With a caretaker government well entrenched and the main antagonist over the last few years – Imran Khan lodged in jail, Pakistan is more or less being controlled by Army without formally imposing martial law; very much akin to the military backed regime of CCP in China.
The more things change in Pakistan, the more they appear to be the same. The civilian population of Pakistan has indeed ceded an enormous amount of space to the Army and today the army is more or less in control of everything, said Ramanathan Kumar, former Special Secretary, R&AW. In an interaction between Mr Kumar and Nitin Gokhale Editor-in-Chief of BharatShakti his views were sought on what would be the future of Pakistan where the Army is calling the shots by proxy?
As per Ramanathan, Gen Asim Munir, the present Army Chief is no different from his predecessors but is possibly sterner and more decisive. He took over the reins of the Army when the political situation in the country was in a flux. But as the dust is settling, it appears that the General is getting hold of things well, which was evident during his meeting with the business community in the last few days, an offshoot of the formation of Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) in Pakistan. This incidentally happened three days prior to Shahbaz Sharif government tenure finishing, and the Parliament dissolved.
The SIFC, which includes the army chief and an army officer, as its national coordinator has an objective to attract investments on a grand scale. The aim is to mobilise as much as US 100 bn dollars over the next few years, with the bulk of it coming from the Middle East- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE to revive the Pakistani economy. How much of success would it achieve is anybody’s guess, but Pakistanis look up to their army to fix everything under the sun.
Would the friends of Pakistan viz. Saudi Arabia and US play a role in keeping Pakistan afloat and not let it sink? To this question Kumar reminded of a similar arrangement called the Commercial and Investment Restructuring Council (CIRC) which was put in place by Gen Musharraf, years back. It became a reality because of the geo-political situation then and the geo-strategic importance of the global war on terror for which Pakistan was central, and was thus backed by the USA to a great extent.
Compared to the situation then, Pakistan’s geo-strategic importance is greatly diminished today and the odds are stacked against it.
Also, the CPEC which was touted as the highway to bring in a huge investment of almost US 60 bn dollars over the last one decade, has actually brought in a third of it. It has not brought any perceptible change in the economy of Pakistan. Rather, the country has turned out to be far weaker economically than it was when the CPEC was talked off as a game changer. Going by the example of the CPEC, the SIFC initiative by the present dispensation, also seems to be a pipe dream, opined Ramanathan Kumar.
Coming to the diminished stature of Pakistan in geo-strategic terms, is it because of Pakistan’s failure to get a foothold in Afghanistan after the country was taken over by Taliban or is it because of the deteriorating internal security situation? Kumar felt, to be objective, the relations between Taliban ruled Afghanistan and Pakistan are bitter and recriminations are increasing by the day. Two years after the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, Pakistanis are fighting the Taliban much more than they have against us i.e., India. Also, the internal attacks in Pakistan, including major attacks both in Baluchistan and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the attacks on Pakistan Army, by TTP or ISKP or the Tehrik-e-jihad, have been attributed to Taliban. Though the Army Chief and the Defence Minister of Pakistan have warned these organizations with strict action, it has led to no relief.
These as per the Ramanathan are the self-goals, scored by Pakistan. The establishment has created this mess for themselves. And surely the Frankensteins that they have unleashed are now well beyond their control. “So, we have to see how best would Gen Asim Munir and company deal with the situation in days to come,” Kumar said in his interview. .
Finally, Kumar commented on whether or not Pakistan would be starting the political process and going in for polls to elect a government? Also, what would be the fate of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif? As per Ramanathan’s reading of the situation, the country would go in for polls early next year. However, there are conflicting reports to that effect as well.
The Election Act of Pakistan was amended just before the Shahbaz Sharif government went out, and some of the limitations on the powers of the caretaker government were removed. Also, the Army is hell bent on making sure that Imran Khan does not contest the election. He, of course, already stands disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Whether his party, the PTI will be allowed to contest or not, is also not clear.
As far as Nawaz Sharif is concerned, he’s more than eager to come back and lead from the front. But there are legal hurdles. The previous government did try to amend the powers of the Supreme Court to review its own decision. But the Supreme Court under the present Chief Justice struck down the amendment that was basically meant to help Nawaz Sharif to challenge the judgment which disqualified him; or to enable the court to review the judgment on the issue. As on date, Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification stands.
In the prevailing scenario, Pakistan army would be the biggest gainer as they would have an extremely weak civilian government. It is also believed that there are constant efforts to engineer or manipulate a situation where no party really has a strong majority. This indirectly allows the army to call the shots from the background, which they have always been comfortable in doing.
Captn DK Sharma (Retd)