The Nawaz saga shows that the army in Pakistan can easily bully the civilian leadership if it dares to show any sign of ‘softness’ towards India. It is pertinent to recall a moment from the days of the PPP government which was in power before Sharif made a triumphant electoral return to power to become Prime Minister for the third time….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
Crystal gazing India- Pak relations is not a fruitful exercise at the best of times. Certainly now after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who used to don the mantle of a peacenik interested in trade ties with India, has been shown the door by the Supreme Court, which has invoked a new variant of the good old “doctrine of necessity” the GHQ in Rawalpindi is fond of.
The possibility of a change in the status quo in the bilateral relations can be envisaged only if the Pakistani army loosens its grip on Islamabad’s relations with Delhi. That cannot be foreseen in the foreseeable future.
Nawaz Sharif has ‘nominated’ his brother Shahbaz Sharif as his successor. Till Shahbaz gets into Parliament through a by-election over the next two-three months, a less known PML leader close to the Sharifs, will be the stop-gap Prime Minister.
That assures continuity of rule by the Sharif family. Barring something that cannot be foreseen at this juncture, there will be no alternation in the scenario. Of course, the script can go haywire, if former cricketer, Imran Khan, and his Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf party (PTI) are able to queer the pitch by protests and a general strike. Their street politics three years ago had almost brought down the Sharif government. Will history repeat? Too early to say. Much depends on the backroom boys at the GHQ.
At that time, Imran Khan was exposed as a willing tool in the hands of the GHQ. Probably he does not need much of army backing now if he were to continue his tirade against Nawaz Sharif in the name of rooting out corruption in the country. The political instability that it will cause may not be to the liking of the army since the Generals are no longer keen on leading debt ridden, socially divided Pakistan from the front.
Imran Khan might restrain himself because he thinks that there is no stopping him from winning the next round of general election due next year in the normal course. Nawaz Sharif, rather his party, will enter the fray carrying the stigma of an adverse court verdict. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is no longer the heavy weight it once was; its popularity has shrunk even on its home turf – Sindh, and so it is unlikely to pose a serious challenge at the hustings ahead. The father and son duo, Asif Zardari and Bilawal, are seen as rusted politicians heading a comatose party.
Over the years, Imran has cultivated the image of a hardboiled India-baiter. He has no interest in exploring trade relations with India either. He finds India-baiting getting him more votes and followers in the highly radicalised society that is his country. It is important to remember that despite all the corruption charges leveled against him, Sharif still retains his popularity and mass base particularly in the most important Punjab province.
Going by global media opinion, the unseen power behind the removal of Sharif is the all-powerful army. Some commentators in Pakistan, however, attribute the jolt the Sharifs have received to judicial activism even as they acknowledge the ability of generals to manipulate the judiciary from behind.
No surprise, therefore, the unanimous verdict of five – judge Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif is cut in the mode of the verdict that had put judicial imprimatur on the coup and rule of General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. It is “Doctrine of Necessity Mark II.
And it is a clear give away that Sharif had outlived his shelf life in so far the GHQ is concerned. Otherwise he would not have been penalized when he did not draw any salary for his association with a Qatar company; but he was held guilty with the learned judges finding fault with his non-disclosure of such a nugget at the time of entering the poll fray three years ago.
Whether Sharif tried to infuse some momentum into ties with India is no longer germane to the discussion on India-Pak ties. His much talked about keenness to place more emphasis on trade than politics in ending the decades of hostility between the two neighbours did not go beyond the drawing board. As always, now also, a change for the better in Pakistan will mean ending the hostility towards India by stopping export of terror across the border and interference in Jammu and Kashmir.
Any peace overture from a Pakistan leader can be considered genuine only when it does not carry the caveat of ‘resolving’ the Kashmir ‘dispute’. In actual terms, such caveat means handing over the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu and Kashmir to Muslim Pakistan so that it puts Pakistanis’ faith back in Jinnah’s pernicious two-nation theory which was convincingly discredited with the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
It is universally known that the men in Khaki have the last word on Pakistan’s India policy. Almost from day one, when Pakistan was created out of British India, the military decided that Pakistan should always treat India as an existential threat, an ‘eternal’ enemy. That equation has not changed and is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
The Nawaz saga shows that the army in Pakistan can easily bully the civilian leadership if it dares to show any sign of ‘softness’ towards India. It is pertinent to recall a moment from the days of the PPP government which was in power before Sharif made a triumphant electoral return to power to become Prime Minister for the third time.
Asif Zardari, the then President, had said something to the effect that India sits in every Pakistani heart; after the Mumbai terror attacks he even announced that he would be sending a team including military and ISI representatives to India to facilitate investigations.
Within hours of making that statement, Zardari rolled back his promise of sending the Pakistani team. Nor was he heard later talking endearingly of India. It was back to square one. He was probably reminded how his wife, Benazir Bhutto, had redeemed herself in the eyes of the army by shouting and screaming about ‘Azadi’ (freedom) for Kashmiris from every pulpit. It was a military dictator who had hanged her father, Zulfiqar Bhutto, who was ironically a rabid India baiter.
Sharif might not have poured poison against India while campaigning for his return to driver’s seat in Islamabad. His prime goal in his comeback trail was to defeat his rival, Zardari. Sharif did nothing to build bilateral trade ties. He did not do anything to indicate that he was willing to put Kashmir on the backburner for the sake of good trade relations with India.
How could he? Given the ascendancy that the military-mullah combination enjoys in Pakistan—both known for visceral animosity for India—it would be an utterly naïve Pakistani politician who will hope for survival after chanting the peace mantra with India without first invoking Kashmir. If at all a change occurs in the India-Pakistan equation it may be only in the negative direction now that Pakistan feels emboldened by Chinese threats to India.