Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Pakistani Army's Scattered Signs of Dissent

1213 GMT -- PAKISTAN -- The Pakistani army will launch an offensive to clear Taliban militants from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, army officials said Nov. 20. Security forces have used loudspeakers to ask residents in the area to leave, and people are leaving in large numbers.

Geopolitical Diary: The Pakistani Army's Scattered Signs of Dissent
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf took another big step Monday in consolidating his hold over the government, with a Supreme Court decision to throw out the five main court petitions against his eligibility to remain president as the country's army chief. This comes as little surprise since the general himself handpicked most of the judges that voted.
While the political opposition led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is screaming that this is yet another illegal move made by an illegitimate government, that "illegitimate" government has made it clear that it is fully capable of providing "legal" solutions to its own problems. All in all, Musharraf is not in that bad a shape, despite the political melodrama in the streets of Pakistan.
The U.S. State Department will continue issuing statements urging Musharraf to restore democracy, but the issue that is really keeping U.S. policymakers awake is that of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal. The New York Times published a feature article Nov. 18 that discusses in detail how the United States has been involved in a covert program for the past six years to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The newspaper says it had been sitting on this information for three years under pressure from the U.S. administration before its decision to come public with the information. Stratfor loyalists who have read George Friedman's "America's Secret War," however, should regard this as old news.
As we have discussed a number of times, the United States delivered a very clear ultimatum to Musharraf after 9/11: Unless Pakistan allowed U.S. forces to take control of Pakistani nuclear facilities, the United States would be left with no choice but to destroy those facilities, possibly with India's help. This was a fait accompli that Musharraf, for credibility reasons, had every reason to cover up and pretend never happened, and Washington was fully willing to keep things quiet. After all, the United States was not interested in regime change in Islamabad. The timing of the New York Times article, then, is interesting -- we would not be surprised to find that certain opposition elements were involved in the publishing of this article in an attempt to throw another hand grenade at Musharraf.
But is Musharraf really in trouble? One look at the divided opposition and the defeated street protests suggests not. However, the real threat to the general -- and potentially the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons -- comes from the army itself. Stratfor has been keeping a close eye on the status of the military throughout this political crisis, searching for any serious signs of dissent among Musharraf's top brass. Pakistani sources said Monday that there was a recent case of insubordination within the army in which a midlevel commander refused to open fire during a recent incident in Swat (where the military is heavily engaged in counterterrorism operations), saying the army is fighting its own people and the government's policies are only making matters worse. The commander refused to obey orders from his superior even after a gun was put to his head, and is now being court-martialed. We also are hearing from ranking officers that several junior officers in the army are strongly criticizing Musharraf and that some soldiers driving in army vehicles have been seen giving victory signs to opposition protesters in the streets.
These scattered signs of dissent do not necessarily imply that the Pakistani army is disintegrating and that the country's nuclear arsenal is vulnerable. However, if the general tide in the army turns against Musharraf, we could soon see a scenario play out in which Pakistan's top generals force Musharraf to step down. The Pakistani general is consolidating the military's hold on power, but there is still no guarantee that Musharraf himself will not be sacrificed in the process.


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