By Jai Kumar Verma*
A few days ago, General Raheel Sharif summoned the whole Pakistani cabinet to the Army Headquarters Rawalpindi to discuss foreign policy as well as security of the country. However, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister was not present in the meeting which indicates that the internal security issues were not significant and that the summoning of the politically chosen Cabinet was to discuss external issues. Nonetheless, even if external issues had to be discussed, the Cabinet meeting could have been held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad.
The analysts mention that General Sharif called the Cabinet meeting in Army Headquarters with the ulterior motive to show the civilian government, public of Pakistan and world at large that the real power continues to lie with the Army, and more specifically, with him.
In the cabinet meeting, the Army chief gave a strident message to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif that the Army is unhappy over Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan, Iran, and most importantly, the United States. Army bosses made it clear that they are dejected over the growing clout of India in the world arena while Pakistan is totally sidelined, and which is the failure of Pakistani foreign policy.
Appointment of Lieutenant General (Retd) Naseer Khan Janjua as the National Security Advisor in place of Sartaz Aziz in October 2015 was also a clear message that Pakistani army has clipped the wings of civilian government.
General Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Iran in January with Prime Minister Sharif also made it obvious that Army does not trust civilian government and the latter is not empowered to take independent decisions of strategic importance.
When Nawaz Sharif took the oath of Prime Minister on June 5, 2013, he told his close confidantes that he will curtail the role of the Army and will ascertain the supremacy of civilian government. It was for this reason that he appointed General Raheel Sharif, a mediocre, as 15th Chief of Army Staff of Pakistani Army after sidelining two capable generals.
General Sharif who was close to Pervez Musharraf soon started diluting the authority of civilian government headed by Nawaz in internal as well as foreign affairs. He also made it clear that no action should be taken against his mentor, Gen. Musharraf.
Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and a religious cleric Tahirul Qadri launched a five month long agitation in 2014 against the Prime Minister on behest of the military-controlled Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with the sole intention of diluting the authority of civilian government. The agitators who were demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister weakened the civilian government, particularly Nawaz Sharif. The agitation ended after interference from the Army, but in the process, the civilian government lost credibility and potency.
Nawaz came to power by announcing that his government would foster friendly relations with India, but the Pakistani army which survives on anti-India rhetoric, did not permit Nawaz to have cordial relations with India. The terrorists trained by rogue ISI attacked Pathankot Air Force Station to fizzle out Foreign Secretary level talks and all the efforts that were being made at the highest echelons to try and usher in an era of cordiality between the two warring nations.
Indian security forces made a foolproof case against Pakistani involvement in terrorist attack on Pathankot Airbase. And thus in retaliation, the ISI arrested Kulbhushan Jadev with malicious intention and alleged that he was Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) agent and was helping the separatists in Balochistan. In this way, the creepy intelligence agency of Pakistan has blocked the way to cultivation of amiable relations between India and Pakistan.
General Sharif who does not have much knowledge of diplomatic norms forced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to meet him at Pakistani army headquarters in November 2014 when Ghani was on a state visit to Pakistan. Visit of head of State of any country to Army Headquarters is unusual, but General Sharif wanted to make it abundantly clear that Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan would be decided by him and not by the civilian government.
Pakistani military has not only taken control of foreign policy towards important countries like India, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc., but has also sidetracked civilian government on important domestic issues. Pakistani military started operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists without seeking permission from the civilian government.
Pakistani army is also taking stringent actions in Balochistan and in the capital of the province of Sindh, Karachi where the ‘suspected’ culprits are eliminated in fake encounters. The civilian government, it seems, is kept from making decisions in matters related to internal security, which however, are ostensibly meant to be its prerogative.
General Sharif dismissed 11 military officers, including a Lieutenant General on charges of corruption. Analysts mention that it is unprecedented, as corruption is rampant in Pakistani army, but that the Army Chief did it only with the intention of sending out a signal to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whose family’s name has surfaced in the infamous Panama leak case. Although Nawaz categorically mentioned that his children are businesspersons and not involved in any wrongdoing, but his position has been weakened considerably in the eyes of the general public who expressed their admiration and support for the move made by the General in trying to weed out corruption from the military structures.
Army has virtually finished the importance of civilian government through Provincial Apex Committees (PACs) which includes local politicians, army top brass, including ISI representatives. In the meetings of PACs, all important decisions are taken by the Army. It is believed that the presence of the civilian representatives within these committees is only for show and that they are there to merely give some political concurrence to the decisions that are taken solely by the Army.
The Pakistani army has not allowed Nawaz to fulfill his pre-election promises, especially peaceful negotiations with Taliban, cordial relations with India and legal action against Musharraf.
Army, which knows well that Kashmir issue cannot be solved early, made it the most prominent issue with India. Secondly, although the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference have no following in the Valley, the Pakistani High Commissioner in India, Abdul Basit on instructions from army, projects them as the real representative of Kashmir- which is a farce.
General Sharif who is a hawk and lost his elder brother in 1971 war with India will never allow Pakistan to have cordial relations with India. General Sharif has successfully generated an atmosphere which is disposed against the civilian government and weakened it so much that even if army takes over there will be no resentment. But analysts feel that there is no need for army to take over as army is controlling the civilian government. Army has put restrictions on media, civil rights are violated, and army has started its own courts to try terrorists.
General Sharif has slowly but steadily reduced Nawaz government into a lame-duck government. The military has weakened the civilian government not only in matters related to the internal security of the country, but it has also managed to wrest concerns related to foreign policy especially vis-à-vis some important countries with it. Civilian government was not allowed to cultivate cordial relations with India and all efforts made by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, have been sabotaged to a great extent. In fact, political leaders were compelled to regurgitate the military stance against India, and which is that of persisting animosity. The strength of the civilian government has been curtailed to the extent that it cannot even take independent decisions on trade, energy, economic cooperation; what to say about terrorism, cross-border terrorism, etc.
*Jai Kumar Verma is an independent analyst on Indian security concerns. He can be reached at: [email protected]