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Pakistani Military Coup May Lead to Stability

(Transcript from republished with permission.)

2330 GMT, 991012 – Pakistani Military Coup May Lead to Stability

The military’s removal of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raises questions of Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors and allies, in particular India and the United States. For India, any sudden shift of power in Pakistan threatens to disrupt the tenuous peace along the shared Kashmir border. Following the early signs of moves by the Pakistani military today, India ordered its troops in Kashmir on high alert. However, while the military in Pakistan has at least temporary control, it is not likely that the current regime shift will result in a resumption of hostilities with India. It may instead lead to a more stable Pakistan.

The clashes this spring between India and Pakistan in Kashmir led to an interesting shift in international attitudes toward the two South Asian nations. Despite frequent denials, Pakistan was seen as the aggressor, backing Muslim militants who held positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC). Traditional backers of Pakistan, including China and the United States, took a hard-line approach against Pakistan in the conflict, suggesting that maintaining regional stability took precedence over traditional alliances.

Pressure from the United States led to Sharif’s call for the militants’ withdrawal from Indian controlled Kashmir, a move that seriously weakened Sharif’s standing in Pakistan. Since July, Sharif has been shuttling between factions in Pakistan in an attempt to shore up power, but in doing so only further alienated himself from any supporters. The greater instability of Sharif’s government following the Kashmir crisis has been further augmented by consistent rumors of planned coups. The weakened condition of the Pakistani government was in itself a threat to regional stability.

The chance of an accidental renewal of conflict with India decreases with the military takeover of power and removal of Sharif. The Pakistani military realizes the fundamental difference in size and strength between Pakistan and India and has little desire to go to war with India over Kashmir. The Pakistani military will defend its interests, but it will not make an aggressive move at this time. This means, in the short term, India must wait to see who will take power in Pakistan; in the longer term, the added stability will decrease the chances for a cross-border action.

The United States has taken an extremely cautious approach to the moves in Pakistan. The United States is not likely to take drastic steps against the new regime, though it has made made clear it does not condone a military coup and has called for a swift return to a democratic government. The strategic importance of Pakistan in South Asian stability necessitates continued U.S. involvement. In addition, Pakistan’s recent standing as a nuclear power also influences continued U.S. cooperation with Pakistan.

Internally, the military is playing to nationalistic sentiments, declaring Gen. Pervez Musharraf a hero of the Kargil conflict in news reports. In Musharraf’s speech to the nation, he stated clearly that military actions were made to stabilize Pakistan. While in the short term there will be confusion and tension as neighbors and allies of Pakistan await news of the shape of the new regime, Sharif’s removal appears to offer the prospect of a more stable government.

More coup analysis:

2225 GMT, 991012 – Sharif Regime Topples

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been dismissed from the government by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the chief of the army staff. Just hours before, Sharif had ordered the retirement of Musharraf, replacing him with Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) head Lt. Gen. Khawaja Ziauddin. The military’s removal of Sharif is the result of his inability to juggle the contentious factions of Pakistani politics.

For over a year, Sharif has been balancing between various factions in Pakistan to maintain his grip on power. However in his attempts to play off both the more moderate military and fundamentalist Muslims, Sharif alienated himself from all sides.

Sharif attempted to woo Pakistan’s fundamentalists by supporting the Taliban, advocating a return to Islamic Shariah law, and backing Islamic separatists in Kashmir. Strengthening the fundamentalists, however, caused concern within the secular Pakistani military.

Sharif did attempt to placate the military, such as when he reportedly appointed Niaz Naik, a senior diplomat with strong ties to Pakistan’s military, as his personal envoy to New Delhi. Sharif also promoted then army head Gen. Pervez Musharraf to the full-time chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee last month. Of course, these moves were looked upon suspiciously by the fundamentalists.

Sharif also suffered from Pakistan’s ill-advised confrontation with India over Kashmir. Pakistani-supported militants crossed over the line of control into India-controlled Kashmir. This year's clash with India in Kashmir was in part triggered by Sharif's attempts to appease both the military and the fundamentalists. For the military, Indian-occupied Kashmir is a security threat to Islamabad. For the fundamentalists, Hindu control of this predominantly Muslim state is a disgrace. Thus, Pakistan’s subsequent defeat focused criticism on Sharif from all sides.

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