SOURCE: Daily Excelsior
The recent statement, post the meeting between the Pak foreign minister, Khawaja Asif and the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, included a comment indicating concerns about the future of Pakistan’s government. This announcement was made after inputs began flowing of a growing rift between the polity and the army, which holds sway over the country. The statement aimed to support the civil establishment and was possibly signalling a warning to the army to stay away.
While the US remains worried about the future of democracy in the state, it continues to apply pressure on curbing terror groups. There are reports of possible visits by senior US diplomats to Islamabad to enhance pressure on the army not to resort to adventurism, while acting against terror groups on its soil, despite its claims to the contrary.
The rift between the polity and army is not new and has been simmering for some time. Nawaz Sharif was keen to improve ties with India and Afghanistan, which went against the deep state’s strategy. The army has its power and budget solely because it continues to project India as a major threat along its eastern flank and terrorism emanating from Afghanistan along its western. While India has no reason to resort to cross border violations, Pak has and conveniently blames India. Kashmir is another excuse for the Pak army to reiterate Indian threat.
The Dawn leaks episode, was the result of an internal tussle, wherein the polity warned the army against supporting terror groups, as it was visualizing growing international anger and it was right. The backlash from the army was such that it led to the resignation of the information minister,as also a series of reconciliatory meetings between the army chief and the prime minister. Finally, the polity had to surrender.
With the retirement of Raheel Sharif and appointment of Bajwa, it was presumed that tensions had reduced.However, the bonhomie was short lived. It was Bajwa who was behind the downfall of Sharif and increased current tensions. The army has tasted power and has complete control over the state, which it would never let go.
In recent times, differences have risen to new heights. The Pak Foreign Minister’s comment in the US that Hafiz Saeed, LeT and the Haqqani network are liabilities and Pak needs time to tackle them added to the army’s growing anger. It contradicted the army’s regular statements that no terror groups operate from Pakistan’s soil and their anti-terror operations have been a success. The interior ministry blocked the army supported Milli Muslim League (MML), a political party, floated by Hafiz Saeed led JuD, from obtaining an election symbol, hence barred for the future.
There was also the ranger episode, where the rangers took control of the national accountability courts and even prevented their own Interior Minister from entering. Though the rangers are meant to operate under the Interior Ministry but officered by the army, they refused to even heed to calls from the interior minister. In a similar manner, they withdrew security of the Parliament complex, which was their responsibility, without any information or orders, clearly proving that they have no respect for the polity. Both the incidents have echoed in their senate with politicians demanding answers, while the army maintains silence and the Government remains speechless. These incidents are indicating troubled times ahead.
A seven-hour marathon corps commanders conference, without any statement was most likely the forum where the growing rift was discussed. The DG Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), held a press conference, where he stated that silence and no statement post the corps commanders conference was also aimed at conveying a message. The press conference disputed the remarks of the foreign and interior ministers.
The DG ISPR admitted that Pak had fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and refused to accept the presence of any terror group or its leader within the country. He also supported the MML, stating that everyone has a right to contest elections, irrespective of ideology, contrary to the views of the interior ministry. His support for the rangers’ recent actions, openly challenged the state.
While the polity faces international flak over issues pertaining to support of terror groups, the army refuses to even reconsider. While the Government awaits the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the Kulbhushan issue, the DG ISPR states that the army chief would give his decision soon. The army would never be willing to change its spots and loosen control over those it considers as its strategic assets.
The nation is presently at the cross roadswith everyone asking, who controls the country. The Government at the centre is weak, as with the removal of Nawaz Sharif, the army has shown, that irrespective of the wishes of the electorate, they possess the power to remove anyone who does not toe their line. They had multiple options and the court was the one they chose in Nawaz’s case. The present Government has been put on a stand by notice even before it has been able to stabilize, that it either toe their line or be prepared to perish.
The army has in the ranger episode shown that it controls all forces within the nation, paramilitary or regular. If the polity even attempts to question it, it may act.The US warned the army indirectly that the world would not accept another period of military rule, as it may be detrimental to their plans in Afghanistan.
A message would have also gone that if the army does the unthinkable, the country may soon witness stricter action including isolation and sanctions. China too would be concerned as instability would impact their investments.For India, army rule in Pak would result in enhanced cross border tensions and support to terror organizations in Kashmir. For Pakistan, every dictator has pushed the nation further downhill, this one would be no better.
(The author is a retired Major General of the Indian Army)