Real Threat to Sharif and Pakistan

Imran Khan, Not Taliban

07 May, 2014    ·   4429

D Suba Chandran argues that in Pakistan, both the military establishment and Imran Khan have decided to sacrifice political stability for short term gains

It is deja vu in Pakistan. In a matter of month, there has been a dramatic change in the political scenario in terms of relationship between the major institutions and actors within the country.

Consider the following developments and compare it with what had happened a year before. The general elections have been declared successful, with the PML-N government forming the government in Punjab and at the federal level. The main opposition parties – PPP, Imran Khan’s PTI and Altaf Hussain’s MQM to a large extent agreed to the results. The PTI led by Imran Khan though had high expectations, it did not perform badly. Though it could not make a substantial impact at the federal level, it had enough seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to form a government, obviously with support from the PML-N.

The much expected change within the military in terms of choosing the next Chief of Army Staff to replace Gen Kayani also went off smoothly for Nawaz Sharif. Though overlooked few others, the selection of Gen Raheel Sharif was seen as a smooth affair for the elected leadership and also for Nawaz Sharif. Along with the Chief of Army Staff, there was also a change in the Supreme Court; a new Chief Justice replaced the most popular Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Everything seems to be going on the right track for Nawaz Sharif, the only internal problem being the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP). Ever since January this year, there have been numerous attempts even to initiate an internal dialogue with the TTP; initially two committees were formed to represent the TTP and the State. What was even more important for Sharif was to create a political consensus within the Parliament and with the rest of political parties. The government did succeed in creating a consensus within the political elite through All Parties Conference.

Until few weeks earlier, events were looking smoother for Sharif in terms of political stability within. Unfortunately everything has changed in the last few weeks through two events – first the Musharraf trial and the second over the ongoing war between the Establishment and the media.

For the last few weeks, there have been tensions arising between the civilian and military leadership over the proceedings against Musharraf on treason case. Though the case was pursued by the judiciary as a part of its new found activism, thanks to the legacy left by Iftikhar Chaudhry. Did Nawaz Sharif played a role in judiciary’s pursuit against Musharraf is difficult to argue, but the process suited his own objectives in terms of going after the former Commando who had earlier removed him from the Office as well exiled him.

The military perhaps believe that there is a larger conspiracy to use Musharraf trial as an excuse to undermine the role of armed forces in political decision making. Perhaps there is. Perhaps not. Much would depend on who is analysing the issue and from which perspective.

On a parallel development, an attack on one of the leading journalists in Pakistan – Hamid Mir, has been perceived as an attack against the media perpetrated by the ISI. When the media went on an overdrive against the Establishment, the military and its ISI thought there is another conspiracy being hatched against to malign the security forces.

Recent developments in Pakistan have to be interpreted against the above background. Two statements in particular appears more than a mere coincidence. First has been the surprising position taken by Imran Khan; his position is based on two specific points – first that the Jang group of publications, which is in the middle of controversy over the shooting of Hamid Mir, played a role against the PTI, thereby influencing the outcome of the elections, and second the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also played a role against him.

After agreeing to the results of 2013 elections, and forming the government in one of the provinces, the sudden statement by Imran Khan against the Jang group looks more than a coincidence. Not only Imran Khan, even Tahirul Qadri, who entered all of a sudden in Pakistan’s political scene last year with an objective to change the electoral process, is back today, lending his full support to Imran Khan’s protest.

Many within Pakistan consider Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri as closer to the Establishment and a part of their plan to shape the internal politics. Before the elections last year, a substantial section within Pakistan did believe both Qadri and Khan were propped up by the Establishment to counter the PML-N.  If the above is true, then the recent pronouncements by both these leaders will substantially change the course of politics in Pakistan.

It would also mean that the Establishment has decided to strike back against the political leadership led by Nawaz Sharif, using Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri as pawns. Will this initiative succeed? Or is the Establishment using the above only as a pressure tactic against Sharif?

The bigger question that however needs to be addressed is why would Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri be willing to play this game against Nawaz Sharif? And what it means for the future political stability within Pakistan?

It appears clear that Imran and Qadri are willing to play the script written by the Establishment. Perhaps, they have been promised much bigger things within Pakistan’s political structure. Perhaps, the Establishment is planning to use them now and throw later. Whatever may be the larger objectives of the Establishment, what would destabilise Pakistan from within is the proposed agitation against the Sharif led government. It would do no good but create political instability within.

The fact that Imran Khan’s political party is also leading the government in the crucial Khyber Paktunkhwa province also means that the PTI would use the prevailing situation in the tribal regions to its own advantage.

So what is the larger picture emerging in Pakistan? The talks with the TTP are at a crucial stage with the Taliban holding an advantage. Any internal political instability will only increase the hands of the Taliban. Second, any difference between Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif being played in the streets also mean a bigger threat to political instability within Pakistan.

It appears both the Establishment and Imran Khan have decided to sacrifice political stability for short term gains, with the former wanting to establish its own writ and control over the elected leadership. Does the script look similar?

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir