What the Pakistani establishment is doing to the country and what it would do with Pakistan, is the question that concerns not only the people of Pakistan, but also the people around the world. The emphasis on ‘Pakistani establishment’ is deliberate because the fate of the country is in their hands and the people of Pakistan have little say in it. The people — the country has diverse sub-nationalities — have a different outlook on major political and foreign relations issues of the country. So they cannot be considered having one monolithic view, as our establishment wants us to believe.
Why is the world worried about Pakistan more than say Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population? The reasons are obvious. To underline a few: it is the country with the largest set-up of militant Islamic organisations; it is the country which is unfortunately strategically placed next to the ever-turbulent Afghanistan where NATO forces are fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda; it is the country which has a strong al Qaeda support base; it is the country which has nuclear weapons; it is the country which has had three wars and many covert battles with its second biggest neighbour; its next door neighbour India’s smooth economic growth is now needed by the world economic powers; it is a fuming volcano which if allowed to erupt may cause a Tsunami, damaging the whole region; and it is the country which has not been able to make sense of itself even after 63 years of its existence.
The trouble is that there is no doubt that the establishment and the civilian government do not agree on national security issues. As a consequence we have landed ourselves in an international nutcracker. With the Republican Party taking over the majority in the US Congress, there would be more pressure on Pakistan to deliver the Afghan Taliban, either at the negotiating table or back the surge against them wholeheartedly.
Obama has already announced his policy, putting the burden of success on Pakistan’s support. Thus the international pressure is getting stifling and the establishment’s clever tricks will not work. It is true that the US-led alliance needs Pakistan to be successful in Afghanistan. But we should realise that this demand can only be met by taking on or at least withdrawing shelter to the Afghan Taliban and by winding up the India-specific jihadi organisations. The political government wants to deliver this but the establishment does not. The present political conflict is a consequence of this conflict on the national security policy; resurrection of the president’s corruption cases is only the wrapping.
With this backdrop, the probable scenario is that the country would not only see more terrorist onslaughts but political instability as well. If the president is forced to step down by the over-zealous men in black coats and gowns, the khaki co-evolutionists believe the democratic system would not be damaged and a new angel politician can be elected. They may be right but what they do not comprehend, consciously or unconsciously, is that the more crucial and urgent issue is the paradigm shift in the country’s national security policy and not finding some ‘mister clean’ as the president or the prime minister. Please try to see through the thinly veiled tricks of the establishment. They have always used the corruption stunt to bring down political governments, as if military rule was kosher!
The ramifications of this political conflict would be that the shortsighted establishment of Pakistan would be forced to fight the terrorists on the one hand, while on the other they are going to lose the support of the largest political party, which had the courage to come out openly in support of the military operation against the jihadi terrorists. Benazir Bhutto was the only national leader, not discounting some of the regional leaders, who had the courage to take on the jihadi terrorists. Even in her last speech before she was assassinated, she thundered against the Swat Taliban. Her party has followed this policy and provided support to the army in its operations in Malakand and South Wazirstan. They are the ones who are clear about changing the threat perception of Pakistan, which is in conflict with the faulty establishment theory. The policy of non-interference in the affairs of Afghanistan and India is wise; the establishment’s outdated strategy to support non-state actors against these neighbours is indeed otherwise. Going by Nawaz Sharif’s statement at a conference the other day, one can say that he has moved away from his party leaders who are confused on the jihadists’ role in Pakistan.
An alternate scenario could be that the PPP-led coalition government is brought down, as I had mentioned in this column a few weeks back, by engineering the withdrawal of support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and FATA members of the National Assembly. This might give Mian Nawaz Sharif a chance to cobble some sort of alliance with his old compatriots in Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and maybe MQM also if it is pushed that way. But so far Mian Nawaz Sharif has shown sagacity and has not fallen in the same trap that had proved dangerous for him when he came to power with the support of the establishment. Political leaders should be given their due that in the Musharraf period when they were forced to be out of politics they matured to a certain extent. However, Mian Nawaz Sharif has to watch for those who incite him to seek some kind of unconstitutional strategy to oust the present government; such people are in his party and, sadly, also in the media.
His suggestion that all the political parties should get together and agree on a 25 years development course for Pakistan is something that the PPP should not ignore. He was honest in admitting at the same conference that the country is faced with existential problems no single party can manage alone. And, above all else, political parties have to take the foreign and national security policy away from the military establishment. A clean shift from India-myopia-driven policy is essential if Pakistan has to get back on the peace and prosperity trajectory. On its part, India has to also show the magnanimity of a big power and resolve the pending issues, giving Pakistan the space required to change.