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Democracy under siege
Publication Date : 26-08-2014
The situation unfolding in Pakistan is truly precarious and is headed towards a dangerous denouement. Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, and Tahir-ul-Qadri, a rabble-rousing cleric, have led a march to Islamabad and have entered the closely protected 'red zone' whose security has been handed over to the army.
With Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reportedly having agreed to 'share space' with the army the likelihood of a military coup appears to have passed, but the army brass has asserted its control and Pakistan's fledgling democracy stands diminished.
Relations with India are once again headed downhill after showing some promise of improvement when Prime Minister Modi had invited Nawaz Sharif to participate in his swearing-in ceremony.
The economy is in a serious mess. The funds are low, the debts are high, exports have dwindled to a trickle and the rupee has fallen to an all-time low of about 100 rupees to a dollar. Pakistan is dependent on US largesse to meet its obligations for the repayment of its burgeoning debt. The beleaguered Prime Minister appears to be at his wit's end.
The army and the Nawaz Sharif government were till recently at loggerheads over the government's counter-insurgency policy, which had lacked cohesion. The army had been recommending to the government for quite some time that firm military action was necessary to deal with the menace of home grown terrorism, but the political leadership had disagreed.
The commencement of a peace dialogue with the TTP by the government allowed the terrorist organisation to re-arm, recruit and train fresh fighters. It also gave the TTP leadership the opportunity to cross the border into Afghanistan. In March 2014, the TTP offered a month-long cease-fire. The army honoured the cease-fire and refrained from active operations, but TTP factions fought on. On 16 April, the TTP withdrew its pledge and blamed the government for failing to make any new offers.
In the face of mounting public and army pressure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reluctantly agreed to approve military strikes. He was apprehensive that General Raheel Sharif, the COAS, may unilaterally decide to launch an all-out offensive. The PM is now backing the army fully and has said that he will not allow Pakistan to become a "sanctuary of terrorists" and that the military operation will continue till all the militants are eliminated.
On 15 June, the Pakistan army finally launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting), its much delayed offensive against the TTP in North Waziristan. Two months after it was launched, the operation is yet to achieve its goals.
The army was not particularly happy with the PM's overtures to the new Indian government, or his decision to travel to Delhi to attend Narendra Modi's swearing-in. It stepped up violations of the cease-fire along the LoC and the ISI increased the incidents of violence inside Jammu and Kashmir through its proxies like LeT and JeM and the Hizbul Mujahideen.
The ISI appears to have been directly responsible for India calling off the Foreign Secretary-level talks, scheduled for 25 August, by insisting that Abdul Basit, Pakistan's High Commissioner in Delhi, meets Kashmiri separatists despite India's request not to do so.
The army does not approve of Sharif's desire to stop interfering in Afghan affairs and play a positive role in the reconciliation process. GHQ, Rawalpindi, is also miffed with the PM for insisting on the continuation of General Musharraf's trial for treason and refusing to give him a chance to quietly exit Pakistan and, possibly, settle in Dubai.
The army has itself been passing through turbulent times. Its counter-insurgency operations in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (erstwhile North West Frontier Province) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have not been going well; its establishments have been repeatedly attacked with at least some attackers getting support from within; its relations with its NATO allies had plummeted to an all-time low after the spectacular US raid to kill Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad in May 2011; and, the morale of the rank and file is low; besides the fact that its senior leadership is once again at loggerheads with the political leaders of Pakistan.
External factors have also led to the army playing a larger role than is warranted in a democracy. By arming the military to the teeth, the US has caused Pakistan to become a praetorian state in which the army plays a dominant role. It is only recently, in the face of the Pakistan army's perfidious role in Afghanistan, that the US government has begun to come to terms with its ill-considered policy.
After the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by NATO-ISAF forces in a border outpost in November 2011, US-Pakistan relations had hit a new low. The incident led to the Pakistan government's decision to stop the flow of logistics convoys through Quetta and Peshawar, deny base facilities at Shamsi airbase and demand re-negotiation of the rules of engagement. In turn, the US government announced that it would withhold military aid to Pakistan.
The army remains central to the survival of Pakistan. For the country to continue to exist as a coherent nation state, the army must stop meddling in politics. It must give up its agenda of destabilising neighbouring countries like India and Afghanistan through its proxy war.
The Generals must pull themselves up by the bootstraps and concentrate on their primary task of fighting and winning the nation's wars. They must realise that the real threat to national security lies within and that they need to substantively enhance their capacity to conduct effective counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations.
The Pakistan army has let down the country and must make amends. In the national interest, the army must give up being a state within a state and accept civilian control, even if it does so with bad grace. It is only as a democracy at peace with itself and a nation living in peace with its neighbours that Pakistan can flourish as a nation state.
(The writer is a Delhi-based strategic analyst)