He came with a gun and has gone when challenged through Constitutional process. That marks some kind of progress for Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf has chosen civilian discretion over military valour and announced his resignation. This was widely predicted last week. He was facing impeachment charges, which would probably have stuck. So he was a goner anyway. It would seem that in return for his resignation, the government will not press charges. That, perhaps, was the best the US could do for its old ally. Saudi Arabia did its bit as well. Thus end nine turbulent, traumatic and troublesome years in Pakistan. Mr Musharraf’s rule, when it began following the coup that he organised, seemed to have some popular sanction. By the time of his exit, though, he has become a deeply unpopular man. Even the army, under his chosen successor, had distanced itself. Pakistanis may therefore rejoice, at least for a while, but others will wonder about what happens now.
The simultaneous nuclearisation and Islamicisation of the country, not to mention the virtual absence of strong democratic institutions combined with a weak economy, have always been a cause for deep concern. The economy has been on a sharp downhill course — a point that Mr Musharraf made in his exit speech. Inflation has crossed 24 per cent, share prices on the Karachi stock exchange have tanked by a third, and the country’s currency has lost 30 per cent of its value. A fractious coalition government has not been able to address any of these issues effectively. It is hard to say how much of a (negative) cementing factor Mr Musharraf’s presence has been, but with him out of the way the government could begin to pull in separate directions — reminding Pakistanis of the failures of civilian government between 1988 and 1999. It may well be that the army will bide its time until it is once again able to intervene without stoking popular unrest.
India refused to deal with Mr Musharraf for several months after he seized power in 1999, holding him responsible for the Kargil conflict. More recently, New Delhi had begun to look more positively at the general, who in turn began to recognise that maximalist positions on Kashmir would get him nowhere. He did shift positions quite a bit (after the Agra summit, he stopped referring to Kashmiri militants as freedom fighters). But even as he seemed to be preparing Pakistanis to give up some of their long-held pipe dreams with regard to Kashmir, and allowed more freedom to the press, he made the mistake that all such rulers make: hang on to power for too long. In his last year in office, he sacked the country’s Supreme Court judges, imposed emergency rule, and was caught in a cleft stick as he tried simultaneously to hunt with the American hounds and run with the Taliban hares. The policy backfired as he himself became a target of attack, and then Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.
Still, a ceasefire across the Line of Control has held for years (until recent weeks), and there has been a noticeable drop in bilateral tensions. More might have been achieved, but the signals in recent weeks (the Kabul attack on the Indian embassy, the firing across the Line of Control and other such episodes) suggest that Pakistan is upping the ante once again. And the fact that the Kashmir valley resonates with separatist cries after a gap of many years means that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence may be tempted to fish once again in troubled waters. India should be on its guard as yet another forced transition gets under way in Islamabad.
6 months ago