When Nawaz Sharif was first elected to power in 1991, one expected that unlike Benazir Bhutto, he would have a cosy relationship with the army establishment.
He had, after all, been brought into politics and patronised by Gen Zia ul Haq. He was voted to power as part of an Islamist alliance put together and funded by Gen Aslam Beg and ISI chief Lt-Gen Asad Durrani.
But, after having an uneasy relationship with his first army chief Gen Asif Nawaz, Sharif was unceremoniously thrown out of office by the succeeding army chief, Abdul Waheed Kakkar.
The same drama was enacted during his second term. Sharif forced Gen Jehangir Karamat to quit for suggesting the constitution of a national security council. He was then incarcerated by Gen Musharraf following differences over who should take responsibility for the Kargil fiasco.
Barely a year into office in his third term, Nawaz Sharif now has an uneasy if not hostile relationship with his personal choice for army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif.
The attack on the Indian consulate in Herat was executed on the eve of Sharif’s arrival in New Delhi for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing in. It drew international attention as having been executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with the backing of the ISI.
It is no secret that for two generations the LeT’s Hafeez Mohammed Saeed has been patronised by the Sharif family. The attack was a message to the world, to India and to Sharif himself that even Saeed would side with the army despite his continuing to receive funds from Shahbaz Sharif, the prime minister’s brother. India should realise that the sponsorship of terrorism on its territory and in Afghanistan is managed by Raheel Sharif and not Nawaz Sharif.
Battles with the military Sharif’s differences with the military have arisen quicker than in his previous two terms. Within a year of his assuming office, differences escalated over the house arrest and trial of Gen Pervez Musharraf, on several charges including his suspension of the constitution.
When the Sind High Court cleared the way for Musharraf to leave the country, Sharif responded by appealing to the Supreme Court. Musharraf’s conviction would not only reduce the stature of the army nationally and internationally, but also serve as a deterrent to future coups — something the army will not tolerate.
To add insult to injury, Nawaz Sharif was backing the influential print and visual media giant of Pakistan, the Jang group, in its tirade against army excesses in Baluchistan and its campaign alleging that the ISI had orchestrated the attempt to kill its star TV anchor Hamid Mir. The army responded with a programme of intimidation of the media.
Another cause of friction between Nawaz Sharif and the army has been on measures to deal with the Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), once a major “asset” of the ISI. With political and parliamentary backing, Sharif decided to commence dialogue with the TTP and a ceasefire was put in place. The army was unhappy as it sought to wreak revenge for the TTP’s cardinal sin of killing a major-general.
Dealing with assets While negotiations between the TTP and government interlocutors were under way, the army engineered an escalation of tensions with the TTP, compelling Sharif to end the negotiations. Even before Sharif could make a formal announcement, the army launched a massive assault in North Waziristan.
It is evident that the targets of military wrath are exclusively the TTP and their Uzbek and Uighur allies. Predictably, the Haqqani network has been spared because it is an ally of the Pakistani military to destabilise and overthrow the government in Kabul.
Around 500,000 Pashtuns have fled to neighbouring tribal areas in the wake of the military offensive. To add insult to injury, these Pashtuns have been denied entry into the Punjab and Sind provinces where they could find refuge and employment. More than 70,000 Pashtuns have also fled to Khost and Paktia in Afghanistan.
Sharif sent Pashtun leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai to meet President Hamid Karzai and discuss the border situation. Karzai has reportedly insisted that he would cooperate with Pakistan only if it targets all terrorists without discrimination, eliminates terrorist hideouts, ends shelling of Afghan territory and joins him in coordinating anti-terrorism efforts with “important regional nations like India and China”.
Loss of control It is evident that Nawaz Sharif has little control over what Raheel Sharif is doing on Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan and India. The impact of the army’s onslaught in North Waziristan has been described vividly by Rustam Shah Mohmand, who was earlier Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul and interior secretary. He noted that instead of attacking positions held by the TTP, the army “ordered all towns — densely populated settlements — to be vacated, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to move out, not knowing where they would be headed.
The order was preceded by relentless air bombardment and non-stop curfew in towns and villages. The civilians who perished in the bombardment by fighter jets had to buried after funeral prayers”.
Mohmand’s comments are only a small part of the misery and suffering of hundreds of thousands of hapless Pashtun tribesmen, women and small children, fleeing to safe havens across the tribal areas.
Nawaz Sharif’s leadership is also being challenged, at the instigation of the army, by rivals like Imran Khan, Shujaat Hussain, Pervaiz Elahi and the cleric Tahirul Qadri.
The hapless Sharif appears like a ‘lame duck’ unable to check or influence the army’s links with terrorist groups operating against India and Afghanistan.
Karzai has clearly spelt out what he expects Pakistan should do on terrorism and dialogue with Afghanistan. India should do likewise, and propose hosting a trilateral breakfast meeting of the leaders of India, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the next SAARC Summit.
To get Raheel Sharif involved, India could propose subsequent meetings among army chiefs of the three SAARC countries to discuss and finalise measures to end cross-border terrorism.
(The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan)
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