By Babar Ayaz
In most developed democratic polities appointment of the new military chief would not be as big a news, as it was in Pakistan. It was a big event to become the lead story of the media last week. Normally it should be a simple max two column headline or one of the many stories for television depending on the flow of important news. The appointment of the Defence Minister, who is supposed to be the COAS’ boss, should be more important. But on 27th November 2013, the appointment of now General Raheel Sharif was the top story and rightly so. Why?
Everybody in Pakistan and abroad knows why in this wretched country we have to give as much importance to the COAS as accorded to a prime minister in a decent democracy. In Pakistan military has ruled for half of its life directly, and has indirectly managed the elected governments, and if the elected governments were not compliant they were booted out. Thus importance of the army chief is important. That’s realpolitik.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has picked up General Sharif who was third on the seniority list, perhaps thinking that he would remain obliged to the PM for this out-of-turn position. He did the same when he promoted General Musharraf, who ousted him in 1999.
This time around the objective situation has changed diametrically. The army is faced by internal insurgency by the Baloch militants seeking independence and terrorist groups fighting to impose their brand of Sharia on the country terming the present constitution unIslamic.
At the same time skirmishes on the Line of Control are keeping the Eastern border simmering. This is not all, while withdrawing from Afghanistan NATO countries and the Kabul government’s pressure is increasing on Pakistan to reign in Taliban insurgencies in Afghanistan. Cozy Kabul-Delhi relations are also a worrying Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
In this situation the army is not in a position to over-throw the elected government. But whether the civilian government would be able to claim back its rightful space leading the national security and foreign policy taking advantage of this situation remains to be seen. In this game the chances are that the two Sharifs, at best, would be able to draw the match.
General Sharif is likely to take a few months to settle down. That’s the time for Prime Minister Sharif to show that he has exhausted his best efforts to talk to the Jihadi organisations to give peace a chance remaining within the remit of the constitution. Military establishment is however not hopeful about the success of the talks, as many agreements with various groups of Pakistani Taliban were flouted by the latter.
Eventually the civilian government would have to take bold and courageous decisions for dealing with the Islamist terrorists, and stop its appeasement policy. As pleaded in my earlier analysis in this space the government should not be seen begging for talks. It should not be blaming the US for killing the terrorists who are wanted for their crimes in Pakistan. On the contrary it should first exert maximum pressure to put the heat on Al Qaeda franchisees in Pakistan and then talk to them after they are weakened.
On Balochistan the case is different. Both the Sharif’s would have to first come on the same page regarding dealing with the militant independence movement. The present tactics of using extra-judicial means to silence the independence seekers has further aggravated the situation. It is also exploited by other countries for varied self-interest.
Every nationality has the right to secede and can only be dissuaded by resolving the political and economic issues between the center and different nationalities living in Pakistan. Recent example of Scotland should be studied closely. Britain has learnt a lesson from its Ireland follies. But we have not — in spite of our blunders in East Pakistan which resulted in its secession. We have also not learnt that in spite of four military operations the Balochistan issue is still a live volcano. The beginning has to be made by producing all the missing persons held by the agencies and leaving the federal and Balochistan government to resolve the issues politically instead of by the high-handed agencies.
Though PM would also like to take charge and fast-forward the peace process with India, Indian elections may not allow Delhi to respond to this positive desire in the same spirit till late 2014. The military has also been showing signs that they want to resolve issues with India peacefully. But the hawks within and the India specific Jihadi organistions have been able to sabotage the peace process.
In India the hawks supported by jingoist media are holding the weak Congress government hostage. In my recent visit to India I maintained that being a big power of the region India should demonstrate sagacity and magnanimity to resolve issues with its smaller neighbours. The policy to pressure and ignore the neighbours has not proved productive so far for India; on the contrary, almost all the South Asian neighbours are not happy with India.
The US administration will also have to reassess who is the real boss in Pakistan. Up till now they focused on discussing the Afghanistan related issues with the army chief who called the shots. Though the US intervention is much hated in the country, they would do Pakistan a favour by discussing the policy issues with the elected government instead of by-passing them and pushing the military to take the lead.
However, only the objective realities would push to incremental changes in the civil-military balance. It would be very difficult for General Sharif to steer his institution to submit to the civilian government against military establishment history and mind-set.
In his book ‘Military Control in Pakistan: The Parallel State’ Mazhar Aziz has aptly quoted economic historian Douglass C. North to explain history matters: “Path dependence means that history matters. We cannot understand today’s choices … without tracing the incremental evolution of institutions” and that “once a development path is set on a particular course … the historically derived subjective modeling of the issues reinforce the course.”
The argument alerts us to the importance of understanding the historical role and subsequent growth of the military as the most powerful institution in Pakistan. The role played by human agency in the role change of developed institution is in direct proportion to the leadership quality, charisma and ability to lead from the front. The reports published about General Sharif portray him as a traditional soldier, who may not be inclined to radically change the institution’s way of thinking. But the promising information is that he has played an important role in developing counter insurgency tactics and training in the military.
The writer is author of “What’s wrong with Pakistan?” He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org