Fed up with the domination of his country by its Punjabi-dominated army, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was swept to power in the 1971 elections, in what was seen as a referendum on his ‘Six Points Formula’. Sheikh Mujib demanded extensive autonomy for East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) on issues including, currency, taxation, foreign trade, foreign exchange, internal and maritime security, and law and order. Encouraged by West Pakistani politicians, the Punjabi military embarked on a ruthless genocide of its own people. The army’s excesses resulted in 11 million people fleeing their homes to India. Hundreds of thousands were brutally massacred, thousands of women raped—leading to the birth of Bangladesh.
Over five decades later, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently expressed his displeasure at the 18th Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution, enacted unanimously by its Parliament in 2010. Realising that Pakistan’s Constitution, mutilated by years of Martial Law, under Generals Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, had resulted in Provincial Governments being left with virtually no meaningful executive administrative, financial and legislative powers, the Zardari Government sought to decentralise powers.
The Concurrent List was abolished, thereby transferring powers to Provincial Governments. Seventeen Federal Ministries and Divisions were abolished. General Bajwa averred that this Constitutional Amendment was ‘more dangerous’ than the Sheikh Mujibur Rehman ‘Six Point Formula’, for autonomy, which led to the break-up of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Interim Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi was recently embarrassed by being frisked at New York airport and denied opportunity to meet President Donald Trump while in the US. His government has faced even worse treatment from the army, which now controls security policies. The army has also interfered blatantly in the conduct of foreign policy. The Abbasi Government faces challenges arising from the unrest of Pashtuns, in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where army operations rendered nearly a million people homeless. Many of them have been unable to return home. If the army’s Punjabi hubris led to the birth of Bangladeshi nationalism earlier, it has now provoked similar alienation in Balochistan.
With general elections due in Pakistan, the army and judiciary—evidently working in tandem—are determined to see that Nawaz Sharif is unable to return to politics. The army would like to see a weak coalition led by its protégé Imran Khan (popularly known as Taliban Khan). But Imran’s halo appears to be fading and there is every prospect of Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim League emerging as the largest single party.
What will follow is a weak coalition, stitched together by the army. Such a coalition would, quite obviously, be unable to deftly tackle critical issues. The army’s overwhelmingly Punjabi chauvinism is certainly not going to help in tackling regional alienation. All this is happening at a time when despite massive Chinese assistance, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves are dwindling steadily, which makes increased assistance from the US, its allies like the UK, Germany and Japan and institutions like the IMF and World Bank, crucial. Meanwhile, General Bajwa’s gratuitously critical comments on economic policies make it clear that he sees the army dominating every sphere of national life. It is evident that Pakistan can have no ready-made recipes for easily meeting these economic challenges. India, in turn, will have to do its own heavy lifting to meet the challenges it is going to face on its western borders.