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#4643, 4 September 2014

Impending or Embedded Coup in Pakistan?

The Military’s Script and Endgame
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

Is there a coup imminent in Pakistan? Or has it already taken place behind the scenes and the military is well embedded?

Javed Hashmi, the President of the PTI who has now distanced from Imran Khan has made few important statements hinting a script authored by the Establishment on the current political crisis in Pakistan. What is this script and what is Pakistan military’s endgame in the current crisis? Does the military want the political crisis to escalate further and finally take over, justifying the inability and incompetence of the elected leadership to provide governance, and more importantly stability?
Though the ISPR statements from the military have distanced from such an intention, there is enough to suspect that the Establishment has a script, and is enacting a political play in carefully calibrated steps. There are three major actors in this script; Nawaz Sharif – the Prime Minister and the leader of the PML-N; Imran Khan – the leader of PTI; and Tahirul Qadri – the leader of PAT.

The ISPR statement dated 31 August was a crucial hinting two salient points. The release after the Corps Commanders meeting stated that “the conference reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives. Further use of force will only aggravate the problem. It was once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means.”

The two parties to the crisis-government led by Sharif and the protesters led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, have been following two different approaches. The government has been trying to maintain the status quo at the political level, and ensure there is no violence in the streets. The protesters, right from day one have been trying to upset the status, demanding nothing less than the resignation of an elected Prime Minister. More importantly, they were willing to use force to occupy the red zone and blast into government buildings including the office of the Prime Minister.

Clearly, there is a section trying to maintain status quo (the government in this case); and another trying to upset the equilibrium and create anarchy. By clearly telling that “the situation should be resolved politically… without recourse to violent means” the ISPR statement has affected the position of the government and strengthened that of the protesters. If there is one party that could use force constitutionally, it is the State. And the ISPR Statement clearly equates both at the same length.

Majority in Pakistan, though are not satisfied with the performance of Sharif’s government ever since it took over, they are also highly critical of Imran Khan – Tahirul Qadri interference, which is not only undemocratic, but also is a political blackmail. Javed Hashmi’s statements hint about a possible understanding between the Establishment and the two protesters.

Back to the original question, what is military’s script? And what is its Endgame?
In retrospect, it appears to have started with the political trial of Musharraf. Though the military then under Gen Kayani and now under Gen Sharif did not make any overt references to the trial process, it is obvious no military could see their former COAS being dragged by the court. It also appears, again in retrospect, that Nawaz Sharif could have gone slow in pursuing the case against Musharraf. Sharif wanted to return the favour and wanted Musharraf to go through what he underwent after the previous coup in the late 1990s. A section within Pakistan even discussed the need for reconciliation and avoiding any vendetta politics. Sharif could have avoided the trial and let Musharraf disappear into oblivion. Given the electoral process and the performance of Musharraf’s clique in 2013 elections and the popular anger against him, he posed no threat to Sharif and his government. He should have let Musharraf alone. And that is what the military also wanted.

To be fair to Sharif, it was not only him who was against Musharraf, but the entire judicial structure starting from the former Chief Justice – Iftikhar Chaudhry to the lawyers in district court were keen to prosecute him. In fact the lawyer movement which was instrumental in dethroning Musharraf worked over time to ensure the trial process became intense. At the popular level, Musharraf became the scapegoat for whatever had gone wrong during his tenure. The print, electronic and social media joined the chorus; the result was the “hang Musharraf hand” slogan became the dominant political discourse during 2013-14.Though there was a popular sentiment against Musharraf, Sharif today is reaping the whirlwind.

Differences between Nawaz Sharif and the military have started expanding ever since. The Hamid Mir and Geo TV incidents only strengthened this divide. Nawaz Sharif was seen by the Establishment as an actor behind the Hamid Mir affair in which the military and its ISI was projected and targeted by a section publicly within Pakistan. While targeting of Musharraf could be tolerated, the Establishment would never like to see it being hounded by the media in public; when the serving ISI Chief became the target and his picture shown continuously, that too live over the attack on Hamid Mir, the military and its intelligence agencies would have decided to strike back.

Then came a short interregnum – Modi’s election and the invitation to his swearing in ceremony in New Delhi. According to reports, the military was not too keen in Sharif taking part in the ceremony. Earlier, Sharif has made numerous statements during the election campaign to improve the Indo-Pak dialogue process. For Sharif, better Indo-Pak relations would give him better leverage internally within Pakistan, and give him more space to manoeuvre vis-a-vis the Establishment.

The decision to strike back at Sharif should have been taken place immediately after the Musharraf trial, and then during Hamid Mir/Geo incidents. The sudden return of Tahirul Qadri to launch a revolution and Imran Khan finding faults with the 2013 election process in 2014 is no coincidence. It would be a different issue, whether the Establishment is using these two protesters to teach Sharif a lesson, or the Imran and Qadri using the military’s support to achieve their own Endgame.
So what would the military warn to achieve? Look at what is has achieved so far. There is complete chaos in the capital. Reports in print, electronic and social media would highlight the popular anger against the political leadership and their inability to co-habit. The first major achievement for the Establishment in the entire process would be the thorough discrediting of elected leaders and the democratic process.
Second, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Establishment is attempting to reach an agreement with Sharif to diffuse the situation, which would ensure that the military would be in charge with Pakistan’s policies towards US, Afghanistan and India.

Third, irrespective of coup, the political leadership both at the ruling and opposition sides know clearly who the real boss is. When the judiciary asked the protesters to vacate, there was no response; but both Qadri and Imran went to meet the military leaders, when they were summoned. The government, though armed with Constitutional provisions and even a support within the Parliament have been reluctant to take action. Certainly – neither the Parliamentary nor the Judiciary is supreme. The GHQ is.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir

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