to his head. The fundamentalists are not really that strong in Pakistan, the Army has contempt for them, but uses them. A restored democracy would put them (and the Army) in their respective places, but that’s a big leap across a chasm, and at least in the US, people are risk-averse to regime change.

To what extent has Musharraf delivered on his promise to the US and India of stopping the use of Pakistani territory by terrorists? Does the US believe he can deliver any more?

I can’t speak for the US, but my view is that he’s delivered just what he has to in order to keep the relationship moving ahead; I saw the same process when I was in the Reagan administration. Pakistan has tremendous leverage over the US, so it can pursue policies which are definitely not in our interest (or Pakistan’s for that matter).

Would it make sense for Musharraf to give up the Army uniform? What might be its impact?

I argued in my 1985 book that the Army needed a staged withdrawal from politics, step-by-step; he ought to give up the uniform and as the politicians fill the vacuum, withdraw further. This can be a slow process, but it has to begin and it has to move continuously; of course, this also depends on the quality of the politicians who hope to supplant the Army. The Army believes, with some justification, that the politicians would prefer the Army in power to a political rival.

Can Musharraf derail the domestic Kashmir peace process?

I don’t know about the capacity, but there are certainly elements in Pakistan who would like to derail it; India could theoretically finish off the issue accommodating Kashmiri interests. I don’t claim to be an expert on Kashmir, so I can’t say whether it is too late for a grand reconciliation. I think that the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed government has moved in this direction, but it is a process that is easy to subvert, and has gotten tied up with larger, ‘global’ Islamist movements, and, most dangerously, with non-Kashmiri Indian Muslim grievances.

Is Pakistani peace with India possible without a significant structural change in the Pakistani polity, State-society, military-society relations?

I’m an optimist, I think that there are enough sensible people in Pakistan now so that the two states can reach an accommodation on a wide range of issues; but India seems to be in no mood to offer any concessions, and some Indians would prefer to see Pakistan become a lesser State. The Pakistanis also are divided between doves and hawks. The siuation remains critical, one atrocity away from another crisis, and these crises can get out of control very quickly.

The overwhelming view emerging in India is that terrorism and talks can’t go hand in hand. Would you say India is being inflexible?

I’m not going to pretend to advise the Indian government on such a sensitive issue, but I do know that in many cases India has negotiated with groups who have used terror tactics, offering both carrots and sticks; this is far more difficult in the case of groups that have international connections, but trying to isolate the hardliners is a realistic strategy. It would require assistance from Pakistan, however. I do see some movement in this direction, but the hardliners want to disrupt this process — hence the blasts.

Has the Musharraf regime done enough to make Pakistan an economically viable state?

Musharraf has done a great deal, but clearly Pakistan’s economy has to be linked to its neighbours, especially India, and political considerations prevent that; also, there’s an alarming growth of poverty and cost of living in Pakistan even as the cities thrive.

Is Musharraf in sync with the isi or is it an independent entity?

The isi is a branch of the Pakistan government, it does what it is told to do, and many of its members are professional. However, what is often most problematic are the “alumni” of these organisations, those who used to be in intelligence or covert services, but have gone off and joined the very groups that they used to direct. There’s not a lot of evidence to support this theory in Pakistan, but my guess is that there are elements that are not under the government’s control.

If you were the US Ambassador in Delhi/Islamabad at the moment, what would you advise the two sides?

I’d do several things. First, I’d ask both countries for advice on problems facing the US, especially in the Middle East. What would they suggest that we do to cope with the Arab-Israeli and Iraq problems? Perhaps India and/or Pakistan can provide some useful suggestions. Second, regarding South Asia, I’d point out problems associated with some alarming trends (a risky arms race, the spread of terrorist tactics to more groups in both countries, the costs of not collaborating on environmental issues and on trade); I’d do this privately but in a coordinated fashion with India and Pakistan. Third, I’d try to persuade Congress and the (US) President to put real rewards should there be more regional cooperation. Fourth, I’d be tougher with Pakistan regarding its failure to move steadily towards real democracy and its continuing winking at extremist groups that have an agenda in Afghanistan and India. Fifth, I’d ask the Indians to think through the long term costs of having a permanent enemy in Pakistan, and also engage in a dialogue with Delhi about the rise of China.

Do you think India and Pakistan need a third-party mediator for any progress as they get trapped in stated positions?

American mediation between India and Pakistan is definitely out of the question. We have too many problems elsewhere to start interfering in South Asia, especially when we would not be welcome. In fact there’s no country that would be acceptable to India and Pakistan as a mediator. At best outsiders can offer ideas and stand ready to facilitate agreement, but mediation is out of the question. However, should there be another major crisis, then outside powers may be compelled to take a more active role. I am afraid that this is the most likely future, and it is important to prevent this if only for the sake of the health of the growing US-India relationship.