What next for Pakistan?
Shabir Choudhry It was written in Oct 1999
The inevitable has happened. The army is back in the driving seat in Pakistan, but the question is for how long, and at what cost. And perhaps more important question is who is going to pay this price.
It is believed that the army in Pakistan is never too far from the corridors of power. After the death of late President Zia -Ul –Haq, the army establishment thought that it was best to take the back seat, and dictate things from there. It worked perfectly for them. Whenever they felt that things were not working the way they wanted they manoeuvred political situation in such a way that they changed the driver without causing too much problems, and in doing so they discredited the political leaders and the political parties.
Mr Nawaz Sharif came to power for the second time with a massive majority and strong determination to do better this time. He wanted to control, most if not all the levers of power. In every political contest he came out victorious. Even the very senior army officers had to resign, including the last Commander in Chief, Jehngir Karamat, because of the tussle with Mr Nawaz Sharif, and it looked that he had firm grip on the reins of power -almost complete control on everything.
This, many thought, was a very dangerous sign. It was not good for the health of democracy in Pakistan. The politicians, both in Government and in Opposition, were not happy with the state of affairs. The army, for obvious reasons, was also not very happy with the situation. For the first time in the history of Pakistan they had to take dictation rather than give it. It was too much for their pride and liking. It was not easy for them to challenge the most powerful Prime Minister of Pakistan. It was prudent for them to wait for the right moment that they can move in with guns in their hands, and people of Pakistan still welcome them.
Many believe that the army does not want peace and friendly relations with India. If there is peace and friendly relations between India and Pakistan, there won’t be a strong case to have a large army which consumes most of Pakistan’s resources. So it is in the interest of the army establishment, and perhaps some politicians and the civil establishment that the status quo in the relationship with India remains. The fundamentalists in Pakistan also support the above approach. And many believe that the Lahore Declaration provided the army the opportunity they were waiting for, and they, once again, started manoeuvring things to strike back. I pointed to this danger in an article, Vajapai scores a goal, which I wrote soon after the Lahore Declaration:
During the Vajpyee’s visit to Pakistan the militancy in the Indian side of Kashmir increased, signalling that there is a clear divide in the military establishment, or at least in a sizeable section of it, and the popular government in Pakistan. It is true that the Indian government and the Indian establishment is very happy with the outcome of the visit because their weak (politically) leader has scored a goal and emerged as a victorious. The question is will Nawaz Sharif government be allowed to go ahead and sacrifice Kashmir for the sake of friendship with India, no matter how important it is; or there is a change in the offing? People can be persuaded to accept Kashmir as an independent and friendly state, rather then leaving it in the occupation of India.
It is clear that the agenda of the army was different to that of the elected government. Mr Nawaz Sharif wanted to resolve all the issue with India, including the core issue of Kashmir, and have friendly and cordial relationship. To achieve this he was prepared to make a change to Pakistan’s “Historic stand on Kashmir”. At the time of Vajapai’s visit to Lahore, Nawaz Sharif said: “Both India and Pakistan should go beyond their stated positions”. This, many thought, may not be acceptable to the army and the fundamentalists in Pakistan. There are many hidden secrets about the Kargil adventure, but it is believed that it was army’s response to the Lahore Declaration. The main character in the track two diplomacy and the former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Niaz Naik, has very recently vouched on this that the Kargil adventure was started to derail the peace process.
After the Kargil debacle it was widely believed that soon there would be a showdown between the army and Mr Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistan army, no doubt, is very organised and disciplined. They planned everything very carefully, analysed the results of each move before taking the next step. It is no surprise that politicians, who cannot tolerate each other for a moment, have the courtesy to dine together or even pray together, all of sudden got together and formed an alliance. Their demand, strangely, was the ouster of Mr Nawaz Sharif, with nothing to offer to the nation. It was very clear that some one else was calling the shots. These politicians got what they wanted the ouster of Mr Nawaz Sharif. In 1977 they asked the army to take over, which they did and everyone is still paying the price for that. They have once again created the situation in which the army could move in and dismiss the elected government. Congratulations! Some of you may get rewards for your services.
Mr Nawaz Sharif cannot be exonerated for his mistakes. For the second time he got himself into a corner where he lost power. There were many things which were wrong, against the norms of democracy, but still this does not justify the military coup. In India, Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency in 1977, and did things which were clearly against democratic values, and even against the Indian tradition. But it was not the army which moved in to remove Mrs Gandhi, rather it was the electorate of India who rejected her. The same could have happened here in Pakistan, but no one was prepared to wait. The army did not want to be pushed out of the corridors of power, and the politicians, all rejected at the last election, were in no mood to wait and risk the rejection again, especially when there was a chance to get in from the back door.
The men in the uniform must realise that the time for military dictators is over. It is not in the interest of Pakistan to have a military regime. By over throwing an elected government, the army has not done any service to its reputation or the reputation of Pakistan. If he had done this when Mr Nawaz Sharif was returning from Washington, after signing the Agreement with President Clinton, perhaps people have taken this as a ‘patriotic’ action. The action or rather reaction to his own dismissal, General Pervais Musharaf has only shown that he is victorious in the power struggle, because he had a gun in his hand, irrespective of the fact that it is not in the best interest of Pakistan.
The clock cannot be turned back, but the damage could be minimised by taking the following steps:
1. The Constitution of Pakistan is holding the country together, and it must be respected;
2. The President Tarrar must continue in his position;
3. Either the National Assembly should be allowed to elect its new leader or an interim government for the period of two years should be set up;
4. This task should be given to people like Air Marshal Asghar Khan with a reputation of ‘Mr Clean’;
5. The new government, apart from sorting out other huge problems must start negotiations with India to resolve all the differences including the core issue of Kashmir;
6. The army should go back to barracks and there should be no victimisation of opponents.
Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs