It was a year ago that a former Pakistani senator confided to me that the “country is at war with itself.” Bushra Gohar, a then-senator of the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was referring to the widening divide between the civilian government and the military establishment on issues ranging from the pro-Taliban policies to dispute resolution with neighbors and ties with the United States.
Pakistan’s war with itself is gradually becoming more visible with each passing day, particularly since the hastily-decided disqualification of the thrice-elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif on charges of hiding assets, in this case a salary that he never received, in July this year.
Since then, the hawks in Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party seldom let an opportunity to express their angst go, using terms like “conspirators,” “secret hands,” and “invisible powers” to euphemistically reference the country’s powerful military establishment and intelligence services.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The party has also taken to including the top judiciary while continuing their complaints against the military. Opposition politicians, on the other hand, praise the army and the judges — giving an impression of an unseen war between the three powerful state institutions.
On October 2 during a court hearing where former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was appearing to face charges of corruption, Ahsan Iqbal, the interior minister, did not mince words in expressing his anger when stopped by the Rangers paramilitary force from attending the court proceedings.
“There will be one law here and one government… two states cannot function within one state,” an enraged Iqbal told media outside the court. He went on to ask “is this a banana republic or a constitutional republic?” And state, “I cannot be a puppet interior minister.”
Iqbal’s October 2 comments resonated with those of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who delivered an angry speech in December 2011, saying “conspirators are planning to bring down the elected government but the people have the right to decide whether they want democracy or dictatorships.”
An otherwise soft-spoken Gilani was upset at rumors that his government was under threat after differences with the military generals in the aftermath of the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden close to the military garrison at Abbotabad by the United States.
“There can be no state within the state… no institution can say that it is not under the government.”, Gilani said. His statements were viewed as a finger pointed squarely at the army and intelligence services.
Hardly six months after his “state within state” remarks, Gilani was disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in June 2012, which some Pakistani commentators termed as “judicial dictatorship” and punishment for Gilani’s remarks.
Since his election in May 2013, Nawaz Sharif continued trespassing the undeclared but nevertheless well-defined “no go” zones for civilian leadership, elected or otherwise, and tried to assert the civilian writ in areas that the country’s strong military leadership sees as its private domain.
Some of Sharif’s actions, seen in the military circles as a challenge, included his visit to attend the oath-taking ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his statements supporting better trade ties with India and Afghanistan; his government’s move to get former military dictator Pervez Musharraf punished under the law for his “unconstitutional” steps; and his refusal to extend the service period of former chief of army staff Raheel Sharif.
The recent tensions in Islamabad is would seem to be between the top judiciary and the government led by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, but the pro-Sharif political leadership is also pointing accusing fingers at the country’s intelligence agencies and the military leadership without naming an individual or the specific institution.
The statements, mostly from Sharif side, are becoming more serious and stubborn. With each passing day the gap widens between the military and civilian leadership on key policy matters, be that the fight against militant groups, dispute resolution and trade with India and Afghanistan, or relations with the United States.
In a tit-for-tat response to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, which also disqualified him from leading the party, the party passed and signed into law the Election Act of 2017 on October 2 to enable the ousted prime minister to lead his party again. Sharif was elected president of the Muslim League unopposed the next day.
Addressing his party workers and leaders soon after his election as president of the Pakistan Muslim League party, Sharif said “we learned nothing from the fall of Dhaka,” an oft-repeated remark which refers to Pakistan’s dismemberment in 1971. Pakistani politicians blame the military leadership for the debacle that led to the loss of what is now Bangladesh.
Political gimmicks apart, the civilian and military leadership also disagree over the country’s approach towards the various militant groups believed to be operating in Pakistan.
A candidate of the banned Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the second incarnation of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT), took part in a bi-election and ended up fourth in the contest where the wife of the ousted premier Nawaz Sharif was the lead candidate. Amjad Shuaib, a retired lieutenant general and a vocal supporter of the armed forces against the politicians, said during a television talk show last month that the military had presented a plan to mainstream the militant outfits but the civilian authorities (i.e. then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) had turned it down.
The banned JuD was launched into politics under the banner of Milli Muslim League (MML) with a nod from the security establishment despite opposition from civilian authorities. Of course, one of Nawaz Sharif’s points of discord with the security establishment was the policy of “good” and “bad” Taliban.
Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif, who is believed to be one of the closest confidantes of the ex-premier, termed Hafiz Saeed of the JuD a “liability,” a comment that infuriated many in the security circles. Saeed is wanted in India for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and also by the United States, carrying a bounty of $10 million.
Speaking at the Asia Society in New York last month, Asif said, “It is very easy to say that Pakistan is supporting Haqqanis and Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Tayeba. They are liabilities. I accept that they are liabilities.”
Although Pakistan has walked a long and tricky road since the last military coup d’état in October 1999, the country has yet to see or expect civilian supremacy in its true sense. Incompetence, corruption, patronage and dynastic politics with opportunistic approaches among political parties and their leadership are a few of the major hindrances in achieving the goal of real civilian supremacy.
“The military has a history of involvement in Pakistan [politics]. Their role [in politics] is not something new. Political interference is always there, but that does not mean the military is responsible for every wrong,” Senator Saleem Mandviwalla of the Pakistan People’s Party told me on October 3.
Ironically, it was not long ago when the People’s Party co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari lashed out at the military establishment for their “interference” in political matters.
“If you do not stop, I will come out with a list of accused generals since Pakistan’s creation,” he said in the hard-hitting speech in June 2015.
Pakistan’s political temperature is reaching a high, with the warring sides the state’s key organs. These developments do not inspire an optimistic outlook for country still struggling to eliminate the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.
Daud Khattak is Senior Editor for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty’s Pashto language Mashaal Radio. Before joining RFE/RL, Khattak worked for The News International and London’s Sunday Times in Peshawar, Pakistan. He has also worked for Pajhwok Afghan News in Kabul. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.
Pakistan - Politics
Pakistanis often complain that they are ruled by Allah, America, and the Army. The army generals are in charge of Pakistan; they have a firm grip over defense and security policies, foreign affairs, and internal matters. There had been a struggle between the army and Nawaz Sharif for quite some time. During his second term as prime minister in the early 1990s, Sharif attempted to remove a military chief but instead had to resign himself. In 1999, Sharif replaced then army chief Pervez Musharraf,but army commanders launched a coup against Sharif, and Musharraf came to power. By 2016 Sharif faced much the same dilemma.Pakistan's political system is broken: its political parties are ineffective, functioning for decades as instruments of two families, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, two clans, both corrupt. Voting in Pakistan is intensely personal, with parties gathering votes primarily through allegiance to an individual candidate who is either a feudal or has a proven ability to deliver services.
The Bhutto-Zardari axis may be considered "left leaning," while the Sharif brothers may be considered "right leaning." The Sharifs are much closer to Pakistan's military, and to Pakistan's Muslim fundamentalists. Punjabi, the Sharifs represent Pakistan's major ethnic bloc, and the devout Sunni Sharif has an advantage over the Bhuttos, who have Shiite ties.Pakistan held successful elections in February 2008 and had a coalition government. Voting in Pakistan is intensely personal, with parties gathering votes primarily through allegiance to an individual candidate who is either a feudal or has a proven ability to deliver services. Pakistan is a developing country with some modern facilities in major cities but limited in outlying areas. The infrastructure of areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) regions were devastated by an October 8, 2005, earthquake and have not yet been fully rebuilt. Massive flooding in 2010 destroyed infrastructure throughout the Indus River valley.
Pakistan continues to face extraordinary challenges on the security and law enforcement front. The country has suffered greater military, law enforcement, and civilian casualties in fighting extremism and terrorism than almost any other country. In the midst of this difficult security situation, Pakistan's civilian government remains weak, ineffectual, and corrupt.
Pakistan's long term stability depends more and more upon the government's willingness to confront difficult economic policy choices it has long sought to avoid. Pakistan must begin to address a breadth of economic challenges that would overwhelm many emerging economies: overhauling the tax infrastructure, eliminating over $4 billion in circular debt in its energy sector, altering revenue sharing agreements among the provinces and the Federal Government, reversing a contraction in consumer credit and expanding financial access, removing price controls in commodity markets, preventing a crisis in water distribution, and breaking Pakistan's dependence on external financial support.
A number of extremist groups within Pakistan continue to target US citizens and other Western interests and Pakistani officials. Terrorists have demonstrated a willingness and capability to attack targets where U.S. citizens are known to congregate or visit. Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombings -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjackings, assaults, and kidnappings. Pakistani military forces are currently engaged in a campaign against extremist elements across many areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, formerly known as Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). In response to this campaign, militants have increased attacks against both civilian and government targets in Pakistan’s cities and in late 2010 launched several coordinated attacks against Pakistani government and civilian targets, especially in Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies.
