Old Habits, New Challenges to Pakistani Establishment

Popularly called "Pathans" in India and Pakistan, Pashtuns are a tribe with historical warrior roots spread over northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The rise of Pathans within the army and the ISI, according Bose, is a direct offshoot of Pakistan's growing influence in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

Personnel or Philosophy

But retired Pakistani military officials downplay the significance of ethnic loyalties within the two institutions. "The army is a very homogeneous organization," said retired Brigadier Rao Abid Hamid. "While I agree it is dominated by Punjabis traditionally, the comradeship within the army is very good."

While acknowledging that looking to ethnic lines for likely cracks within the army is a matter of speculation, Bose conceded that if Pakistani civil society were severely threatened, "the tug-of-war within the army would be whether state allegiance will win or whether religious and ethnic ties will rule."

For now, most experts believe Musharraf's position that sticking by him and by the United States is the only patriotic option for the Pakistani state has wide appeal among the country's military and civilian elite.

But their optimism does not always extend to Musharraf's ability to maintain control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the event of a coup.

The Nuclear Threat

Along with arch foe India, Pakistan successfully tested a nuclear device in 1998, which it hailed as the Islamic world's first atomic bomb.

"I don't want to be an alarmist over this," said Bose. "But at the same time, I'm not sure that either India or Pakistan have a secure safety control system. And unless we have hard evidence to go on, we simply can't be sure."

Former Pakistani military officials though scoff at what they see as the Western media's obsession with their nuclear program. A recent article in the magazine The New Yorker reported that an elite U.S. unit whose mission included the destruction of nuclear facilities was being readied in case of a contingency in Pakistan.

But retired Lt. Gen. Kamal Matinuddin, author of the forthcoming book, The Nuclearization of South Asia among others, was dismissive of the report. "Nuclear weapons are stored in a disassembled state in several locations. Most of the time, the location of war heads is not known. How can you conduct this operation in the middle of a country? I don't think it's possible."

Kashmir on Their Minds

The international community has also been concerned that the combination of the current crisis in Afghanistan will exacerbate the Kashmir issue.

Both India and Pakistan have claims on Kashmir and while Pakistan claims its neighbor is ruthlessly suppressing a freedom movement in Kashmir, India accuses Pakistan, mainly through the long arm of the ISI, of supporting Islamic terrorists in the region.

While India has been upset with Washington's new cozying up to what it believes are the very forces that created the Taliban, few experts believe the matter would explode into a nuclear war. "Both India and Pakistan are responsible nations," dismissed Matinuddin. "There is no cause for alarm."

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