In election year, Pak’s ‘Deep State’ closing in

In election year, Pak’s ‘Deep State’ closing in
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New Delhi: The dynasts of Pakistan are at play again now that the election season has begun. The main players of this drama are the Dynasts of Jat Umra, the home of the Nawaz Sharif dynasty and the dynasts of Larkana, the home of Sindhi Wadera Asif Zardari, and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Asif Zardari had inherited Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party as she had decreed in her will. Bilawal is still a greenhorn in politics unlike his father under whose presidency the PPP managed to complete its full five years in office. This performance made history.

The other dynast, Nawaz Sharif has a successor dynast in his daughter Maryam, an active politician, but a judicial decision dethroned him for life. Many describe the Supreme Court decision as a carefully manicured coup by an army that has developed this technique into a fine art. The third dynast is not really a dynast yet as he has no carefully appointed successors. The Khan of BannaGali’s dynasty here may have many contenders from his two subsequent wives, should he – Imran Khan – attain some greatness in the future. For the moment, he is a feudal lord with Islamist leanings who owns a political party, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf.

The biggest loser in the run-up has been Sharif. Predictably, there are murmurs within the PML (N) and some have already started to jump ship. In the long term, it is now a question of his legacy and the political future of his heir and daughter Maryam. He allowed too many own goals to be either scored because he was complacent or failed to accurately read the mind of the military.

Rawalpindi had presumably reasoned that given Nawaz’s past performance, he was likely to win the next term as well. This would make him the first prime minister whose party had not only completed a full term in office, but had also won another five years. A re-elected PML (N) in 2018 would imply continuous democratic rule for 15 years. This would mean that democracy was taking root in Pakistan and elected leaders would be able to exercise their minds. This would reduce the army’s role to a normal one in a normal country, and no longer an army that owned a country.

The military moves on the basis of abilities and not just on intentions of the adversary. Once it assesses the threat, it moves on all phalanxes to cover all contingencies. In this case, Sharif, a protege of the army in General Zia’s time, was the declared main threat to the army’s continued primacy. Sharif had the ability and intention to seek punishment for former Army Chief General Musharraf. Sending a former army chief, however unpopular, to jail would be seen as blasphemy in the Pakistan Army as this was an attack on its sovereignty and supremacy. Almost certainly, even more horrific for the army, was that Sharif would move and most probably succeed in making peace with India.

The trouble with Pakistan’s main political leaders of the time has been that Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had very little trust in each other which prevented them from seeing that their main adversary was the army. Both were exiled by General Musharraf and both suffered from political manoeuvres engineered by the army in the 1990s when they lost power to each other twice. Eventually, Nawaz lost when Musharraf exiled him in 1999. Benazir and Nawaz ignited many hopes that the two largest parties in Pakistan would work together against common adversaries when they signed their 36-point Charter of Democracy in May 2006.

Nothing of the sort happened as differences and suspicions overtook noble ideals. Benazir returned after Musharraf brought in the National Reconciliation Order, but was assassinated in December 2007. The elections in 2008 and 2013 only produced endless and induced political instability in Pakistan.

There was endless pressure on Asif Zardari when the ‘Establishment’ pushed cases of money laundering and undisclosed Swiss bank accounts. The famous Memogate episode was the army’s way of putting pressure on Zardari. Apparently, Nawaz now regrets having become a part of the scam. Just before the 2013 elections, Tahir- ul-Qadri of the Hizb-ut-Tehrir was imported from Canada to launch protests against the PPP government, and then later in the same year, Imran Khan used Qadri for protests against Sharif’s election.

The Supreme Court helped along in the Panamagate Case to try and fix Sharif. The recent manipulation to fix the Balochistan Assembly through defections, the massive media curbs, the muzzling of TV channels and censoring of news about the Pashtun protests are signs that the “Deep State” is closing in. Not satisfied with introducing the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba mentor Hafiz Saeed as a mainstream political leader, the powers that be seem to be letting the Barelvi grouping Tehrik-e-Labbaik and the rabidly sectarian Sunni AhleSunnatWalJamaat try and undermine the elected governments.

Today, Sharif undoubtedly regrets some of his decisions. One of them was when the PML (N) stubbornly refused to replace the politically-motivated National Accountability Bureau with an independent and powerful National Accountability Commission. The other was when the 18th Amendment was being passed in 2010 with the aim of denying the President the right to unilaterally dissolve parliament, the PPP had suggested that Article 62 1(f) be removed, but Sharif refused. This is the clause that has now been used by the judiciary with great satisfaction. It is not going to be easy to take this power away from their Lordships. The situation today is that the military-civil authority balance has shifted even further in favour of the military and now the judiciary is complicit in this.

It is unlikely that Article 62 (1) (f) will be amended, much less removed from the statute books. Regulations like the Blasphemy Law or even Article 62 which have religious connotations are now permanent parts of Pakistani law. This article requires leaders to be sadiq and ameen (honest and righteous) something that is derived from Quranic sources and the life of Prophet Mohammed. Justice Umar Ata Bandial had said this while reading out the judgement on the interpretation about the length of time for which a politician can be debarred under this section.

The stage is now set for the polls. The tallest figure has been disqualified for life, his daughter is still under a cloud because Panama Gate charges against her have not been cleared, the PPP does not have a worthy enough candidate and Imran Khan has limited reach and some fear, limited intelligence as well.

This leaves the field wide open for a weak leadership truly beholden to the army. And, the army would have achieved its objective without having to call in the 111 Brigade form Rawalpindi.

Mr. Vikram Sood is former Secretary Research And Analysis Wing (R & AW), Government of India. (ANI)