Earlier this week Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said: “The Pakistan People's Party government and the establishment are on the same page”. This statement belies the prevalent public perception and if true should mark the turning of a new leaf in the turbulent relationship between the PPP and the establishment.
Unfortunately, it seems more of a political statement rather than an actual representation of the institutional positions of either the military or the political parties, especially the PPP. After all, it is the same ‘establishment’ against which some members of the PPP are crying hoarse, accusing it of complicity in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The media quoted Prime Minister Gilani as saying that the current PPP government was ‘pro-establishment’. “For the first time, we are on the same page and headed in one direction”, Prime Minister Gilani said as he was headed to attend the 116th Saarc summit in Bhutan. These are indeed remarkable statements.
Historically, relationship between the PPP and the establishment – which essentially means the army and its intelligence organisation – has never been cordial. In the 90s, PPP was seen as being too amenable to having friendly relations with India, the raison d’etre of Pakistan’s huge standing army and massive defence expenditure.
PPP was, therefore, dubbed as a ‘security risk’ more often than naught by the establishment and its clandestine spy networks. Mutual suspicions and mistrust still runs high especially after the botched attempt to place the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate under civilian control and all the brouhaha over the Kerry-Lugar bill. But both sides have been compelled to manage an uneasy equilibrium.
Part of the reason was the political landscape in the wake of the lawyers’ movement and post 2008 election environment in which the military could no longer call the shots from the front. The relationship between the military’s top brass with President Asif Ali Zardari continues to tread an uneven ground.
It is essentially Prime Minister Gilani who has managed to effectively play a fire-fighting role and exhibited dexterity in maintaining an institutional balance. It has been quite a transformation for Mr Gilani who, after becoming prime minister in 2008, initially struggled to exude an air of influence and authority. Now, however he appears more assertive, authoritative and has managed to extricate himself from the image of a mere stooge and a puppet. The passage of the 18th amendment that empowers the prime minister has added to his confidence.
Above all, he has managed to develop a working relationship with General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani and western diplomats in Islamabad commend his ability to deal with the military. But herein lies the essential problem. The democratic process is still hostage to personalities. If the relationship between the army chief and the prime minister were not amicable would it then mean that consequently the political system remains fraught with instability and intrigue? Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister, was also recently attributed as saying that that democracy faced no threat as long as General Kayani remained in charge.
But this statement is as much an indictment as much as it is meant to be congratulatory and appreciative. Establishment and the political parties will remain on the same page as long as the political parties continue to play second fiddle to the military’s whims and wishes and turn a blind eye to the civil-military imbalance in the country.