Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment

Published: June 12, 2011
Nawaz Sharif addresses a memorial seminar honouring Saleem Shahzad. PHOTO: NNI

Nawaz Sharif addresses a memorial seminar honouring Saleem Shahzad. PHOTO: NNI

Speaking at the headquarters of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in Lahore on June 10, on the occasion of a reference meeting to protest the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif called on the Pakistan military to change its mindset. He called for its accountability under the country’s democratic system, asked the GHQ to abandon its hold on the foreign policy of the country, especially its India-centric obsession, and its tendency not to tolerate criticism. It was clear which institution he was addressing as he made reference to his own policy of détente with India after acquiring nuclear status for Pakistan. He said former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit was sabotaged by an unauthorised invasion of Kargil to pre-empt his party’s initiative. He said: “End your domination of foreign policy if you wish the criticism to end”. Careful to avoid indicting the entire institution, he pinpointed his observation: “The army is under the domination of a handful of people with a specific mindset”.

Since the SAFMA reference was about the death of a journalist with clues pointing to some elements in the establishment, Mr Sharif urged the Supreme Court to take notice of the killing, pledging that he and his party would stand with the journalist community “till the killers are brought to book”. Given that a campaign is on to muffle the public protest against the killing of Saleem Shahzad, the PML-N leader has spoken out at the right time and in defence of an aspect of democracy that has gone missing in Pakistan.

The positive side of the PML-N policy is its steady adherence to the strategy of normalising relations with India as a corollary of its stance on Pakistan’s status as a nuclear power. The unspoken rule in nuclear theory and practice is that after having achieved nuclear deterrence, two rival states must achieve agreement on status quo. Mr Sharif’s reference to Kargil was actually aimed at conveying the fact that the Pakistan Army was wrong to pursue conflict — overt or covert — after the 1998 nuclear testing by Pakistan when he was prime minister.

Stemming from the PML-N’s adherence to the 2006 Charter of Democracy signed with the PPP, its policy plank of seeing with India goes against the continuing India-centrism of the GHQ, abhorred by the international community and diagnosed by it as the root of the strategic mismatch in the war against terrorism. This is also the fatal bedrock on which the GHQ is isolating Pakistan in the world, confirming the impression that some elements with the Pakistani state are interfacing with al Qaeda instead of fighting it.

This is not the first time that Mr Sharif has expressed his determination to continue his post-1998 policy with India. His repeating it on June 10 points to the dynamic nature of his thinking often identified by his opponents with policy contradiction. The effort to remove Pakistan from the rut of isolationism apparently contradicts his party’s position that the war against terrorism is not Pakistan’s war. If the PML-N wants the GHQ to relent on India and thus ensure Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence, it will have to own this war — the journalist Mr Sharif came to SAFMA to defend died saying Pakistan was wrong in not owning this war. As the PML-N policy stands today, it persuades one to focus on the various unexamined aspects of its relationship with the army. When it says the war against terrorism is not our war, it is getting cosy with the elements in the armed forces sympathetic to the cause of the extremists willing to interface with al Qaeda. Less directly, its rather strident expression of anti-Americanism also allows it to retain its influence within the rank and file of the army. Since Mr Sharif has criticised the current military leadership rather than the institution itself, one must understand PML-N’s anti-Americanism as a less permanent part of its domestic rivalry with the PPP with whom it expects to contest the next elections.

Mr Nawaz Sharif knows that his right-wing party has more traction within a Punjabi-dominated army than the PPP. Everyone else knows that only his party can achieve normalisation with India to clinch the war against terrorism. The world outside is also realising this.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jun 12, 2011 - 1:41AM

    I wonder if NS would be addressing a “memorial seminar” for Saleem if HE was in power?

    The hypocracy of our politicians knows no limits. Recommend

  • nasir jamshed
    Jun 12, 2011 - 2:19AM

    It amazes me to see the word “Punjbai-dominated army” in a mainstream newspapers in Pakistan. I fail to understand under what context this word–“Punjabi-diminated army”–is being used. Does it amply that Punjabis are overly represented in army compared to their population in Pakistan–and others ethnicities are not? I would suggest that this paper do an analysis of–let’s say Pathans–and their percentage in army. If Pathans are 16% of Pakistan’s population and they make-up 25% of army, what does that suggest. And if Punjabis are 60% of country’s population, and they make-up over 50% of army, is that really “punjabi-dominated” army? The word overly-represented, under-represented makes sense, but i don’t understand the use of word “Punjabi-dommnated” when in fact Punjabi are more than 50% of the population. Recommend

  • Mirza
    Jun 12, 2011 - 8:24AM

    I agree with the editorial and think that the feud between army and NS is more like a war between the two siblings. They are one and the same. The point of contention is which of the two siblings (army) or PM-N should be in power. NS is a political offspring of dictator of all dictators and the worst Islamic extremist Zia. In fact he was nurtured and appointed by Zia to counter the secular PPP and its leader BB. However, Zia’s horse proved to be a donkey.
    NS has mostly contested elections against the PPP in alliance with JI and likes. It is basically a right wing party of upper Punjab and a competitor of every secular party in the country including PPP and ANP.

