Snapshot

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De-Facto Ruler

  • Gen Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief seems to be keen for a fifty-fifty partnership in governance
  • Chief of Army Staff overrules Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on several occasions
  • After talks with Taliban lose momentum, even Afghanistan seems to be disillusioned
  • In the backdrop of a weak civilian government, even the US believes in backing the army in Pakistan

Pakistan is in news again – and, once again, for all the wrong reasons. US analysts investigating the bombing of the Kunduz hospital discovered that an ISI operative was directing operations of the Taliban from the hospital. Also, Afghan officials have accused Pakistan’s ISI of playing a key role in Taliban’s seizure of Kunduz.

Lt Gen Nasir Khan Janjua, formerly chief of Pakistan’s Southern Army, will soon replace Sartaj Aziz as Pakistan’s National Security Advisor. He was expected to accompany Nawaz Sharif on his forthcoming visit to Washington and act as Pakistan’s point man to discuss a nuclear deal with the US, but this has been officially denied.

Clearly, Gen Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief, is no longer satisfied with back seat driving and is looking for a fifty-fifty partnership in governance, if not more. Through a series of deft manoeuvres, Gen Sharif has regained the strategic space that Gen Kayani, his predecessor as the COAS, had ceded to the civilian government.

Gen Sharif Overrules PM

Firstly, soon after taking over as the COAS, Gen Sharif told the Prime Minister that it was an operational necessity to launch counter-insurgency operations against the TTP in North Waziristan without further delay. When Nawaz Sharif continued to dilly-dally, the COAS made it public that he was going ahead anyway. The Prime Minister had no option but to join hands with his army chief.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waves to his supporters. (Photo: Reuters)
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waves to his supporters. (Photo: Reuters)

Gen Sharif made it clear to the PM that the army would not tolerate the prosecution or harassment of Gen Pervez Musharraf. The PM had to back down despite his keenness to bring Musharraf to justice for his October 1999 coup and other misdemeanours.

Then, during the prolonged and much trumpeted street protests launched by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf and Tahir ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek in August 2014, the army declined to intervene when it was requested by the PM to do so. Instead, Gen Sharif met the two leaders and advised the PM to seek a peaceful solution.

State Within a State

Under the COAS’ guidance, the ISI steered reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with American and Chinese interlocutors also present. The talks were held at Murree in July 2015, but nothing of consequence was achieved. Talks lost momentum when the Afghan government revealed that Mullah Omar had been dead for over two years – a fact that must have been known to the ISI as he had died in a hospital in Karachi.

In fact, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan broke protocol to call on the army chief at GHQ, Rawalpindi. He sincerely believed that he must reach out to the real power centre in the interest of peace and stability in Afghanistan. However, the honeymoon did not last long and Ghani is completely disillusioned with the ISI’s proclivity to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

An armed agent of the Afghan Taliban. (Photo: Reuters)
An armed agent of the Afghan Taliban. (Photo: Reuters)

The army has also been interfering with day-to-day governance. Former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, G Parthasarathy, has written, “The army is now acting like a state within a state in Baluchistan, where it ignores the orders of the Supreme Court to produce the “missing” persons it had detained. In Karachi, it has become a law unto itself by getting the paramilitary Rangers to clamp down on the MQM. It has even launched an anti-corruption drive against the PPP…Worse still, the defence minister, Khawaja Asif, and former environment minister, Muhammad Ullah, openly accused former ISI chiefs Lt-Generals Shuja Pasha and Zaheer-ul Islam of attempting to undermine the Nawaz Sharif government… Imran Khan’s former deputy, Javed Hashmi, has alleged that the then ISI chief… actually told Imran’s supporters in Islamabad to ‘surround and drag Nawaz Sharif out of his residence’.”

US Rationale Behind Supporting the Army

Gen Raheel Sharif has wined and dined in Beijing, Kabul and Washington and has subsumed to himself the task of running Pakistan’s foreign and security policies, at least those pertaining to Afghanistan, India, internal security and the nuclear weapons programme. Having found that he is not being opposed in a meaningful manner and that the PM is in no position to thwart his initiatives, he magnanimously keeps the PM informed of all his actions and decisions.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) meets Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (right). (Photo: Reuters)
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) meets Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (right). (Photo: Reuters)

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Nawaz Sharif, his family and his party are only keen on enriching themselves and are not interested in Pakistan’s socio-economic development. They are not serious about opposing sectarian strife and creeping Talibanisation, and fighting radical extremism, all of which will result in alienating the Mullahs.

At this rate, the thinking goes, Pakistan will continue to go down the tube and there will be a real danger of nuclear weapons falling into Jihadi hands. Hence, in order to ensure that Pakistan remains stable, it is necessary to support and strengthen the Pakistan army.

This approach of the US administration is fundamentally flawed as it will never allow the forces of democracy, moderation and tolerance to take root and flourish. It is certainly not an approach that finds resonance in India. It is a blemish on the growing Indo-US strategic partnership as it creates suspicion in India’s mind about long-term motives of the US.

(The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.)

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