By Afzal Mahmood
A few days before the New Year started its 365 days journey with the load of unsolved problems that afflicted the people of Pakistan and its relations with its immediate neighbours all through the outgoing year, 2017. The year showed no glimpse of hope to the common man in Pakistan. Worse, in the last six months of the year, the country had a paralysed government which opened the door for terrorists, militants and non-state actors tom enter mainstream politics.
In the year, customary attempts to normalise relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and between Pakistan and India were practically abandoned. Pakistan’s hate-based reservations for India determined its relations with Afghanistan. The encouragement given to the Islamist organisations at the cost of mainstream political parties in Pakistan during the year threatens to widen the gulf between Pakistan and its immediate neighbours-Afghanistan, India and even Shia dominating Iran.
The infamous ‘Panama Leaks’ dominated the media and public debate during the year because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children were involved. These leaks came to light in the first week of April 2016. A 5-Judge bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan began hearing petitions from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) of Imran Khan and others in January against the Prime Minister. The court quickly disposed of the petitions. Its verdict came on July 29, 2017 disqualifying Sharif to be Member of Parliament. He resigned. Shaheed Khaqan Abbasi was elected to be the next Prime Minister.
Sharif’s disqualification topped six months of tense uncertainty and unleashed another six months of executing confusion in which the unity of Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) became tenuous, civil-military relations worsened, the higher judiciary’s credibility became a subject of public ridicules as a large section of Pakistanis questioned the fairness of Supreme Court’s judgement. After his disqualification Nawaz Sharif marched from Islamabad to Lahore addressing huge crowds of people on the way. His addresses had one theme, the Apex court was made to punish him. In his addresses lurked the reference to the conspiracy of top military and judiciary’s leadership to hang deposed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto about 38 years ago. He stopped short calling himself another Bhutto but repeatedly accused the Supreme Court of misusing its authority for justifying military coups and thereby being responsible for the woes of Pakistan.
Before, staging his Islamabad to Lahore march, Sharif had said he was going to take his case to the Awami Adalat (People’s court). From Pakistani media it seems Sharif made an impact although he may not get a clean chit from the people for his corrupt deals. But they say Sharif is not the only corrupt man in the country. Amid the developments that one saw in the last six months of 2017 in Pakistan, corruption appeared a minor issue in comparison to an evil alliance of the Army, judiciary and Islamists against democracy and human rights.
Two events in November and December strengthened people’s suspicion about the Army and the Supreme Court. One was the newly formed outfit Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) and Sunni Tehrik’s dharna at Faizabad paralysing communication between Islamabad and Rawalpindi for 21 days. A large number of well-equipped Punjab Police men failed to disperse 2000 agitators. Islamabad High Court remarked the police was stabbed in the back by the Army. The Army then descended to make peace. It brokered an agreement between agitators and the helpless federal government in Islamabad, which had already become paralysed after Sharif’s disqualification. The agreement was designed to humiliate and further weaken the government vis-a-vis law-breaking Islamists.
Second, on December 15 the Supreme Court exonerated PTI Chief Imran Khan of charges that he had off-shore companies; his party had foreign funding and he bought the Bani Gala Estate near Islamabad. The PML(N) protested at this verdict. That strengthened the belief that the Army supported Imran khan. With the next general elections due mid-2018, the Pakistan Army appeared to have concentrated in 2017 on demolishing PML(N) and promote the PTI and Islamist groups to take over political power after the next elections under the leadership of Imran Khan. The way has cleared for him by the Election Commission of Pakistan by withdrawing its contempt charges against him and by the Supreme Court by exonerating him of almost the same serious charges on which Sharif was disqualified. The UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa will fight the elections under the banner of this so far unregistered Milli Muslim League (MML). Hafiz Saeed is a protégé of the Army as recently accepted though obliquely by the Pakistan’s Chief of Army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa .
All through the outgoing year Pakistan worked on a strategy to keep the flame of hate and suspicion of India fuelled so that there is no public support for any move to normalise relations with it. This strategy revolves round Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian whom Pakistan got kidnapped from Iran and played a drama of arresting him in Balochistan to support, and its continuous propaganda that India was behind the insurgency in the restive province. Jadhav was “arrested” when Pakistanis had begun to distrust their establishment’s propaganda to bolster the same canard. Jadhav was tried in a military court for espionage and sentenced to death. The sentence has been stayed by the International court of Justice (ICT). India’s opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Pakistan occupied Kashmir is also used to fuel the hate India flame. Kashmir is a handy issue to play our Pakistani passions. Throughout the year terrorists across the border created incidents designed to cause confrontation between the locals and security forces, in different parts of Kashmir. Pakistan’s stand towards India continued to afflict Pak-Afghan relations throughout 2017. Some observers say that Pakistan wants Afghanistan to behave as its colony without an authority to conduct its own foreign relations.
It has repeatedly told Kabul that it does not want India in Afghanistan. Afghanistan considers this as an insult to its national pride. Pakistan seems to continue to cherish the dream that one day it will overrun Afghanistan with the help of Afghan Taliban. Therefore no American threats or weapons and funds will make it crackdown on the Haqqani Network which launches terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
US President Donald Trump’s August 21 policy declaration on Afghanistan and South Asia was threatening Pakistan of serious consequences if it does not stop giving safe havens to territory made no impact on Islamabad. As in previous years Kabul accused Pakistan of facilitating terrorist attacks in its territory. As a result Pakistan closed borders with Afghanistan for days and began fencing the border. That further provoked Afghanistan which does not recognise this border, known as Durand Line, drawn by the British in 1886.
In its entirety, the year 2017 did not at all augur well for the common Pakistanis. Though the same challenges would continue to threat the unity of Pakistan as a country and as a state, it is to see the major stakeholders and institutions would show maturity and sincerity in the next year to address the perennial threats Pakistan has been facing for decades and would somehow be reassuring for all its neighbours in South Asia.