    Mirza, USARecommend

  • zaman khan
    Jun 12, 2011 - 9:26AM

    Yes you have truly stated that NS would not have attended the memorial seminar if he himself would have had been in power today dought about that ….The politicians in Pakistan have got no solutions for the mess they had put the country into today …because of their corruption and lack of good policies the have drive the country to the verge of revolution ..people are sick and tired of them …all of them .. today, the life of the common man is unbearablly and extreamly hard … this is all due to corruption in every department of the government mane it and you will see how every department is drooling with rampant corruption …In todays Pakistan one cannot buy a train ticket without bribeing someone at the booking office…Such a system has been introduced in every walk of life in which if you dont ”mukmuka” you cannot get anything dont ..forget if what you are requesting is legal or your right as a citizen of this country … Now when such is the condition of the state ..its not hard to understand as to what sort of a people these politicians have made the people of Pakistan into..A COUNTRY OF CORRUPT PEOPLE …MAY ALLAH FORGIVE US ALL FOR THIS BLUNDER AND SIN,Recommend

  • Qasim
    Jun 12, 2011 - 12:40PM

    Politicians, generals, bureacracy, landlords, jagirdars, waderas, sardars. lotacracy; they are all the same and their interests are heavily intertwined. For the last 63-years masses continue to be fooled with “noora kushti”. Unfortunately a change for better appears impossible in the current set-up. Recommend

  • Blithe
    Jun 12, 2011 - 1:32PM

    @nasir jamshed:
    Good point.
    There is no need for us to be needlessly
    anti-Punjab, especially ExpresTribune. Recommend

  • sanaullah khan
    Jun 12, 2011 - 2:41PM

    the words ‘punjabi dominated army’ is shocking.these should br erased immediately.Recommend

  • Munir
    Jun 12, 2011 - 10:47PM

    Hypocracy is PMLN’s trade mark, especially of Sharifs.Do they believe they can still fool innocent people of Pakistan Recommend

  • usman
    Jun 12, 2011 - 11:14PM

    @nasir jamshed

    army is no doubt punjabi-dominated. consider following:

    Two-nation theory originated in Bengal and soon owned and dominated by northern india. After partition punjab adopted two-nation theory to neutralize Liaqat and norther indian leadership and particularly aimed at predilection of East Pakistanis towards ethnic identity. Sindh and Balochistan stress the ethnic identities or one may say not averse to having multiple identities. Now Punjab has long ago willfully abandoned ethnic identity and army also goes into revulsion at mere mention of multiple identities. Here the mind of military and Punjab becomes one. About KP soldiers. I don’t know about soldiers but a civvy KP is proud of owning centrifugal Khushal Khan Khatak. Punjabi doesn’t own Porus and abandons pre-islamic history. Sindh and Balochistan even KP don’t go that far in rejecting pre-islamic history of their respective regions,Recommend

  • Badu jah
    Jun 13, 2011 - 3:30PM

    Punjabi dominated does not necessarily mean numbers or percentage wise. They bring a certain type of mindset to and which is prevalent in the army of suppressing pluralism, civilian disdain, dislike for and usurping democracy and abandoning pre-pakistan and pre-islamic history of the Indian subcontinent. Recommend

  • Frank
    Jun 17, 2011 - 10:26AM

    This Nawaz Sharif, whose heart now bleeds for the press, is the same Nawaz Sharif who had the journalist Najam Sethi and his wife Jugnu Mohsin dragged out of bed and beaten in the middle of the night, and then had him blindfolded, gagged and kidnapped, merely for helping the BBC make a documentary exposing his massive corruption..And this is just one instance out of a whole campaign of media intimidation by the last Nawaz Sharif government,

    The hypocrisy and pretense is sickening! The people of Pakistan have incredibly short memories. This is why they suffer, and will continue to suffer for many years.Recommend

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