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Pakistan: Coup Not Likely To Lead To Foreign Adventurism

Yesterday's coup has raised fears that a Pakistan under military rule could increase instability in South Asia. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel asks two analysts to assess how Pakistan's foreign policy might change toward two of its most volatile neighbors: India and Afghanistan.

Prague, 13 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Analysts say that yesterday's unseating of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by Pakistani military leaders is not likely -- in the short term -- to change Islamabad's policies toward either India or Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military put Sharif under house arrest in Islamabad yesterday after he tried to dismiss the army's chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf. The coup is believed in part to be motivated by anger within the military over Sharif's ordering the retreat of Pakistani militants and soldiers from Indian-controlled areas of disputed Kashmir. Pakistani troops had occupied the area this spring.

Gerald Segal is an expert on Pakistan at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. He told RFE/RL by phone that the immediate concern is Pakistan's attitude toward India.

"The concern is that one of the reasons the military has seized power is dissatisfaction with the way in which the recent mini-war with India was prosecuted and lost. And so the concern must be that if the military stays in power, one of the things they will want to do is take a tougher line with India."

But Segal says he does not expect Pakistan's new military leaders to pursue any immediately more aggressive policy over Kashmir. Segal says the Pakistani military leaders were never unanimous in the decision to send forces into Kashmir and are unlikely to agree to do so again after taking so recent a beating. Also, they know that India is now on heightened alert for any repeat incursion into Kashmir when weather permits next spring.

Robert Bradnock, a specialist on India and Pakistan at London University's School of Oriental Studies, agrees. He told RFE/RL that he sees no likelihood of Pakistan undertaking a more aggressive stance over Kashmir in the short term. Bradnock says:

"I don't think there is any likelihood at all that Pakistan will be tempted at this stage to go into another encounter [in Kashmir]. They feel that they received both politically and militarily something of a bloody nose in that encounter."

Bradnock says he expects Pakistan's new military leaders to be occupied instead by domestic concerns.

"I think the chief task facing the new military administration is seen to be that of achieving a stable government within Pakistan, trying to calm things down and just allowing normality to return within the political domestic framework. ... I don't think there will be any kind of short-term adventurism."

Turning to Afghanistan, both analysts said they expect no change in Islamabad's long-standing policy of backing the Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia. Bradnock says:

"I think in terms of the fundamentals, the military government is going to pursue the same kind of policies in the West, particularly facing Afghanistan, as its predecessor. There wasn't any real conflict of view or of interest between the civilian, democratically elected government and the military over its handling of the Afghan relationship and I don't see any significant changes occurring there."

Segal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies says the same:

"The military, unlike the policy in Kashmir ... has been much more in charge of Afghan policy and they have been allowed much more free rein. Support for the Taliban from Pakistan's point of view has gone reasonably well ... and things are reasonably stable. There is no great crisis in Afghanistan at the moment, the Taliban's position looks pretty dominant, and so from Pakistan's point of view there is no great urgency here for a major change in policy."

Looking to the long term, both analysts say they expect the military will not seek to remain in power. They predict the generals will look for a way to return the government to civilian leaders while retaining their influential position behind the scenes.

One reason to return to democracy is to get international economic aid, which Pakistan badly needs. Segal says:

"Given the parlous state of the economy in Pakistan and its dependence on external economic assistance, there clearly are pressures from the likes of the IMF and the World Bank and international institutions as a whole, which will make it clear to Pakistan that they are not in the business of supporting military governments and military adventurism."

Washington is also likely to exercise what influence it retains in Pakistan to the same end. Segal says the United States in the past has had influence over the Pakistani military but this has waned as relations have deteriorated over recent years. Economic and military relations were frozen after Pakistan exploded a nuclear bomb last year, although a few sanctions were eased when now deposed Premier Sharif took steps to defuse tensions with India.