By Senator Afrasiab Khattak
Uncertainty about the future of constitutional system is growing as the current civilian setup appears to be losing control over both the external and internal dimensions of the governance in Pakistan.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the newly installed Prime Minister who seemed to be quite serious in doing not only the basics in institutional functioning but was also quick in reaching out to other elements in the system has discovered the narrow limits of his power.
So those who blamed Nawaz Sharif’s personalized style of governance being responsible for generating the present crises can see that the deep state would defy constitutional control whatever is the governance style of the sitting Chief Executive may be.
The veneer of civilian control was dramatically exposed over forming a national response to the deepening international isolation of the country over tackling the challenge of extremism and terrorism in the country.
On August 21 President Donald Trump delivered a policy speech laying out the new US policy regarding conflict in Afghanistan and South Asia not only blamed Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to Afghan Taliban for fighting war against the Afghan state but he also threatened to take punitive measures against Pakistan if the later doesn’t change the aforementioned policy. Then came the 9th BRICS annual summit on September 3-5 in the Chinese city Xiamen. The Summit Declaration expressed concern over the activities of Pakistan based major terrorist networks including Taliban, LeT, JuM and others and demanded action against them. The said Declaration also expressed solidarity with Afghan government which is fighting various terrorist outfits. It was pretty obvious that the country’s isolation on the question of extremism and terrorism is complete. There emerged diametrically opposed responses to these developments from military and civilian segments of the state. For military it was straight and simple; Pakistan has already done enough against extremism and terrorism.
It is for the world to do more. It wasn’t that simple for the civilian set up though. Had it been only US they might have gone with the military’s line. But when it comes to telling the world, which includes China and Russia and many others, the narrative has to be more sophisticated and convincing.
So it started with the statement of Khwaja Asif, the Foreign Minister of the country.
After explaining the details of Pakistan’s struggle and sacrifices in fighting terrorism he in the end conceded the need for “cleaning our house”.
The position immediately came under attack from Nisar Ali Khan, the former Interior Minister and a leader of Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz (PML-N) who is well known for his close relations with the security establishment.
The present Interior Minister, Defense Minister and even the Prime Minister upheld the position adopted by the Foreign Minister. The open civil-military division on this issue has certainly not helped Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi to look credible during his visit to US for participation in the UN General Assembly session.
As if this wasn’t enough the death of an important Afghan Taliban leader in the most recent drone US strike in Kurram Agency has belied the persistent denials of civilian and military leadership of Pakistan about the presence of Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.
Internally the siege of civilian setup is augmented with the fresh onslaught of judicial action against it. NAB courts are zeroing in on Sharif family.Even the new PM can be a possible target.
But on the other hand, acquittal of hard core terrorists in Benazir Bhutto murder case, the zero progress in investigation of hundreds of offshore companies other than those of Nawaz Sharif and the totally passive attitude of higher judiciary at Musharraf’s escape from the trail in high treason and other cases exposes the method in this judicial madness.
The ruling party is desperately trying to make it to the coming Senate election to be held in March and then proceed to hold the next general elections. That is exactly what the deep state and its political cheerleaders wouldn’t let them accomplish. The recent complaints of enforced disappearances of PML-N loyalists in Lahore shows that the deep state is prepared to go to any extent for keeping Nawaz Sharif out of not only power but also out of politics. But the result of the bye election in Lahore has demonstrated the ability of Nawaz Sharif to attract votes in the core province of Punjab. His daughter Mariam Nawaz undeterred by the strong arm tactics of the deep state has emerged as a strong political leader challenging the dead wood in the party. But most serious aspect of the aforementioned bye election is the “mainstreaming ” of the known militant and proscribed outfits. Instead of curbing extremist violence it is being promoted in politics. In late 1970s the deep state introduced sectarian and ethnic divisions to weaken ZA Bhutto’s Peoples Party.
Building on the same strategy, and oblivious to national and international concerns, dangerous extremism is being “mainstreamed” to weaken Nawaz Sharif. It will definitely lead to further atomization of Pakistani society. Situation on this front is already quite bleak.
The political engineering by the deep state doesn’t allow the emergence of strong political parties which are important for the project of nation building and state building.
Federal political parties disintegrate into provincial entities under state pressure. Deepening religious extremism and sectarianism is definitely not good news. The worsening civil-military polarization is not only defining the internal political situation of the country but it will also determine its international standing. Refusal to act against notorious factories of extremism and terror networks will push the country towards further isolation. Pakistan it seems is going to give serious competition to North Korea in getting itself isolated. But it will not be without serious consequences for the future.
(The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.)