The sword of Damocles hangs over Nawaz Sharif. By Allabaksh
23 May 2017
Cyril Almeida, columnist for the Dawn newspaper could not have imagined the consequences of what he was doing when he wrote a piece last year on the Army’s unhappiness over an alleged leak about itself on 6 October 2016. Today, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stands isolated by events subsequent to the publication of that report and the Army has stated in no uncertain terms that they are in control. Recently, the Pakistan Army curtly responded to PM Nawaz Sharif’s decision to sack Foreign Policy Adviser Tariq Fatemi and another official in the Information Ministry by stating that the notification issued by the Prime Minister’s Office was ‘incomplete’ and not in line with recommendations of the Inquiry Committee and therefore the “notification is rejected”. No guesses needed as to who is in command in Pakistan!
Interestingly, the public at large does not know what the Inquiry Committee found and recommended. Only the Pak Army and Government know the truth, and one disagrees with the other on the findings. But there is a more sinister plot in the background which is evidenced in an ISPR release dated 24 April 2017. This refers to the 202nd Corps Commanders Conference discussing the outcome of the Supreme Court in the Panama papers case involving PM Sharif and his family. “The forum pledged that Institution (read Army) through its members in JIT shall play its due role in a legal and transparent manner fulfilling confidence reposed by the Apex court of Pakistan.” This clearly indicates that the Army intends to use the JIT to threaten the very existence of PM Sharif and his political career.
There could be no better illustration of the power of the Pak Army in Pakistan than these two public statements by ISPR and let us make it clear that in both cases, the Army Chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa is in command. No press release relating to political matters could have been issued without the consent of the Pak Army Chief. Another twist was added to the case as the outgoing special adviser Tariq Fatemi made public a letter addressed to all Pak High Commissions in which he rejected all the insinuations recently made against him, effectively saying that he was being made the scapegoat by the Prime Minister.
Civil-military relations under Gen. Raheel Sharif the previous Army Chief were particularly bad and PM Sharif must have heaved a sigh of relief when Raheel boarded a special flight specially sent from Riyadh to enable Gen. Sharif to assume command of the 39-nation coalition force in the fight against terrorism. PM Sharif must be ruing his choice of Gen. Bajwa as Army Chief for this very man is now rejecting the power of the civil government to take action against its own appointees. The situation can only go from bad to worse here, unless PM Sharif has something up his sleeve. There is no doubt that he is a survivor and is likely to cut a deal with the Army to help him remain in power.
Both the Panama case and the Dawn leaks demonstrate that the Army retains the power to control and manipulate the internal politics in Pakistan. The waters were also muddied by reports that Indian industrialist Sajjan Jindal had secretly travelled to Pakistan and met PM Nawaz Sharif in Murree. The Army could not countenance the possibility of Pakistan reaching out to India to resume talks or for that matter arrive at any understanding on the former Indian Naval officer Kulbhushan Yadav,
The other illustration of this is the return of the Military Courts which have continued to pass death sentences on many people without any trial or their being proved guilty. Therefore, one must re-think the idea of a civilian government in Pakistan ever being in control of itself! Sad but true. The roots of Nawaz Sharif’s current dilemma stem from the deal he struck with former Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif to keep PTI’s Imran Khan on the sidelines, at a time when the former Pakistan cricket captain was planning to storm the capital with his protestors.
Many observers are of the view that Imran Khan was really a front for the Army which wanted to clip Nawaz Sharif’s wings. In this sense, it is clear that the military in Pakistan will do what it takes to keep their fingers on the nuclear button, however much a democratically elected leader may claim to be the head of the National Command Authority. The fact of the matter is that even on relations with the US, it was General Raheel Sharif who played the role of the interlocutor for Pakistan. In the Donald Trump era one finds that Pakistan will have a much easier time for the US administration is ruled by the Pentagon and not by the State Department. The Pak military knows it can get its way around the US military by telling them (as they have done in the past) that there is no better partner for the US in the region than the Pakistan Army. Little wonder that CSF continues to flow into Pakistan despite their having taken no serious action against the Haqqani Network. The Pak Army thus fundamentally remains in charge of key foreign policy issues and controls the nuclear button.
Let us look ahead a little. Elections are due in Pakistan next year and PM Nawaz Sharif would want to stay on. For this he must have the Army’s support and it is very likely that he will work towards an understanding with General Bajwa, the current Army boss. PM Sharif’s other challenge remains providing adequate power to the average Pakistan by 2018. Efforts are clearly on in this direction and he hopes to use the power projects that are early harvest projects under the CPEC to realise his dreams. This begs the larger question; Pakistan is already producing more electricity than its demand, the inadequacy of the supply system and pilferages raises more questions than provide solutions.
At the end of the day, the impact of recent events will be felt on Pakistan as a whole. The military, having its finger in every pie, is going to work towards consolidation of power, as it has practically demonstrated by doing a simultaneous Census exercise in 2017 along with its civilian counterparts and by reinstating the Military Courts. But beyond that can the military run Pakistan, its economy and society. Sadly that is precisely what they are trying to do. This is the signal the Army is sending to PM Nawaz Sharif. Can he meet them halfway?