Pakistan’s political impasse

By K.N. Pandita

New Delhi called of foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan. Two reasons can be given. One, Pakistani army (Rangers) augmented terrorist attacks on our security forces in Kashmir valley and have opened unprovoked shelling on our villages across the LoC and IB in J&K during recent weeks.

Second, Pakistani High Commission invited Kashmir Hurriyatis for a meeting in New Delhi two weeks ahead of the foreign secretary level meet. Nawaz Sharif had declined to meet them when he was in New Delhi in May last. Nawaz Sharif knew they were rabble rousers with no representative character and hence did not merit any attention.

Both of these developments are directly linked to Pakistan’s domestic political impasse.

Mainly for three reasons Pakistan army thinks the elected government is trying to squeeze its space. One, he irked the generals by putting former military head Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason.

Two, he opposed a military offensive to crush TTP. Three and perhaps the most important is that Sharif was seeking reconciliation with India and Afghanistan.

But Pak army will not opt for military coup as it did in 1999. There are strong reasons. It lacks gutsy leadership; its economy is in shambles, and it will receive rebuff from international community.

Therefore the army and ISI decided to raise a proxy in the shape of Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri et al.

A few thousand of their followers led the so-called long march on the capital and are encamping there. Government desisted from using force to stop their protests.

The protestors are demanding resignation of elected Prime Minister who has been in the saddle just for 15 months only. There is no irrefutable reason with the dissidents for making a preposterous demand of PM’s resignation.

Representatives of the government and the dissidents are talking towards diffusion of tense situation. Nawaz Sharif’s two representatives met with the army chief bringing to him a direct question: Are you supporting the protestors and do you intend to do military coup?

Army chief has denied any support to the dissidents and any intention of a coup. But it categorically told Nawaz Sharif’s representatives that civilian government should “give it space”.
By this phrase, army means a couple of things: one no reconciliation with India; two, no interference in Pak army’s Afghan policy, and three, no interference in Kashmir issue.

But Nawaz Sharif’s suspicion that the protest rally now underway has covert support of the army is well founded.

Apart from Imran Khan and his PTI, cleric Tahirul Qadri, Chowdhury brothers and Sheikh Rashid are among the vocals in the protesting crowds. They are all close to the army and ISI. The language which Imran Khan and others among the leaders of the protesting crowds are using is the language of the army.

Chowdhury brothers have always been on the side of army dictators in Pakistan. Starting with the lowly position of shielding buffalo lifting thieves, they rose to position of power during the rule of General Zia, and continued to occupy important official position in the province of Punjab. Chowdhury Zahoor Ilahi, the father of Chowdhury Shujaat, vocal part of dissenters, was minister in the cabinet of General Zia. He was a minion of such a low caliber that he had asked General Zia to gift him by way of a souvenir, the pen with which Zia had signed the execution order of Z.A Bhutoo. Zahoor Ilahi was later on liquidated by PPP’s militant wing called al-Zulfikar. The Chowdhuries remained sidelined after Nawaz Sharif won landslide victory in election.

Another protesting leader Tahirul Qadri, one with double citizenship of Pakistan and Canada, is a cleric with staunch adherence to Barelvi cult. Nawaz Sharif’s father and Nawaz Sharif, too, had helped him at various times in recognition of which he had told them that he would remain obliged to Sharif house till the last minute of his life. Video recording of this conversation is available. He further said that Sharif House never asked anything from him in return. In fact he is a product of this house.

About another vocal leader of the protesting crowds, Sheikh Rashid, he was a minister in the cabinet of Nawaz Sharif in 1998 and when Nawaz was ousted by a coup staged by General Musharraf, this Sheikh Rashid overnight changed allegiance to General Musharraf. His faithlessness is proverbial in Pakistan.

This is the brief profile of persons who are leading anti-Nawaz and anti-democracy march in Pakistan. They are all beneficiaries of army and ISI, and it gives a lie to the claim of Pakistan army that it is not supporting anti-government demonstrations.

The leadership of demonstrators is talking to the representatives of Nawaz Sharif. They had to climb down from their demand of asking Nawaz Sharif to resign. The reason is that the US, UK and the European Union all have opposed any demand or action leading to ouster of democratically elected government in Islamabad.

Nawaz Sharif is strongly entrenched in his position. He has two-third majority in the Parliament. PPP, MQM and other opposition groups are all supporting him against the rowdies who have even crossed the Red Line and have not been dealt with an iron fist as they should have been. After all Nawaz Sharif is a seasoned statesman and he cannot afford to allow dismemberment of democracy in Pakistan.

But of course, one cannot ignore that in this entire episode, though Nawaz Sharif is secure in his position of chief minister as he has the majority of parliamentarians with him, yet the indirect and subtle threat handed over to him by the Army cannot be underestimated. The army may not be in sound position to stage a coup but it has the capacity of demanding the pound of flesh.

In the background of these circumstances, Modi government will be doing an exercise in futility if it thinks that Indo-Pak relations can be straightened while Nawaz Sharif is in the driver’s seat in Pakistan. It is unfortunate that a democratically elected Prime Minister even with two-third majority in the parliament is ineffective in overhauling the domestic and foreign policy of his country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to learn to live with a blatantly hostile and rogue state of Pakistan. The most dispassionate and sincere message we can give him is this: Mr. Prime Minister, keep your powder dry and stick fast to your guns.

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