By 2011 children of the country’s leading political figures were stepping out of their parents’ shadows and into the public realm. Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and wife of PML-N MNA Capt (Retd) Safdar, made her political debut in November 2011 while addressing a women’s convention. The 38-year-old defended her family against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan’s ‘asset declaration’ campaign. Defending her father, Maryam said had Nawaz completed his second term, he would have made Pakistan an economic power at par with Malaysia, Turkey and Singapore. Nawaz Sharif had groomed Member of the Provincial Assembly Hamza Shahbaz [Hamza Sharif], son of the Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, for a future political role. Hamza, 40, was rocked by a succession of scandals. He was alleged to have amassed billions through speculative trading in the poultry industry. His problems were compounded when Ayesha Ahad Malik claimed she was Hamza’s legitimate wife. Maryam’s stepping out for her family and taking on a political role suggested Nawaz Sharif was not happy with the conduct and performance of Hamza Shahbaz. PML-N observers were of the view that Maryam was a far better option than Hamza Shahbaz.
The only son of assassinated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto told hundreds of thousands of supporters on December 27, 2012, the fifth anniversary of his mother's death, that he would carry forward her legacy, an appearance designed to anoint him as a political heir. "I am the heir to the martyr," Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 24, told the crowd in the southern province of Sindh, referring to his mother and to his grandfather, the founder of the current ruling party who was hanged by a former military ruler. "If you kill one Bhutto, there will be a Bhutto in every house.'' Bhutto was joined by hundreds of high-ranking officials, including the current president, his father Asif Zardari, to commemorate his mother's killing in a gun and suicide attack during a 2007 political campaign rally. He was still not old enough to contest the elections scheduled for spring 2013 - the minimum age is 25. Bhutto, who has his mother's good looks, would only turn 25 in September 2013.
Violence, abuse, and social and religious intolerance by militant organizations and other nongovernmental actors contributed to a culture of lawlessness in some parts of the country, particularly the provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP, formerly known as the North West Frontier Province), and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Militant and terrorist bombings in all four provinces and in the FATA resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, during the year 2013 terrorist and extremist attacks and operations to combat insurgency resulted in 4,369 deaths, of which nearly 2,413 were civilians, more than 544 were security forces, and more than 1,412 were terrorists or insurgents.
Mumtaz Qadri was executed in February 2016 at the order of the Islamabad High Court five years after he assassinated a liberal Punjab governor over his calls to reform the country's blasphemy laws. Thousands of hard-line Islamists rallied in the heart of the Pakistani capital for four days to denounce Qadri's execution and to call for the introduction of strict Shari'a law in Pakistan. The sit-in protest ended on 31 March 2016 after protest leaders said they were given assurances that controversial blasphemy laws would not be amended and more than 1,000 Islamists detained by police during the protest would be released. The government, however, denied it had acceded to any of the protesters' demands.
The PM found himself in a difficult situation following the April 2016 "revelations" made by the so-called Panama Papers. Leaked documents show that three of the prime minister's children had links with offshore companies that owned properties in London. One clear sign of the political pressure felt by the Sharif family from the Panama Paper scandal was that the family reportedly discussed the possibility of the prime minister stepping down for two three months while an independent commission conducted an inquiry. One possible replacement could be Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. In case the PM’s post needs to be filled until the 2018 elections then getting Shahbaz Sharif or Ishaq Dar elected as members of the National Assembly and then getting them elected PM was also considered by the family.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office and on 28 July 2017 ordered him to step down immediately. The ruling noted that “having failed to disclose his un-withdrawn receivables constituting (overseas) assets" in his nomination papers filed for the 2013 elections and “having furnished false declaration under solemn affirmation….Sharif is not honest…and therefore he is disqualified" to be a member of parliament. The corruption case against Sharif stemmed from leaked financial documents, known as the Panama Papers, that also listed three children of the Pakistani leader as holders of offshore accounts and posh London property.
Nawaz Sharif served as prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s but allegations of corruption and mismanagement of economy led to his ouster from power on both the occasions. His last government in 1999 was dislodged by a bloodless military coup, and Sharif was later exiled to Saudi Arabia. He returned to Pakistan in late 2007. His party won the 2013 national elections, bringing Sharif to power for a record third time in the troubled democratic history of a country that has experienced three military coups.
Pakistan’s ruling party appointed an interim chief executive of the country 29 July 2017, raising opposition complaints, a day after the Supreme Court ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for concealing assets. Sharif, 67, chaired an emergency meeting of his Pakistan Muslim League-N party in Islamabad, where leaders selected former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as his successor for a short term of 45 days. Abbasi still must pass a vote of confidence by the parliament before assuming office.
Abbasi was to only serve till Shehbaz Sharif could contest his brother’s vacated national Assembly seat. But Shehbaz’s decision to nominate his son Hamza as the next chief minister of Punjab province is believed to have angered his brother. Nawaz was reportedly looking at his daughter Maryam Nawaz to head Punjab. There were also rumors that Nawaz was preparing Maryam to take up the premiership post, which created an alleged rift between the Sharif brothers.
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