Pakistan: Nawaz's Problems are Manifold

26 Sep, 2013    ·   4127

Shujaat Bukhari examines the foremost concerns facing the Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

Smooth transition of democracy in Pakistan in May had raised the hopes of stability in a country that has been grappling with militant extremism for more than 12 years now. With Nawaz Sharif coming back to power for a record third term, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led government too had set the record of first ever democratic government completing its term in office, albeit with many ups and downs. However, setting the traditional power center of Army aside and braving the threats of terrorists, Pakistani people had reposed faith in the ballot. Nawaz came to power at a time when Pakistan was going through tough times. Not so good relations with its traditional cold war time ally United States of America, renewed hostility with the bitter neighbour India, looming threat of destabilization at the hands of extremists such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), bad economy and growing unemployment were some bullet points of bad legacy he inherited from the PPP government.

However, his returning to the saddle was significant in many ways and that is why it invigorated hope about a “better” Pakistan. Since an Army General ousted him, Nawaz’s return through a democratic process was more than symbolic. The PPP led government had failed to overcome the heap of problems and continuously remained under attack from all sides. But Nawaz was considered to be close to the forces where from the extremism has taken birth. His and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf were only two parties, which were spared, in deadly attacks during the elections. So there was subtle message that Nawaz was “acceptable” to them. Before his election, Pakistan was divided in fighting the terrorism. PPP government had left everything to Army and it allowed itself to be under threat. This created a gap in the decision making thus continuously taking a huge toll in Pakistan.

Peace Moves
So Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to inch towards reconciliation with TTP were on expected lines. Since TTP has major base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where PTI is in power, both Pakistan Muslim League (N) and PTI were almost on same page. The resolution passed on September 9 in All Parties Conference in Islamabad, in which even Balouch nationalists took part, had set out an agenda for peace talks with TTP. Both PML (N) and PTI are believed to favour sympathetic disposition towards militancy. That is why the APC agreed to unconditional talks with TTP. They were referred to as “our people”.
However, much before the talks could begin, TTP upped its ante and killed a Major General, and an accompanying lieutenant colonel and a non-commissioned officer besides 16 other people in a deadly attack on September 15 in Malakand division. While both the civilian government and Army was yet to come out of that shock, a week later they hit a Church in Peshawar killing nearly 80 Christians after a Sunday service. The Peshwar attack is significant for two reasons. One that this minority was targeted after 11 years, the last wave of blasts hitting their institutions was seen in 2002, soon after the September 11 attacks in US. The other one that shortly after the attack, Nawaz Sharif was scheduled to head to New York to attend the UN general Assembly. So the successive attacks within a week, has created more opponents for talks with TTP rather than widening the scope of reconciliation.

Nawaz Sharif is surely on back foot as he will have to explain this “tragedy” to Americans and also will have to convince his Army back home. Army did not react to Malakand attack in view of civilian government’s keenness to go ahead with peace efforts, despite the provocation. Not only would be Army unhappy over these developments, but there are Independent voices which have shown concern over this long rope the PML (N) has extended to TTP. Many believe that it was “unconstitutional” since TTP does not respect the Pakistani constitution. “It is settled principle that the authority vested in state functionaries is the authority delegated to them by people and must be exercised as a sacred trust within limits prescribed by constitution,” Babar Sattar, a senior lawyer, wrote in Dawn.

TTP does not believe that it has to lose anything even if talks fail as they draw their strength from societal roots based on religious denominational linkages, anti-US feelings and failure of government to offer an alternative to militant narrative. In both ways they are in a winnable situation, but government is destined to lose its face.

Change of Guard
Another major challenge Nawaz Sharif is facing is to who will be the next Chief of Army Staff since General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani is retiring in November. Government has discounted the reports of an extension to him. Although Kiyani becoming the National Security Adviser is not ruled out, the moot question is, whether the transition in General Headquarters (GHQ) would be smooth. Grapevine is that Nawaz Sharif would go by seniority. Precisely to ward off any controversy or pressure about the new choice, he has kept the Defence portfolio with him. But in Pakistan it is not that easy for a civilian ruler to choose the new Chief without any major hurdle. Past experiences have shown that both Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif fell victims to their own choice, even after ignoring the seniority when they picked up Zia ul Haq and Parvez Musharraf respectively.

This time, however, the case is becoming stronger for following seniority to lend stability to procedures. This time, he has two important posts to fill. Besides COAS, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), equally a coveted post is also falling vacant in October. But the decision to choose the successor of current CJCSC Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne will pave way for Kiyani’s successor as well. Though precedence is that Army has always held this post, this time the lots may fell on Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Asif Sandilla. In that case General Haroon Aslam is the senior most General, who is likely to succeed Kiyani. But in case Army prevails on retaining the CJCSC, then Aslam may go there and the next choice for COAS would be General Rashad Mehmood, currently Chief of General Staff. But reports suggest that in case Prime Minister gives seniority a toss, then those who are in the zone of consideration include Inspector General Training and Evaluation at the GHQ Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, Corps Commander of Mangla Lt. Gen Tariq Khan, Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Muhammad Zaheerul Islam and Commander XXX Corps Gujranwala Lt Gen Salim Nawaz. Lt Gen Tariq Khan is believed to be the choice of Americans but this time it is too naïve to believe that Washington can play much role in deciding the COAS.

In 108 days of Nawaz Sharif’s government, terrorists have struck 109 times. With security as the prime challenge for Nawaz, economy and unemployment are also equally serious issues he is confronted with. Unemployment helps breed terrorism, as the jobless youth become fodder for seminaries to catch them young and train them for Jihad.

That is why Nawaz Sharif announced six youth specific schemes worth Rs 20 billion last Saturday to arrest the trend that would further endanger Pakistan. Political equations in Pakistan are on one side but despite a discernable feel of ease at least in Islamabad, the threat of extremism tops the list of concerns for a Prime Minister who talks peace and reconciliation.

By arrangment with Rising Kashmir