By Sumit Walia*
Except for a few years of its history of 68 years, it has been the Pakistani Army (and not Pakistani Air Force or Pakistani Navy, but just Pakistani Army) that has ruled this country – both in direct ways and indirectly. There can be no doubt about this observation, since Pakistan has either seen the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in the front seat holding the wheel, or as the one pulling the strings of the ‘democratically’ elected civilian government. And, no one knows this fact better than the current PM of Pakistan – Nawaz Sharif.
It is his third term as the Prime Minister. During the 1980s, he was supported by `internal wing` of the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that gave rise to his political career. He became thye PM on November 1, 1990 but developed some differences with President Ghulam Ishaq khan, who attempted to dismiss him on corruption charges. When the situation worsened, the then Pakistani Army Chief, Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar persuaded both of them to step down.
During his second term as PM, he dared to assert more civilian control and on October 6, 1998, he asked for the resignation of the then Pakistani Army Chief, Gen Jahagir Karamat because the General was making public statements advocating giving greater role to Pakistani Army in policy making. After Karamat’s resignation, PM Sharif appointed Gen Pervez Musharraf as COAS superseding two senior general officers. Perhaps, PM Sharif had hoped to have a more compliant COAS in Musharraf, but it did not happen. Gen Karamat’s resignation and appointment of his chosen candidate gave a false sense of confidence and security to PM Sharif. He dared to initiate peace process with India and invited Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore. This did not go down well with the Pakistani Army and what followed was the Kargil war.
Later in October 1999, while Gen Musharraf was in Sri Lanka on an official visit, PM Sharif again dared and decided to replace Gen Musharraf with Gen Zia-ud-din Bhatt, but the whole process ended in a coup and Gen Pervez Musharraf assumed control of Pakistan.
Fast forwarding to 2013, Sharif became PM for the third time on June 7, 2013 after getting a huge mandate in the general elections. Soon came the tough time when he had to appoint a new Army Chief. In an interview given to Karan Thapar, Sharif said that he will go by the book while appointing the next chief. But again on November 27, 2013, he appointed Gen Raheel Sharif the new Army Chief, superseding two others.
History repeats itself when men repeat their mistakes. Perhaps, PM Nawaz Sharif expected Gen Sharif to be more compliant, partially because PM overlooked two senior officers while appointing Gen Shreef as COAS and partially because of Gen Sharif’s balanced political views and his background. Gen Sharif had never commanded any Pakistani Army corp. After commanding 11th Infantry Division, he became commandant of Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), Kakul and then Inspector General of Training & Evaluation as Lt. General. But within a year, it started becoming clear where the centre of power exists in Pakistan.
First major sign came when Nawaz Sharif government decided to begin the trial of Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf. Gen Musharraf was charged with treason for his decision of suspending the constitution and imposing emergency in Nov 2007. Pakistan Army, including Gen Sharif, was against the trial. Gen Sharif has a close relationship with Gen Musharraf because the latter was course mate of Gen Sharif’s brother – late Maj Shabeer Sharif (Nishan-e-Haider).
As per law, it was necessary to get Gen Musharraf appear in the court room to read charges against him. But, it is not an easy task in Pakistan to get a serving or a retired General to the court room. In December 2013, after months of notices and pressure when Gen Musharraf started from his home toward the court, he developed a `heart problem` on the way. Instead of going to near-by hospital, his caravan drove for about 45 minutes to reach Army Hospital where he stayed for next 6 weeks under Army’s protection. During these 6 weeks, civil government and judiciary virtually had no access to Gen Muharaff and Pakistani army did whatever it could to persuade civil government to back off and drop the charges.
Today, Gen Musharraf lives peacefully in Karachi in a compound of 20 houses which are heavily guarded by men in uniform. No one can meet him without Army’s permission!
Second clear sign appeared in November 2014, when the newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani came to Pakistan. It was his first visit to Pakistan after assuming office and he drove straight to General Head Quarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi instead of meeting his counterpart in Islamabad. This was a clear indication of what other countries think about who has more control in Pakistan. And this is why, through an article in Financial Times, China has asked Pakistan govt to give lead role to Army in CPEC project.
Then came the terror attack on APS School, Peshawar which shifted the centre of power towards Gen Sharif decisively. On November 16, 2014, armed terrorists attacked APS School in Peshawar and mercilessly killed 132 students. A cowardly and inhumane act that shook entire world.
On December 17, Gen Sharif & ISI head Gen Rizwan Akhtar flew to Kabul to meet Afghan and US officials. Gen Sharif met Aghan President to inform him that the APS school attackers came from Afghanistan and that the terrorist organization, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is using the Afghan soil against Pakistan. He sought the handover of TTP head Mullah Fazallulah to Pakistan.
