The recent diplomatic brinkmanship on part of Pakistan can be attributed to the evolving ‘inimical’ relationship between the civilian government and the military-intelligence establishment of the country. While adversarial relationship between the two components of governance in Pakistan is not new, what is different now is that the equation between them has acquired inimical proportions.
The manipulation of politics by military is in the DNA of Pakistan. In the post Zia period between 1988 and 1999, it may be recalled that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto alternated as Prime Ministers, i.e. both had two tenures each.
Whenever the civil dispensation and Pakistan military are on war path, anti-India posturing on the military becomes increasingly acute. Obviously, Indo-Pak diplomatic relations becomes a casualty and Indian diplomats become victims of violence and abuse.
In 2016, in a meeting between Nawaz Sharif’s government and the military, it was stressed by the former that Pakistan is becoming increasingly internationally isolated because of its failure to crackdown comprehensively against militants or jihadis. The meeting was attended by the then Interior Minister Nisar Ali, foreign secretary Aizaz Choudhry and the ISI Chief Rizwan Akhtar. In the meeting, the civilian dispensation conveyed that the US has demanded action against the perpetrators of Pathankot, Mumbai 2008, LeT, Masood Azhar and the Haqqani Group. The military establishment, as usual, refused to cooperate in bailing out Pakistan from international diplomatic and economic heat.
Instead of addressing the international exigencies, the military went after the newspaper Dawn, which had revealed the minutes of the said meeting in an article ‘Act against Militants or Face International Isolation, Civilians tell Military’.
The manipulation of politics by military is in the DNA of Pakistan. In the post Zia period between 1988 and 1999, it may be recalled that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto alternated as Prime Ministers, i.e. both had two tenures each. This period was also interspersed with interim occupants like Jatoi, Mazari, Moin Qureshi and Malik Miraz Mohammad. The frequent manipulation of Prime Ministers by the military could not have been possible without the collusion of the President, who had the powers to dissolve the National Assembly. This power was vested by the President by Article 58 (2) of the Constitution through the Eighth Amendment during Zia’s rule. Subsequently, the Constitution was amended in 1997 and the President was reduced to a ceremonial head. Thus, the President ceased to be a part of the ruling ‘Troika’ in Pakistan. Till then, the ruling Troika comprised the President, the Prime Minister and the Military.
The CPEC, it seems has engendered new alignment of forces in Pakistan. In the present ferment, the Military, the Judiciary and China appear to be the new partners…
Subsequently in this author’s assessment, as the proxy war by Pakistan against India and Afghanistan accelerated, the Jihadi tanzeems like LeT, JeM and Haqqani Group supplanted the President as part of the ruling Troika. The simple reason for the emergence of Jihadi groups as arbiters of Pakistan’s destiny is because of the military’s reliance on the Jihadis for effecting strategic and territorial outcomes in India and Afghanistan.
However, there are seems to be another shift from the ruling troika, i.e. the Prime Minister, Military and the Jihadi tanzeems; and the new and very formidable player is the Pakistan ‘Judiciary’. This phenomenon has been particularly pronounced after the heralding of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The CPEC, it seems has engendered new alignment of forces in Pakistan. In the present ferment, the Military, the Judiciary and China appear to be the new partners, arrayed against the partnership between the civilian leadership (PML-N), Saudi Arabia and the US.
The close affiliation between Nawaz Sharif and Saudi dispensation is well-known. It is also an accepted fact that Nawaz Sharif could not have survived Musharraf and reestablished himself politically without the support of Saudi Arabia. Recently when the PML-N government in Pakistan was in deep crisis due to the overreach of the judiciary, the Sharif brothers (Nawaz and Shehbaz) were in Saudi Arabia in first week of January 2018, confabulating with Prince Salman’s dispensation there. Curiously, Shehbaz Sharif, who is also the Chief Minister of Punjab flew in the aircraft of former Army Chief of Pakistan, Rahil Sharif, who is Commander-in-Chief of the 41 member Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) or Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) headquartered in Riyadh. Considering Washington’s strategic stranglehold over Saudi Arabia his military coalition could not have been possible without the US indulgence.
The present Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a briefing to the Pakistan senate said that the military desires to get closer to Iran, but is being stymied by Saudi Arabia. The General visited Iran in November 2017, the first Pakistan Army Chief to do so in two decades. The visit did upset the Saudi dispensation, especially the inking of an agreement regarding joint development and production of ballistic missiles by Iran and Pakistan. These are indications to suggest that the Pakistan military is under tremendous pressure by rival strategic alignments led by US and China respectively.
The CPEC is the lynchpin of China’s Belt Road Initiative in the region. Consequently, politics in Pakistan is being feverously and brazenly manipulated by the Military-Judiciary combine in Pakistan.
The China factor in the internal political discourse of Pakistan has begun to loom large over India –Pakistan geopolitical interface as well. In this regard, readers are suggested to ponder over an interview given by the J&K PWD minister Mr. Naeem Akhtar to the Indian Express.
The Minister said: “The Kashmir Issue is not limited to fight between India and Pakistan. There is another factor involved. It is not Pak alone, it is China too. General (Bipin Rawat) said that the Army is ready to fight on both fronts. But there aren’t two fronts any more. Now it is one single front circling from Bhutan to Arunachal, Laddakh Valley to Jammu, Sri Lanka to Maldives, it is all one front. Pakistan and China aren’t separate.” He also underscored that China has adopted jihadi groups like JeM. He reminded: “all the big attacks inside J&K or even outside during last more than three years are attributed to JeM.”
The CPEC, it may be reiterated, does not only pass through the length of Pakistan, but a substantial portion also traverses through POK. Therefore, the Pakistan military is not only manipulating politics in the country in deference to the project, but is also in concert with China leveraging on politics in India. It is for this reason that there is increasing clamour by Valley based politicians, which includes the Abdullahs and the Muftis for talks with Pakistan. It is no brainer to conclude that the Chinese would be apprehensive in investing on a CPEC, that passes through disputed territory. In its bid to acquire legitimacy for the project, it would not be averse to using political leverages as well as jihadi groups like JeM to influence outcomes. The Chinese support JeM in the UN must be viewed in this backdrop.
Meanwhile, the CPEC or precisely the Chinese strategic thrust into the Arabian Sea has engendered fierce geopolitical contest in the region. The CPEC is the lynchpin of China’s Belt Road Initiative in the region. Consequently, politics in Pakistan is being feverously and brazenly manipulated by the Military-Judiciary combine in Pakistan. Recently again in deference to the CPEC, the PML-N provincial government of Balochistan was supplanted by a government headed by PML (Q), which has only five out of 65 legislators in the Assembly. On assuming charge, the first statement that the new chief minister Bizenjo issued was that the CPEC would be his top priority.
Nawaz Sharif and his cadres have now openly declared war on two fronts, i.e. military and the judiciary. The ‘executive’ in Pakistan today stands totally marginalized.
In November 2017, a Barelvi organization ‘Teehrik-e-Labaik’ had staged a sit-in protest at the junction of Islamabad and Rawalpindi for 20 days. This sit-in paralyzed the government and the country. A Major General of Pakistan’s ISI was seen distributing cash in envelops to the protestors. Teehrik-e-Labaik headed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been in the forefront of agitations and violence related to blasphemy issues. Fundamentalism is no longer the exclusive preserve of Deobandis in Pakistan. This transformation of Barelvis, who were known to practice moderate Islam gathered momentum after the assassination of Punjab governor, Salman Taseer. The assassin Mumtaz Qadri who has since been hanged has become sort of cult figure for the Barelivi sect. Some 60 percent of Pakistan is of Barelvi persuasion. It is the Deobandis so far who have kept the jihadi machinery in Pakistan well-oiled.
The provocation for the sit-in protests was the alleged alteration in the form of oath by aspiring legislators, which as per the protestors had been altered to read ‘I believe in the finality of Prophet’ from ‘I swear in the finality of Prophet’. The protestors violently contended that the oath was changed to cater to the Ahmediya Community. Finally, the impasse, which seemed intractable, was resolved by the intervention of the military. The Law Minister had to resign as a price. The military’s intervention in politics could not have been more brazen and ugly. It is also evident that the Military has vested interest in radicalization of Barelvi’s.
Then again in the recent elections for Chairmanship of the Senate, the military conspired to defeat Nawaz Sharif’s candidate by bringing the PPP and Imran’s PTI together. The military is paranoid about the resurrection of Nawaz Sharif.
Obviously, it is not just internal politics but a consequence of big geopolitical power-play.
The security establishment now has no pretention of political non-partisanship. For the military leadership to say that it is with the judiciary in its fight against the executive indicates a new template of power. For the judiciary to pronounce that Nawaz Sharif cannot head the PML-N is surely a case of judicial overreach. It is rather judicial bullying and has upset the balance of power. Nawaz Sharif and his cadres have now openly declared war on two fronts, i.e. military and the judiciary. The ‘executive’ in Pakistan today stands totally marginalized.
India at this juncture needs to play an aggressive overt and covert diplomacy in Pakistan to bolster forces, given to peace and rule of democracy.
The actions and imperatives of the Pakistan military has pushed Pakistan to the brink of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) watch list during its latest meeting in Paris. The civilian leadership in Pakistan unlike the military clearly realizes that China cannot be a panacea for all problems. It cannot afford to disregard the Western world and treat them as foes. The FATF has driven the realization that the West still has the ability to cause many hemorrhages in the economic wellbeing of Pakistan. Even to pursue the jihadi and fundamentalist agenda, the jihadi tanzeems in Pakistan need money, and without the Saudis this proposition is difficult.
Primarily owing the military’s total disregard for international isolation, sustained action against militants and extremist groups has been missing. It has been rather selective and event driven such as by the FATF. Any such action is narrow in its approach and thus yields very limited results.
Militaries, which exercise unbridled power seldom, display the capability to address the larger nuances and imperatives of a country. Pakistan military is no exception. It has repeatedly put the political class into a corner and then chosen to strike at India in different ways to wriggle its way out. India at this juncture needs to play an aggressive overt and covert diplomacy in Pakistan to bolster forces, given to peace and rule of democracy.