Pakistan's political triangle -- President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo, and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto -- constitutes the most facinating configuration of personalities in South Asian politics. And, as the dust settles after August's turbulent events in Pakistan, long-time observers are listing the winners and losers.
Miss Bhutto, the protaganist of the events and daughter of former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is out of prison and free to pursue her political goals -- as long as they do not disturb the peace. But while she languished in jail for nearly a month, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) split. Led by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, the old guard founded a new party. This endangers Bhutto's position by estranging her from party regulars -- and organizational solidity. She is in danger of being seen as a ``prisoner of the left,'' forced to maintain popularity by populist appeals which often have inflammatory side effects.
This rejection of Bhutto exposes the down side of her charisma -- she is suspected of having inherited her father's contempt for intramural PPP organization-building, and his authoritarian ways over party internal affairs. While remaining the only candidate with a populist following nationwide, she relies greatly on young, untested loyalists who are unlikely to assist her in the necessary task of building allies among the Army, feudal landlords, and religious and governmental bureaucracies. Without this broad spectrum of coalitions, Bhutto may increasingly rely on demagoguery -- which would inevitably pitch the domestic scene into turmoil and assure continued interference of the Army in politics.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Junejo may have lost even more than Bhutto in the events of August.
Pakistani observers say Junejo's rapid recourse to force -- including a police crackdown and the arrest of oppositionists -- lay him open to charges that he is undemocratic, and not the best choice to supervise the transition to full democracy slated for 1990. His actions are seen as continuing the elitist authoritarian tradition of Pakistan's national leaders. Nevertheless, his independent stance from General Zia has bestowed Junejo with a respectable political base between Bhutto, other outspoken oppositionists, and the Army.
Zia has emerged a winner in the short term, and perhaps in the long run as well. His continuing ascendancy appears to be a combination of luck, timing, and political skill. By not cutting short his absence in Saudi Arabia during the August turbulence, he showed that his political instincts are still keen. Junejo was made to look responsible for the harsh crackdown -- which Zia approved of and presumably was consulted about -- thus being used as a lightning rod to deflect damage to Zia's own political stock. For the moment, Zia and Junejo are ruling in an uneasy military-civilian tandem which neither is said to particularly relish.
All three individuals -- Zia, Junejo, and Bhutto -- are vying for control of a country whose internal stability is beset by fissiparous tendencies generated by ethnic cleavages and external pressure.
On its West, Pakistan's Pathans and Baluchis are oriented toward Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia by language, tradition, and culture. On the east, the Punjabis and Sindhis are much more closely linked to the Indian subcontinent.
Religious unity, the Army, and a powerful landowning class that seeks to sustain the status quo, countervail Pakistan's centrifugal tendencies to some extent. But in the large urban agglomerates like Karachi, where various ethnic enclaves coexist, separatist sentiments smolder and are often fanned by traditional rivalries.
Pakistan faces an external security nightmare along its border with India to the east. And with the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, suddenly a Soviet threat loomed to the west. In addition, Pakistani authorities strongly suspect India and the Soviet Union of infiltrating ethnic minorities in Pakistan. An intercommunal riot in Karachi last year between Pathans and Biharis (who fled from Bangladesh in the 1971 war), Pakistanis believe, was incited by Afghan agents among the Pathans and Indian agents among the Biharis. Pakistani authorities feel the potential for such mischief, especially with their porous northwestern frontier, renders them extremely vulnerable to subversive foreign influence.
In the various provinces, there is unrest. In Baluchistan, a long-simmering separatist movement can readily obtain Soviet aid along that province's long border with Afghanistan. The Baluchis in Iran are also said to be yearning for more autonomy from Tehran. A central government weakened or distracted by other security concerns might find reawakened Baluchi separatist sentiment a serious problem.
In Sind Province, there is a movement seeking a looser decentralized government apparatus, including regional Army commands on the Indian model. This movement insists that praetorian or military governments are inevitable until more power is ceded to the four provinces, and the military command structure is decentralized. The movement, which is seeking Bhutto's support, maintains that she can only attain power by making an untenable deal with the Army under the current dispensation -- and that her fate will parallel her father's if she does.
Although the Pakistan pot will continue to bubble, American observers see no near-term storms on the horizon. But, until 1990, Pakistan remains vulnerable to the charge that its transition to democracy is glacial in pace. And over the longer haul, because of its demography and geopolitical status, Pakistan will remain a key problem area in the United States' strategic picture.
Both writers were government officials before becoming consultants on international affairs.