For the first time, the clash between the so far official national security narrative and civilian narrative has risen from Punjab. Punjab is the most powerful province of the country which represents 53 percent of the population and a huge chunk of the people in the military establishment.
This contradiction between these two sides has been building in Punjab for over two decades. It has now sharpened, but is still likely to continue maybe for a few more years.
In the mid 90s, LUMS commissioned a study on the pros and cons on opening the trade with India. This study was conducted by a learned scholar, Dr Ijaz Nabi, who concluded that by and large Pakistan would benefit by normalising trade relations with India. Some of the directors of LUMS, who are leading businessmen, were summoned by President Laghari, the then Chancellor of the university by virtue of his office. According to one of the directors at the time, Laghari gave them a dressing down on commissioning studies which were not in the national interest. This director said we knew that he was passing on the anger of the ‘establishment’. A few years later, the Lahore Chamber of Commerce also did a similar study and resolved that trade relations with India should be normalised.
Even when Chaudhry Pervez Elahi was the Chief Minister I found from personal experience that there was keenness to normalise relations with India and invite a larger delegation to the 2nd Agribusiness Conference in Lahore.
There has been a major shift in the Punjab power base in favour of the business and industrial community. They are the ruling class of the province now and are inclined to improve relations with India. Gone are the times when they were afraid of competing with India in the open market. Their confidence has increased over the years because in any case they are competing with cheaper Chinese imports.
So it is with this backdrop that we should see Nawaz Sharif’s stance regarding relations with India. His first effort in the 90s when he invited Vajpayee was sabotaged by Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure. Later, Mr Zardari’s efforts to not only normalise trade but also establish investment relations with India were sabotaged by the Mumbai attacks, planned and executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Nawaz’s second attempt to soften the hawkish Modi by attending his swearing in ceremony in Delhi and inviting him to his grand daughter’s wedding was torpedoed once again by the Pathankot incident. India alleged that this attack was engineered by Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-i-Muhammad. Initially, there were some reports that Maulana Azhar was arrested, but nothing concrete happened and currently we don’t know the whereabouts of this self-styled Mujahid.
The politicians in Pakistan are by and large of the view that support to the Afghan-Taliban and India-specific non-state actors was not in the national interest. They look at the national security policy from the perspective of the people of Pakistan
Nawaz Sharif now says that Imran Khan’s dharna was orchestrated by the intelligence agencies because he had planned to file a treason case under Article 6 of the Constitution against the then President Pervez Musharraf. He had also earlier snubbed the then ISI chief General Zaheer, according to a report by Azaz Syed.
To counter the propaganda that he was not managing the foreign policy well, he sent 22 parliamentarians as emissaries to different countries in the West and the US to present Pakistan’s case. This initiative was ridiculed by some of the media pundits. On their return, these MNAs and Senators reported that wherever they went they were encountered by the Indian narrative that Pakistan harbours and supports the non-state actors to leverage its foreign policy objectives in India and Afghanistan. On the basis of this feedback and his own experience regarding Kargil and Pathankot incidents, Nawaz Sharif raised his concerns on these issues in a national security meeting and the timing chosen by him to express these policy differences was at the far end of General Raheel Sharif’s tenure. This then became the subject matter of the much-talked about Dawn leaks, but he immediately caved in under the burden of the harsh reaction of the establishment and sacrificed his loyal information minister Pervaiz Rashid.
More recently, in an interview with my friend Cyril Almeida in Multan, Nawaz Sharif cleverly punched in the issue of the non-state actors’ activities that threatened the peace in the region. He also referred to the slow progress in the trial against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. To strengthen his own point of view he said that both Presidents Xi and Putin had also raised this issue with him. Interestingly, according to my information, Cyril had not raised any question that could have led Nawaz Sharif’s outburst on these issues. Immediately, the Indian media gleefully picked up the issue and in Pakistan, hyper nationalist lobbies dubbed his comments as against national interest. Some even went to the extent of labelling the former Prime Minister as a traitor. Unfortunately the predicament in Pakistan is if you tend to disagree with the powers that be on the issues of national security, you are hounded down as a traitor.
At a public rally, Nawaz Sharif confirmed that whatever was printed in the story, popularly known as Dawn leaks, was correct, implying clearly that he is against the use of non-state actors to further Pakistan’s national security and foreign policy objectives.
The issue here is that, for the first time, there seems to be a civil-military divide on what should be the national security policy. The politicians in Pakistan are by and large of the view that support to the Afghan-Taliban and India-specific non-state actors was not in the national interest. They look at the national security policy from the perspective of the people of Pakistan.
However, I tend to agree partially with the Nawaz critics who say that he is now raising these issues because he is more likely to be sentenced to prison in the Panama leaks case. Whether the charges fit him or not because his name was not in the Panama leaks and the transactions referred to were between his sons and their grandfather.
But I would like to remind all these critics that the real charge sheet against Nawaz Sharif is not in the Panama case, but it is the cost he has to bear for disagreeing with the establishment on the non-state actors’ issue. The trajectory mentioned by me above clearly shows that there is a clash between the civilian and the establishment on the national security policy.
In the past, we have seen that whatever has been sold by the establishment to us as a national security issue was damaging for the country. May it be the Bangladesh military operation; the Balochistan military operation; Gen Zia’s policy to destabilise Afghanistan or Gen Babar patronising the Afghan Taliban and using non-state actors to defeat all peace efforts with India.
The writer is the author of What’s wrong with Pakistan? And can be reached at email@example.com
Published in Daily Times, June 9th 2018.