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Democracy Seeks Freedom in Pakistan!

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Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS) by .
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)

Who is calling the shots in Pakistan? Who are the real rulers? When constitutional institutions are fighting each other, the people are confused with the democratic system. Even after 70 years of existence, the Army Vs Judiciary Vs Government drama is still going on in Pakistan….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS) by .
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)

The sham that is democracy in Pakistan was recently exposed when Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was denied entry into the NAB Court where former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was going to appear before the Court on his case relating to the Panama papers. Even more strange was the fact that the Interior Minister was denied entry by the Pak Rangers who had been deployed near the NAB Court mysteriously, not by the Interior Ministry or by any other local authority including the Court itself!

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif may well claim that his re-election as head of the PML-N is a victory for democracy in Pakistan, but the reality of military control in Pakistan does not go away. After all what explains the inexplicable presence of the Rangers in the NAB Court which was trying Nawaz Sharif? This happened in the capital Islamabad on 2 October 2017 when Nawaz was going to the Court and the Rangers present there restrained the Interior Minister from entering the Court. Ahsan Iqbal was flabbergasted at the presence of the Rangers at the Court as he had never ordered their deployment and was further piqued that he was prevented from entering the Court premises. Iqbal naturally threatened to resign, but will he ever do so?

When Ahsan Iqbal, Talal Chaudhry, Pervaiz Rashid, Raja Zafarul Haq and Danial Aziz were accompanying the former PM for his second appearance before the Accountability Court in Islamabad on 2 October they were prevented from entering and only Nawaz Sharif was allowed entry inside the court premises on the pretext that the others were not authorized to enter the Court.

If the reports coming out of Pakistan are correct, neither the civil administration nor the Court had issued orders for the deployment. It seems likely that the Army issued the orders for deployment. The objective of this deployment was to send a clear message to Nawaz Sharif that he cannot get away so easily with the so-called charges of corruption against him. Supreme Court officials subsequently made it clear that there had been no request from them to deploy the Rangers. A letter issued by the Office of the District Magistrate of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) says: “Rangers was not requisitioned by the ICT for any kind of deployment in the premises of the Court on 2nd October 2017”. It appears that the Rangers were deployed well before hand and their main task was to prevent the entry of the Interior Minister into the Court.

(WORLD SECTION) PAKISTAN-RAWALPINDI-ARMY-CHANGE OF COMMAND by .
Pakistan’s new army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa (L) receives the change of command baton from the outgoing Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif (File)

That the ISPR even bothered to respond to the public criticism of the incident made it clear that there was an issue. In his 5 October press conference, ISPR chief Major General Ghafoor said that a misunderstanding at the local level led to the deployment of the Rangers. Major General Ghafoor, ISPR Director General, said at the briefing that the ‘hype’ created after the Rangers deployment must not be interpreted as a clash between institutions. “It was an incident of lack of coordination at local level [but] received a tremendous hype,” he told reporters. “It does not portend a clash between State institutions. We need to improve this coordination and encourage a soldier rendering his duties.”

Gen. Ghafoor made it clear that there was no question of the Army staging a coup and taking any unconstitutional step. The unstated message given by the Army is that while there is tension between the Civil administration and the Military that has been simmering ever since Nawaz Sharif tried to clip the wings of former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, it is inappropriate to talk about it publicly. The problem with the Civil administrations in Pakistan trying to outdo the military is that the Army has all the powers and much more to undo the very basis of democracy in Pakistan.

Take another recent instance of the government trying to increase its control over the military. A short while ago, the government issued orders to increase the number of civilian DGs in the ISI from one to four. As of now nothing seems to have happened in this regard! This is precisely why it was significant that DG ISPR stated during his 5 October press briefing that Pakistan’s enemies were giving the false impression that the Army/ISI were not under the control of government. “If we fall prey to such narrative, there is real danger that our gains against terrorism and extremism could be reversed.”

That the ISI remains clearly under the command of the Army and continues its links to the terrorist underworld in Pakistan and in other countries around the globe was made clear recently by General Dunford, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman that the ISI continued to maintain its links with terrorist groups. Major General Ghafoor made an ingenious distinction between ‘having links’ and ‘supporting any groups’ to hide the linkages the ISI has developed over the decades with organizations like the LeT and JuD. Of late, the ISI has taken to mainstreaming these organizations by putting up political parties supported and staffed by personnel of these very same terrorist groups.

Pertinently, on 4 October the Pak Army Corps Commanders apparently spent seven hours discussing about how the Pakistan Army would fully cooperate in strengthening the state institutions and emphasized that the Pakistan Army would continue to play its due role to ensure the rule of law and adhere to the Constitution. One has to admit that this sort of language has often been used in the past, but one gets a feeling that even GHQ Rawalpindi is feeling the pressure of their Chinese friends in suggesting that all is well in Pakistan.

It is sad that the Pak Army Commanders have to spend seven hours to discuss the security situation in Pakistan, when the only agenda of the day was really Nawaz Sharif’s indictment by the NAB Court! In a sense, then the Army continues with its cat and mouse game with Nawaz Sharif. The latter is being portrayed as the man who has stood up to the Army and has tried to change the institution for the better. People certainly have short memories, for Nawaz Sharif is himself a classic deal maker who has made pacts with the military for his own survival, most recently in 2014 when he was faced with the PTI’s long march to Islamabad.

Also, it is well known that Nawaz has played with the religious right in Pakistan with the sole objective of keeping them out of Punjab. Shades of the Saudi experiment of exporting terror out of the country but ensuring that their stability is maintained can be seen in Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan. Of course, things have changed in Pakistan, but only for the worse. As the nation heads towards elections in 2018, the question uppermost in the minds of the people will be who they should vote for? In a real manner of speaking the choice before the Pakistani people is between the devil and the deep blue sea!