There comes a time in the life of nations when their leaders have to think differently, act selflessly and conduct themselves more in the interest of the country rather than advancing their individual agendas. Considering the enormous challenges Pakistan is facing in terms of internal security, a distressed economy and many other ills, that moment had come a long time back. The situation gets direr by the day, but nothing seems to change and our political leadership comes no where close to what the country demands or the people expect of it.
Imran Khan is clearly working towards destabilising the government with a view to capturing power. His planned long march and tacit alliance with political forces with similar ambitions clearly indicates his intent to dislodge the government. His lack of interest in the Parliament despite having emerged as a major political party and perfunctory involvement in the governance of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are a clear demonstration of his intentions. Of course, on the face of it, the long march is meant to show the party’s resolve to seek a recount of votes but it is much more than that. Imran Khan probably hopes that the army would be supportive or would be too preoccupied in counter-insurgency operations to take any position. It seems that his whole approach is tactical and is blinded by his lust for power. Perhaps, most disturbing is his seeming naivete, almost an unwillingness to grasp the complexities of major internal threats that we are faced with today. He is vocal on corruption and highly charged when it comes to electoral reforms. One fully supports him on these issues. But he is less clear on the extremely crucial issue of militancy. He has spoken very little about it in practical terms and has been of no help in discrediting the Taliban. On the contrary, at least initially, he had placed all the blame on the US and Pakistan leaderships for the rise of insurgency in Fata. We are equally unaware about the views he holds on civil-military relations. All along, he has been silent on this issue and now if he were to drag the army into politics for giving a fillip to his destabilising campaign, it would distract it from its primary mission of combating an existential threat. A chaotic political scenario would be an ideal scenario for the TTP and other militant groups to fully exploit by stepping up their activities. Imran should also bear in mind that militancy and chaos reinforce weakness in the economy, and a weak economy reinforces militancy. The cumulative effect of all this is that every element of national power gets weakened and K-P, which is already in a dire state, would be the worst hit. If Imran can maintain his cool, does not become over-ambitious, work towards turning around K-P and play a constructive role in the Parliament as an opposition leader, he has a future and capacity to influence politics in a more substantive manner and over the longer term.
On the contrary, if Imran pursues the policy of paralysing the government, then it is unlikely that the major political parties will agree to a re-election, again putting the army and the political leadership in a quandary.
For several reasons, the army is neither inclined nor even capable of assuming direct power. First, I do not believe that General Raheel Sharif is interested or even cut out for this role, being a professional soldier. Moreover, the military is so heavily preoccupied and overstretched in fighting the insurgency, it has to keep a substantive force and a close watch on both the Eastern and Western borders. History has turned full circle and the military is today shedding sweat and blood to reverse the very policies that the army leadership pursued for three decades in supporting militant groups. According to latest estimates, there have been more than 15,600 casualties of security forces from 2008 to 2013. In its fight against militants, the army needs the full support of the people and the backing of political parties. Any controversial role of the army in politics will deprive it of this crucial support.
Nawaz Sharif’s handling of national affairs and particularly the emerging political crisis has been disappointing. His sense of insecurity despite the heavy mandate that he received, especially in Punjab, seems baffling. We had hoped that he had matured over the years and as a third-time prime minister would be more self-assured and assume a greater leadership role. On the contrary, apart from his interests in certain infrastructural projects, he has outsourced most critical areas of governance to the army or has shown scant interest in them. Instead of actualising the talent of his political party, Nawaz relies heavily on his inner circle of family members. This has caused considerable heartburn and despondency within the party. He also seldom uses national institutions and most of the decision-making is ad hoc and personalised. At a time when the country is facing multiple challenges it becomes even more important that the head of the government should communicate with the people and take them into confidence on major issues. What is most surprising is that he has practically abdicated his responsibility of providing direction and oversight in the fight against militancy and left it entirely to the army leadership to deal with. The promulgation of Article 245 and handing over the security of Islamabad to the army for a period of three months is another demonstration of the wide gap between what was professed and what is being practised. For he has all along been putting emphasis on maintaining a correct balance in civil-military relations. In fact, these policies are seriously undermining his credibility. One wonders if this is the result of the insecurity he suffers due to Imran Khan’s planned protest march of August 14?
If Pakistan has to be put back on the path of stability and progress, then both the leadership in the government and opposition will have to revisit their failed policies.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2014.
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