By Nauman Sadiq
In a momentous decision on 28 July, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from holding public office by the country’s Supreme Court on the flimsy pretext of holding an ‘Iqama’ (a work permit) for a Dubai-based company. Although it is generally assumed the revelations in the Panama Papers, that Nawaz Sharif and his family members own offshore companies, led to the ignominious downfall of the prime minister, but another important factor that contributed to the dismissal is often overlooked.
In October last year, Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, Dawn News, published an exclusive report  dubbed as the ‘Dawn Leaks’ in Pakistan’s press. In the report titled ‘Act against militants or face international isolation,’ citing an advisor to the Prime Minister, Tariq Fatemi, who has since been fired from his job for disclosing the internal deliberations of a high-level meeting to the media, the author of the report Cyril Almeida contended that in a huddle of Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, the civilians had told the military’s top brass to withdraw its support from the militant outfits operating in Pakistan, specifically from the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
After losing tens of thousands of lives to terror attacks during the last decade, an across the board consensus has developed among Pakistan’s mainstream political parties that the policy of nurturing militants against regional adversaries has backfired on Pakistan and it risks facing international isolation due to the belligerent policies of Pakistan’s security establishment. Not only Washington but Pakistan’s ‘all-weather ally’ China, which plans to invest $62 billion in Pakistan via its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, has also made its reservations public regarding Pakistan’s continued support to the aforementioned jihadist groups.
Thus, excluding a handful of far-right Islamist political parties that are funded by the Gulf’s petro-dollars and historically garner less than 10% votes of Pakistan’s electorate, all the civilian political forces are in favor of turning a new leaf in Pakistan’s checkered political history by endorsing the decision of an indiscriminate crackdown on militant outfits operating in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s military establishment jealously guards its traditional domain, the security and foreign policy of Pakistan, and still maintains a distinction between so-called ‘good and bad Taliban.’
It’s worth noting that there are three distinct categories of militants operating in Pakistan: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants; and the transnational terrorists, like al-Qaeda, which number only in a few hundreds and are hence insignificant. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly comprised of Pashtun militants, carries out bombings against Pakistan’s state apparatus. The ethnic factor is critical here.
Although TTP likes to couch its rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity that enables it to recruit Pashtun tribesmen who are willing to carry out subversive activities against the Punjabi-dominated state apparatus, while the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants have by and large remained loyal to their patrons in the security establishment of Pakistan.
Although Pakistan’s security establishment has been willing to conduct military operations against the TTP militants which are deemed as security threat to Pakistan’s state apparatus, but as far as the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Afghanistan-focused Quetta Shura Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, are concerned, they are still enjoying impunity because such militant groups are regarded as ‘strategic assets’ by the security establishment.
Therefore, the Sharif administration’s decision that Pakistan must act against the jihadist proxies of the security establishment or risk facing international isolation ruffled the feathers of the military’s top brass, and consequently, the country’s judiciary was used to disqualify an elected prime minister in order to browbeat the civilian leadership of Pakistan.
Historically, from the massacres in Bangladesh in 1971 to the training and arming of jihadists during the Soviet-Afghan war throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and then launching ill-conceived military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas under Washington’s pressure, which led to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, the single biggest issue in Pakistan has been the interference of army in politics. Unless Pakistanis are able to establish civilian supremacy in Pakistan, it would become a rogue state which will pose a threat to the regional peace as well as its own citizenry.
For 33 years of its 70-year-long history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the security establishment has kept dictating Pakistan’s foreign and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971; during General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists; and during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under Washington’s pressure and declared a war against the Pashtun militants that ignited the fires of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Although most political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist general, Zia-ul-Haq, responsible for the jihadist militancy in tribal areas; however, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia; all the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
A strategic rethink in Pakistan army’s top brass took place only after 9/11, when Richard Armitage threatened General Musharraf in so many words: “We will send you back to the Stone Age unless you stop supporting the Taliban.” Thus, deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it has been a well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution. The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and aggressive approach to foreign affairs and security-related matters. Therefore, as a matter of principle, military must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.
Finally, the rule of law, more than anything, implies the supremacy of the law: that all institutions must work within the ambit of the constitution. The first casualty of the martial law, however, is the constitution itself, because it abrogates the supreme law of the land. All other laws derive their authority from the constitution, and when the constitution itself has been abrogated, then the only law that prevails is the law of the jungle.
If the armed forces of a country are entitled to abrogate “a piece of paper,” known as the constitution under the barrel of a gun, then by the same logic, thieves and robbers are also entitled to question the legitimacy of civil and criminal codes, which derive their authority from the constitution.