Bugti's shadow on Musharraf's future: Adil Najam

Bugti's shadow on Musharraf's future By Prof Adil Najam
The News, August 28, 2007

August 26 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. There was a partly successful strike in parts of Balochistan, some reported clashes that left a number of people injured and property damaged, and a general sense of relief amongst the authorities that things did not get as out of hand as they had feared. However, while the immediate apprehensions and anxieties about this anniversary might have passed, the shadow of what happened on August 26, 2006 in the hills of Kohlu's Tartani area remains large on Pakistan's politics and the significance of this date must not go uncommemorated.

Of course, the most important element of this 'shadow' is the growing ethnic unrest that preceded, precipitated and has followed the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. August 26 has become -- and is likely to remain -- an iconic date for Baloch nationalists. Although this unrest is eminently evident in our daily headlines, it goes largely uncommented upon. This could be because so much of the rest of the politics of the country is so very engrossing at the moment. But it is also because the rest of Pakistan seems uninterested in the grievances of Baloch nationalists. It is convenient to ignore them as rants of a small bunch of 'separatists.' To delegitimize even those concerns that are based on fact. To label all nationalists as 'traitors.' And to act as if simply ignoring them will make them go away.

It will not. Indeed, ignoring these concerns will only magnify their volume and intensify the demands. Not all nationalists are separatists, but labelling them as such will turn more of the former into the latter. And herein lies the real long-term danger.

But August 26, 2006, also has another -- more immediate -- significance to contemporary Pakistan politics. It marks, in my view, the beginning of the end of Gen. Pervez Musharraf's rule. Let me be quite clear here. It is not that the general had not already sowed the seeds of his ultimate demise well before this date -- most importantly, with his original usurpation of power. Nor is it that his departure is now a done deal. He prides himself for being a survivor and he may well drag on and even survive all the current crises he faces; either in uniform or without.

My point merely is that if one looks back and seeks the one turning point of political inflection in General Pervez Musharraf's rule; that point will be the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti on August 26, 2006. From that moment on it was clear that Gen Musharraf was on his way out. It was not clear --- and still is not -- exactly when or exactly how he would go. But suddenly there was the sense that his departure was not only likely, but imminent. Something dramatic happened that day. It was not just Nawab Akbar Bugti who died but also the silent consensus that had propped up Gen. Musharraf's military rule in Pakistan the previous five years. From then on Gen. Musharraf has been on a downwards trajectory and it is clear that his personal survival can come only at increasing costs to him and to the country.

Up to that point there was a sense that even if there was not a majority that actually supported his rule, there was in fact a plurality of Pakistanis who were willing to tolerate it. Or, at the least, were not actively opposed to it. This is what really changed on August 26, 2006. The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti -- or, more precisely, the manner in which he was killed and the government's reaction to it -- forced many people who were willing to sit on the sidelines to actually choose sides. Invariably, they choose to distance themselves from the general. There was a clear sense that a line had been crossed. It was obviously not the first time that line had been crossed, but it was one crossing too many. Like the proverbial last straw on the camel's back, this was the one decision that decided the issues for the then undecideds.

Much like those who would later march for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice were moved to do so not because they 'liked' the Chief Justice but because they vehemently disliked the way he was treated by Gen. Musharraf. Similarly, many of those who were repulsed by the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti were moved not because they approved of Bugti's agenda or tactics, they were revolted by the arrogance of power that was evident in the manner of his removal. It is this recognition of the arrogance of power, the obvious desire to retain that power at all costs and for purely personal satisfaction that has turned the tide against Gen. Musharraf. And the tide was turned on August 26, 2006.

If, indeed, I am correct that August 26, 2006, marked the beginning of the end of Gen. Musharraf's rule, does this mean that his departure is now imminent? Most likely, but not necessarily. As suggested above, the general is a survivor and may survive longer yet. There are many avenues of survival. Three, in particular, are important. You can 'facilitate' it, you can 'buy' it, or you can 'enforce' it.

He could, for example, 'facilitate' his own survival by nurturing the notion that there is no viable alternative to him and by inducing infighting amongst the opposition to validate such a claim. Alternatively, he could 'buy' survival by lavishing rewards and resources upon those who would continue to support him. Another strategy of survival would be to use sticks instead of carrots and to 'enforce' survival by clamping down on the media, declaring a real emergency, or imposing Martial Law.

These and other strategies for survival are always open. But each imposes heavy costs on him, on the government, and on the country. If we look back at the last year we find that he has, in fact, tried variants of all three of these strategies, but with very limited success. This is not surprising. It turns out that the more unpopular a leader is, the more costly it is to either 'facilitate,' 'buy,' or 'enforce' survival. Invariably, you have to dish out a lot of carrots or use a lot of sticks. Sooner or later, you will either run out of carrots or people will get so fed up with the sticks that they will rise despite the infliction.

Given Pakistan's politics today, Gen Musharraf may be running into both limits simultaneously. He could try pushing more at these limits, but it will not be for very long, not by very much, and not without great costs.

The writer is a Professor of International Negotiation and Diplomacy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, USA, and the founding editor of Pakistaniat.com


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