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Musharraf's Resignation Raises Hopes For Pakistan, But Also Concerns

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (left) with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington in July.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (left) with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington in July.
The resignation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on August 18 has raised questions about the future foreign-policy directions of Pakistan toward its neighbors -- Afghanistan to the west and India to the east.

Rahul Roy Chaudhury is a senior fellow on South Asia for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. He told RFE/RL that he thinks it is to early to say for certain what impact the resignation will have on Pakistan's foreign policy.

"For New Delhi, Musharraf was seen as being very keen on sustaining the peace process between the two countries, to moving forward in terms of the talks, to really agreeing in many ways with India over what it saw as the key issues. For example, of building confidence between the two countries," Chaudhury says.

"So Musharraf's departure for New Delhi actually does raise some hopes in terms of a new democratic Pakistan," he continues. "But it also raises concerns over whether the new leadership in Pakistan that makes decisions on relations with India will really want to move forward in terms of the peace process that Musharraf clearly did want to do."

Chaudhury says the key question for now is who will emerge from the political crisis in Islamabad as the dominant player on foreign policy.

"You have various players in Pakistan," he says. "You have, of course, the prime minister and the foreign minister. But you also have the leaders of the two major coalition partners in the government -- the PPP and the PLM-N. You also have, in terms of foreign relations, the army and the ISI [secret service] -- which has a critical role for neighborhood policy issues. And you have, in some cases, the judiciary as well, in terms of the legal challenges to the regime and the impact of those challenges on foreign policy."

It was under Musharraf that India enjoyed some of its best diplomatic relations with Pakistan in decades.

Committed To Improving Relations

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani says he wants to continue the peace process with India that was launched under Musharraf in 2004.

Last week, Gilani sent a message to New Delhi saying that his government is committed to improving relations with India by resolving all disputes between the two countries in what he called "a just and peaceful manner."

Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based correspondent for "Jane's Defence" weekly, says he thinks Pakistan's military and intelligence service will continue to play a dominant role in forming the country's foreign policies on Afghanistan and India.

In a sense, Pakistan is in a complete state of flux and chaos.
"I don't think it's up to Gilani in Islamabad because whatever dealing India has with a country like Pakistan, and also whatever dealings Pakistan has with Afghanistan, are determined and underwritten, in a sense, by the military," Bedi says. "The Pakistani military is the arbiter of deciding and calibrating the level of talks with India and the level of relations with India.

"But the army itself in Pakistan is in a bit of turmoil because the army is anxious to remain in the back seat and not be very overt, like with Musharraf. So, in a sense, Pakistan is in a complete state of flux and chaos. India is fairly low down on their radar," Bedi continues. "But India, on the other hand, is very concerned that because of the [growth of] turmoil inside Pakistan, [India] may become a target as a diversionary tactic by the Pakistani military and the intelligence services. So India has more to fear from chaos in Pakistan than Pakistan has to fear from the lack of progress in peace talks."

'Little Tentative'

Bedi says that is why the Indian government is cautious about how it should deal with Pakistan in the future.

"India is a little tentative about dealing with the civilian government in Islamabad because over the last three or four months, the peace process that began in 2004 under President Musharraf has been crumbling -- partially because of a series of serious bombings in India in which India has accused Pakistan of being guilty of interference with its intelligence service. And particularly because of the Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul, which India claimed -- along with the CIA -- had been [supported] by the ISI, the Pakistani spy agency," Bedi says.

"It really remains to be seen how they can organize themselves and take the peace process forward, because the Indian government was somewhat content to meet with Musharraf. In fact, over the last three or four years they had made some progress in peace talks," he says.

Chaudhury notes that the relationship between Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai also has worsened dramatically since February.

But he says that worsening relationship was more a result of the personalities of the two individuals -- and that relations between the two governments likely will remain unchanged in the immediate future.

"What we have seen in the last few months is really a deterioration of relations between Musharraf and Karzai personally," Chaudhury says. "The relationship between these two countries is far greater than the personality of their leaders. There are a number of factors that will continue [regarding] the current policies of Pakistan toward Afghanistan.

"We have, clearly, concerns over what is happening in the tribal areas in Pakistan and the implications in Afghanistan," Chaudhury continues. "The Afghans, of course, have raised this. They have also threatened a more proactive military stance. So I don't think there will be much of a change in terms of the actual relationship, other than the fact that the differing personalities of the two will not really be there. That does provide some potential for improvement in presentation, at least. But it is unlikely to see much of an improvement in substance."

Seen In Proper Context

Analysts say Pakistan's foreign policies in South Asia must also be seen in the context of its relations with NATO and the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in neighboring Afghanistan.

Since Musharraf's resignation, U.S. President George W. Bush has said he looks forward to working with Pakistan on the economic, political, and security challenges it faces.

Many experts say Washington will press Gilani's government to take a firm line to stop Islamic militancy, especially crossborder attacks from Pakistan's tribal regions into Afghanistan.

Former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, currently a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, tells RFE/RL that Pakistan's governing coalition needs to resolve its internal disputes, as well as gain oversight of the ISI intelligence service, in order to prevent Islamic extremists from capitalizing on the political crisis.

The disunity among different factions in Pakistan's elected government can create a vacuum. That vacuum can be exploited by the extremist groups...
"Pakistan under Musharraf was looking at the issue [of Islamic extremism] in the context of its regional interests," Jalali says. "So there was not always harmony or a common approach to extremism in the area. Now the civilian government -- the elected government of Pakistan -- is facing that challenge.

"If the elected government of Pakistan can stay united and respond to these challenges in a unified way, and also control the interference of the ISI intelligence services, they might be able to respond in an effective way," he says. "Otherwise, the disunity among different factions in Pakistan's elected government can create a vacuum. That vacuum can be exploited by the extremist groups. They will have a free hand and expand their crossborder attacks into Afghanistan."

Chaudhury says he expects more pressure from Washington on the issue of crossborder militants.

"From Washington's perspective, the trend that we are looking at -- more assertive policy both in terms of rhetoric and, at times, in terms of substance -- will continue," he says. "Washington is going toward an election date very soon -- later this year. So there will be more pressure for Washington to deal firmly with Pakistan.

"I think what will happen," Chaudhury says, "is that Washington will have to broaden its contacts in Pakistan. The [range of] officials at a very senior level that Washington has been dealing with now is far broader. Earlier, it was fairly safe to deal largely only with Musharraf. Today, that is not the case. So there are more complexities and concerns."

Kashmir Will Contribute

Bedi concludes that the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir also will shape relations between New Delhi and Islamabad in the long term.

"The current round of agitation in Kashmir, for the first time in almost two decades, has nothing really to do with Pakistan," Bedi says. "It is purely a home-grown problem -- which is very complicated -- over the transfer of land to Hindus in the Kashmir Valley, which is Muslim dominated. But the agitations that are going on in Kashmir are definitely disturbing because they are pro-Pakistan. Indian planners believe that Pakistan is in such turmoil that it cannot really take advantage of India's vulnerability in Kashmir. But it is only a matter of time before that situation changes and [India's] confrontation over Kashmir with Pakistan begins all over again."

In the past month, a war of words between the two countries has broken out over the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir. India has protested against Pakistan's comments about protests there, saying they amount to a "clear interference" in its internal affairs. New Delhi also say Pakistan is trying to internationalize a domestic Indian issue.

Pakistan said last week that it had launched a process to get international bodies like the United Nations to pay more attention to developments in Indian-administered Kashmir, and to urge India to stop what Islamabad describes as "excesses and gross human-rights violations" there.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Qadir Habib contributed to this report from Prague

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