G Parthasarathy

Sharif’s many hits and misses

G Parthasarathy | Updated on February 21, 2018 Published on February 21, 2018

Reinventing history The many faces of Nawaz Sharif   -  FAISAL MAHMOOD

With Pakistan headed for general elections, now’s the time for New Delhi to turn on the diplomatic, economic, military heat

Mian Nawaz Sharif has had a fascinating political career. Over the past three decades he has been elected thrice to the highest political office, with decisive mandates. He was also removed from office on three occasions by moves crafted by the army brass, backed by institutions like the National Accountability Bureau. Moreover, the craven Supreme Court fights shy of taking any action against military rulers, or the military itself, for violating the Constitution, including through army coups.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has the unique distinction of legalising every military coup in the country. It justifies coups under a dubious concept described as ‘The Doctrine of Necessity’. Moreover, while the Supreme Court never hesitates to act against civilian politicians and officials on allegations of corruption and misuse of authority, it exposes itself by its reluctance to ever act against gross human rights violations by the army in Baluchistan, the tribal areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, as well as in Karachi and elsewhere in Sind.

Brazen machinations

The army functions in Pakistan by the rules it frames. It believes it is a separate organ of the state apparatus, not accountable to any legislative body, or even to the Supreme Court. The army has, not too subtly, been sending a message that it would like to see that Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslin League (PML-N) is not voted back to power. It has even sought to promote divisions within Sharif’s family by promoting the cause of Nawaz Sharif’s ambitious younger brother and Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif.

Shahbaz would evidently not be unhappy if the army’s pressures result in his son ascending the political ladder as prime minister, in due course.

Nawaz has, however, deftly overcome these challenges. More importantly, he has prevailed over these machinations by the army and its political favourites, led by the army’s ‘blue-eyed boy Imran Khan and his, Tehriq-e-Insaf Party. Muslim League candidates decisively defeated high-profile leaders of the Tehriq-e-Insaf in the recent parliamentary by-elections.

The army would, however, dearly love to engineer a hung parliament in the coming general elections, with the Tehriq-e-Insaf winning the largest number of seats.

Meanwhile, the internal security situation in Pakistan, while seemingly under control, is marked by discontent in the tribal areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in large tracts of Baluchistan.

The Baluch insurgency has resulted in huge human sufferings, including the ‘disappearance’ of thousands of detained civilians. It has also led to the killings of 2,500 civilians, 775 members of the security forces and 994 militants, in the past seven years. Worse still, the army has even used air power to bomb towns and villages all across the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

A massive attack by the army, described by the egotistic former army chief General Raheel Sharif as ‘Operation Zarb-e- Azb’, backed by air power and artillery, reduced a number of towns and villages to rubble. An estimated one million tribal Pashtuns fled their homes.

Pashtun protest

Several thousand Pashtuns from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) protested recently in Islamabad against unauthorised and random killings, disappearances and profiling by the army, which has lost an estimated 450 soldiers in its actions in the tribal areas.

Having destroyed Pashtun homes in assaults, which left hundreds killed, the army called it a day and left the cash-strapped government the impossible task of resettling lakhs of Pashtuns. All this came amidst new attacks on the military by disgruntled Pashtuns from the Tehriq-e-Taliban in Swat and elsewhere. Pakistan’s army is thus involved in military operations not only in J&K, but also across its borders with Afghanistan.

India will now have to carefully plan how to deal with Pakistan, amidst ‘election fever’ in both countries. Pakistan will continue to step up infiltration and promote unrest in Jammu and Kashmir.

The spurt in cross-border exchanges of fire in 2017 was the Pakistan army’s signal that despite the joy in India over the ‘surgical strike’ the previous year, support for militancy would continue. The high-profile attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Jammu suggests that given international financial and diplomatic pressure, the ISI will carefully regulate Hafiz Mohammed Saeed’s activities, while keeping alive the terrorism infrastructure of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Unlike the Lashkar, the Jaish led by Maulana Masood Azhar operates without excessive propaganda.

In retrospect, India has paid a very heavy price for releasing Masood Azhar in Kandahar during the IC-814 hijacking. Azhar was the mastermind of the December 2001 attack on our Parliament. No effort should be spared to deal with him.

Diplomatically, Pakistan is painting itself into a corner on its sponsorship of terrorism.

Evidently buoyed by American backing, the Afghan government has decided that little purpose is served in talks unless Pakistan addresses its concerns on terrorism. Kabul clearly does not want to get into prolonged and meaningless ‘dialogue’ with Pakistan on other issues till Pakistan undertakes concrete steps to stop backing the Taliban.

The Afghans made this abundantly clear at recent delegation-level talks led by Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Tahmina Janjua, and an Afghan delegation by the deputy foreign minister, Hekmat Khalil Karzai.

After grandiosely proposing an ‘Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity’, the Pakistanis stalled and would not get into specifics on actions for ending Taliban-sponsored terrorism and eliminating Taliban safe havens in Pakistan.

Accounting for vulnerabilities

India has to take into consideration not only the vulnerabilities in Pakistan’s diplomatic position — it faces growing pressure to close down safe havens for terrorists — but also its internal vulnerabilities. Islamabad will make every effort to get some diplomatic space from China.

India will, at the same time, need to carefully consider measures to turn the heat on Pakistan by all available diplomatic, economic, military means, given Pakistan’s current political scenario and its economic vulnerabilities, as national elections approach.

We would be well advised to remember that actions speak louder than words. In the beginning of the last century, American president Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed: “Speak softly but carry a big stick”, adding: “A proverb advising the tactic of non-aggression, backed by the ability to carry out violent action, is needed”. He concluded by saying: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Published on February 21, 2018
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