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Sunday 16 December 2018

Seeds of conflict lie in summer's Kashmir crisis

AHMED RASHID

THE immediate origins of yesterday's military coup lie in the Kashmir crisis of the summer, when then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif overrode the army and ordered the withdrawal of Pakistani troops and guerrillas from a large part of Indian Kashmir.

THE immediate origins of yesterday's military coup lie in the Kashmir crisis of the summer, when then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif overrode the army and ordered the withdrawal of Pakistani troops and guerrillas from a large part of Indian Kashmir.

The fierce fighting between India and Pakistan nearly brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours to war for the fourth time in 50 years.

Both Mr Sharif and the army chief, Gen Pervais Musharraf, blamed each other for the Kargil affair and what many Pakistanis saw as a humiliating withdrawal which was forced on the government by the Clinton administration.

Although Mr Sharif protested that the invasion was the work of militants not under his control, the reality is that those militants are known to be closely associated with Pakistan's military, which has sheltered and trained them as part of a long-running campaign to harass the Indians in Kashmir.

The political crisis in the country worsened and last month opposition parties united to form a Grand Democratic Alliance.

They have been holding rallies and demonstrations to demand Mr Sharif's overthrow.

Several opposition leaders called on the army to take over to stop Pakistan's slide into anarchy.

Pakistan's economy has all but collapsed, causing it to default on major loans.

At the same time, the country's Islamic fundamentalist parties demanded Mr Sharif's removal and an Islamic revolution.

Mr Sharif tried to accommodate them, declaring sharia - or Islamic law - to be the law of Pakistan but this increased tensions with the army.

Two weeks ago Gen Musharraf criticised the government for its inability to maintain law and order after about 40 people were killed in sectarian attacks around the country.

Last Friday Gen Musharraf sacked the Quetta corps commander, Lt Gen Tariq Pervez, for holding a private meeting with Mr Sharif, which went against army regulations.

The sacking was the last straw for Mr Sharif, who was clearly lobbying for support among senior generals before he made his move against Gen Musharraf.

Now there were fears that the army could split into factions, with some troops supporting Gen Musharraf and others backing the new army chief and the government.

David Graves adds from London: Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister living in London after being convicted of corruption in her homeland, said Mr Sharif had ``reaped what he sowed'' in Pakistan.

``He has only himself to blame,'' she said.

``He has been trying to pit elements of the military against each other and this was inevitable. It is a very serious situation. I hope it does not deteriorate into civil war but the omens are not good.''

Mrs Bhutto still leads the main opposition Pakistan People's Party but faces arrest if she returns.

( Daily Telegraph, London)

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