I think the countdown has begun. Its just a matter of time (my estimate is in months and not years) when General Pervez Musharraf will no longer be able to do the 2 things he does best – a balancing act between the international community and the radicals within Pakistan; and manipulating the system to crush all voices of dissent – things that have ensured his survival for 8 long years.
It all started a few months back with protests against the suspension of the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry. Unexpectedly for Musharraf they took the form of a revolution, a kind of independence struggle (literaly for the judiciary and symbolically for the common man). I can’t forget reading an article in the TIME magazine about one of Iftikhar Chaudhry’s rally. It was reported that Chaudhry left his home in Islamabad with a convoy of 100 cars to address a rally in Abbottabad (about 110 kms. from Islamabad). Guess what? It took him 15 hours to cover the distance and by the time he reached the venue (where people had been waiting for more than 12 hrs.), the convoy was 2000 cars strong. I don’t remember reading about a public rally in Pakistan as big as that one in the last few years, atleast not for a protest against the Government!
The Iftikhar Chaudhry issue which is still hot, has created an environment that everybody else is using to target Musharraf. The extremists have become more vocal and more blatant in their activities. The forced resignation of the Pakistan tourism minister for hugging her flying instructor, attempts to enforce the Shariat Laws in Islamabad, kidnapping of 6 Chinese nationals for alleged indulgence in prostitution, bloody counter strike by Musharraf (under Chinese and US pressure) against the extremists (hiding inside the Lal Masjid) who were behind all this, and the recent retaliation by the extremists by means of a bomb blast in Islamabad, highlight that the balancing act is increasingly becoming difficult for Musharraf.
Add to all this the following facts – 40 opposition parties of Pakistan recently met in London to form a united front against Musharraf and to explore the possibility of contesting the November elections together; Peshawar, Quetta and other cities of western Pakistan are under control of strong Taliban supporters; women in these areas can not leave their homes without a burqa, else they risk their safety; drivers in these places can not listen to music to soothe themselves, else they affect their prospects of coming back home unhurt. Forget about the drivers, even Musharraf is not sure of coming back home alive when he leaves for office in the morning. He has been attacked several times and his life is under constant threat. If all this was not enough, then there is growing dissent in the Pakistani defence establishment against Musharraf. And remember, Uncle SAM is always sitting there with a stick in hand.
Many would say that this is not the first time that Musharraf is facing problems. Yes it is not. But what is different this time around is that he is being targeted form ‘all’ sides and the sheer ‘magnitude’ of the protest is unprecedented. An unfavorable judgement in the Iftikhar Chaudhry case can bring his regime down. So can the elections which, given the strong public opinion against him, he will find difficult to manipulate (the way he has been doing so far). Assassination obviously is a possibility that can end it all.
I think that given all this if he can still manage to remain in power then it would be a miracle. Since predictions can not be based on possibility of miracles, I am waiting to see how events unfold and how soon Musharraf’s era comes to an end. After all, India would prefer to deal with a democratically elected Head of State in Pakistan than a military dictator who doesn’t even mind breaking submits mid-way for petty reasons.