After the Coup, What Next for Pakistan?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Military coups may be rather unfashionable, but Pakistanis clearly had little enthusiasm for their civilian politicians. Despite the army's ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government Tuesday, schools and offices were open and there was little sign of the military on the streets of Pakistan's major cities on Wednesday. More important, in terms of the stability of the newly nuclear nation, there was no sign of any protest against the coup, and the BBC reports that people on the streets of the capital generally welcomed General Pervez Musharraf's takeover. There's nothing unfamiliar, of course, about generals announcing changes in government ó except for two civilian interludes lasting five and 11 years, the military has ruled Pakistan continuously since 1958. Although the coup was precipitated by conflict between Nawaz and the generals over last summer's Kashmir incursion, the military had also been concerned by mounting political instability in the face of government corruption and high-handedness, and particularly by the prime minister's attempts to court Islamic fundamentalists by instituting Islamic law in Pakistan, supporting Afghanistan's Taliban movement and backing fundamentalist groups in Kashmir.

"Despite some sympathy for fundamentalism among junior officers, the military remains solidly secular," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. "It has traditionally functioned as a modernizing force in Pakistan." That orientation will likely shape General Musharraf's decisions on replacing the Sharif government. Although concerns over instability may make the general reluctant to call elections any time soon, he may opt for a caretaker government of civilian technocrats and members of previous administrations. "The fact that he hasnít declared martial law suggests that Musharraf wants a civilian government," says Rahman. Whatever its composition, the new government's policy orientation is likely to be relatively moderate. "Pakistan is desperately poor," says Rahman, "and the generals know that without financial support from Washington and the IMF, the country would go down the drain."