From the very first day in office on June 5, 2013, in his third term as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif was determined that in keeping with constitutional provisions, General Musharraf, who had ousted, arrested and exiled him after the Kargil conflict, should be tried for treason. He, however, made a grievous mistake by appointing General Raheel Sharif, an officer with a relatively undistinguished career profile, as the army chief, while superseding others. The PM ignored the fact that Musharraf had been the mentor of Gen. Sharif. It is believed that it was Musharraf’s patronage that was largely responsible for the army chief being promoted beyond the rank of a Brigadier.
Gen. Sharif first asserted his authority by defying both the government and Supreme Court, and thwarting all efforts to bring Musharraf to justice. The army denied the court information on its excesses in operations in Baluchistan. It then forced the government and Parliament to give military courts unprecedented powers to try even civilians. The last straw on the camel’s back was the army’s decision to mount large-scale operations in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, without the approval of the civilian government and Parliament. The army has repeated such behaviour now in the PM’s home province of Punjab, making him, his party and Parliament look powerless.
The ultimate humiliation that the army heaped on the government was when, with the PM convalescing London, Gen. Sharif summoned Cabinet members, including his constitutional boss, the hapless defence minister Khwaja Asif, to the army’s GHQ. The army chief then virtually read out the riot act to the Cabinet on a series of issues, commencing with the China-Pakistan economic corridor. The army also dwelt on conduct of international relations, with focus on the US, India and Afghanistan. Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, an army protégé, was spared this humiliation.
Clearly, the army is determined to further undermine authority of PM Sharif, whose credibility has been eroded by the Panama revelations. It is also keeping politicians like Imran Khan and Chaudhry Nisar waiting, with expectations of being propelled into power. All this, after Gen. Sharif showed utter disrespect for President Hassan Rouhani, by nearly accusing Iran of colluding with alleged Indian espionage. Meanwhile, relations with Afghanistan have become tense, with shootouts across the disputed Durand Line. One is also seeing criticism by reputed Pakistani writers of the army’s ham-handedness.
Owen Bennett Jones, a British expert on Pakistan, noted: “The post-Musharraf military adopted a new, subtler tactic. It decided to exercise power in all crucial areas, while allowing civilian rulers to hold office. Traditionally, the policy areas reserved for the army included the nuclear weapons programme and relations with the key foreign powers: India, Afghanistan and the US. In the last few years, the list has expanded considerably. The establishment of apex committees, military courts and the military’s use of coercion to force the media onto the back foot, means there is scarcely an area of public policy that the army is not seeking to influence, or control. Moreover apart from the recent setbacks in relations with the US, the army has been rattled by what it perceives to be an India-Afghanistan-Iran entente across all its land borders.”
This is hardly a climate in which one can expect any serious movement forward on India’s relations with Pakistan. A process of calibrated engagement should, nevertheless, continue.
The Author is a former diplomat