On December 25, 2014, an All Party Conference (APC) was called on Pakistan Army’s initiative and it was decided to setup Army courts in Pakistan for the trial of captured terrorists in the whole of Pakistan. National Action Plan was formulated and approved. Soon after that, Pakistani Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb which was launched without proper approval from civilian government. All this, aaccording to Aqil Shah, the author of The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan, “effectively took away the initiative from the civilians and handed it over on a platter to the military”.
This was not the first or only meeting of Gen Sharif with a head of the State in which he discussed matters related to Pakistan’s national security and economic projects. Generally, such discussions are held between Foreign Secretary or Foreign Minister or Head of the states, but clearly, the Pakistani Army is the real Foreign Ministry in Pakistan. Gen Sharif has visited a number of important capitals of the world like Washington DC, London, Riyad, Tehran, Istanbul, Beijing, Kabul, Dubai, etc. where he met PMs, FMs, Presidents and, of course, his counterparts too.
Recently in May 2016, the Torkham border crossing on Pak-Afghan border was closed because the Pakistani forces were fencing the border post to control the cross-border traffic. Afghan forces objected to fencing as Afghanistan does not recognize the Durand Line. Afghan ambassador in Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal met Pakistani government a number of times to get the Torkham border re-opened for people, but there was no progress. Finally, he went to GHQ and met Gen Sharif and the border post was opened on the same day!
Same is the case of Angur Ada check post that Pakistan’s army built around one year ago to monitor cross-border traffic. As Afghanistan has never accepted the Durand line, this post had become a bone of contention back then as well. In May 2016, Pakistani Army handed over the check post to Afghan authorities in an attempt to improve mutual trust. But, the civilian government was not even informed, forget about taking their permission. Federal Interior Minister got to know about this handover from tweets of DG of Inter-Services Public Relations and from subsequent media reports. His first reaction to the media was that he will take up matter with the PM and will get it enquired but again, as usual, nothing of that sort happened.
A month earlier, in April 2016, Gen Sharif sacked 6 senior Army officers on charges of corruption. This was unprecedented in Pakistan and was seen as a sign of things moving in the right direction. Two days before the sacking these officers, Gen Sharif had given a stern warning, maintaining that “across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan”.
Analysts see this warning followed by sacking of army officers as a way to bring current Pakistani government, which is struggling with Panama Paper leaks, under pressure. Otherwise, officers could have been sacked following the court martial without making such public statements.
Nowhere in the sane world, will one see an Army chief doing all this. And, ironically, Pakistani media projects it as a necessary swift action taken by Gen Sharif and criticize elected government for not having done the same. It is well known in the different power corridors of the world that Pakistan’s foreign policy is not just influenced by GHQ but is governed by GHQ. But GHQ’s quest is not limited to foreign policy. It is not ready to sacrifice its share in domestic power structures they have enjoying for more than 6 decades. GHQ simply does not trust any political party; they like to have close watch on government’s policy and pull the strings wherever find necessary. It became very much visible when Pakistan’s army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb and then operations in Karachi and Balochistan as well. They are conducting military operations in every state of Pakistan except Punjab; the province from which most of the Army men (officers and other ranks) hail from. There are hundreds of sanctuaries of religious extremism in the form of madrassa in southern Punjab. Sections of media and politicians have been demanding military operation there as well, but the civilian government has neither the power nor the guts to ask army to march in there.
As per New York Times latest report, posters urging Gen Raheel Sharif to take over the country (“For God’s sake, take over”) were put up in some of the major cities of Pakistan. What was more interesting than their appearance was the number of days for which they stayed up! Few analysts believe that there is no direct hand of agencies (read ISI & ISPR) in having these posters pasted everywhere, but scholars like Aqil Shah disagree. As per Shah, ISI & ISPR are behind the popularity campaigns being run on news channels, talk shows, social media & newspapers. Through these campaigns, Gen Sharif has been projected as an upright, honest and courageous leader who is battling (& winning) Pakistan’s war against terrorism & corruption. One who is leading the country onto right path instead of the corrupt and selfish politicians who are busy making money for themselves.
Perhaps these are the reasons that Nawaz Sharif, after his return to Pakistan following an open-heart surgery in UK, has been championing ‘Kashmir’s freedom movement` and has started waiting for the day when `Kashmir banega Pakistan`. He definitely has something to fear. He surely would not like to see a repeat of what happened to him during his first and second term, and it seems that he would not mind inviting regional and international disapprovals to save his seat domestically.
*Sumit Walia is an IT specialist.He can be contacted at: [email protected]