Signing gen. Sharif's extension a death warrant for PM Sharif

Things are different in Pakistan. PM Nawaz Sharif faces serious charges after Panama Papers revelations.

Published: 30th July 2016 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 30th July 2016 10:10 AM   |  A+A-


Pakistan and Turkey have long been regarded as blood brothers, when it comes to their being taken over by the army. The Turkish army now operates under strict civilian control. Over the past decade, once secular Turkey has moved towards becoming increasingly Islamist. Its President Tayyip Erdogan has proclaimed, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.” The relatively poor sections of society have benefited from his rule.

Erdogan has a propensity to bite off more than he can chew in foreign policy. He had to beat a retreat from his confrontational approach to Russia and Israel. His attempt to destabilise the Assad regime in Syria, with support from the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has led to Turkey becoming a centre of global Islamist activity. Tensions on its borders have risen, with a heavy influx of refugees and consequent terrorist attacks within the country. Erdogan knows that given Turkey’s role as an extraordinary base for the US forces and nuclear weapons, the US will say virtually nothing critical of his foreign and domestic policies.

The attempted coup in Turkey was destined to fail. It was led by the Air Force chief and enjoyed the support of an estimated 25 per cent of the army. Erdogan and his close associates, the PM and intelligence chief, soon mobilised the population, especially in the president’s political citadel, Istanbul. Those involved were disarmed and arrested. Nearly 30 per cent of the top brass of the armed forces is now behind bars. Erdogan has also dismissed thousands of civilian officials, professors and teachers who he felt were ideologically incompatible. 

Things are different in Pakistan. PM Nawaz Sharif faces serious charges after Panama Papers revelations. His principal opponent, Imran Khan, who is a favourite of the army, will commence an agitation in August, demanding Sharif’s resignation. The army also has allies like the cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, who is capable of organising protests across Punjab, particularly in Lahore. Posters have appeared in all four provincial capitals and cities across Pakistan, calling on Gen. Raheel Sharif to take over. The army enjoys substantial backing, because of what is seen as its successful operations against the Tehriq-e-Taliban.

Sharif cannot even count on the loyalty of his colleagues like Interior (Home) Minister Chaudhry Nisar. The country’s foreign policy is in a shambles. Its relations with its neighbours Afghanistan, Iran and India are marked by tensions. The US is demanding an end to state sponsorship of terrorism. Arab powers like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are sceptical of Pakistan’s professions of goodwill. PM Sharif must also be shocked that his ‘all-weather friend’ China is now demanding that the army should play a key role in its ‘One Belt One Road’ Project. Beijing has also announced that its border guards are working with the Pakistan army to eliminate Islamic rebels in its Xinjiang Province.

The PM realises that Gen. Sharif, who is scheduled to retire on November 20, has ambitions to continue in office. He is receiving suggestions to extend the term of the army chief by a year. Agreeing to this would amount to signing his own death warrant. The next three months are going to be crucial on how this drama plays out. The PM may well nominate the General’s successor soon to pre-empt moves by the latter to have him removed. But, even this has its hazards, especially if the army chief decides to act pre-emptively. The main card that PM Sharif seems to be playing is to raise temperatures by jingoistic rhetoric on Kashmir. India should be prepared for this.

The writer is a former diplomat


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