Nawaz Sharif

Man of the mo­ment

SP's MAI - - MILITARY - [ By Air Mar­shal (Retd) Anil Cho­pra ]

When Pak­istan went to polls on May 11, 2013, to elect mem­bers of the National Assem­bly and the four provin­cial as­sem­blies, it was for the first time in its his­tory a civil­ian govern­ment af­ter com­plet­ing its full five-year ten­ure would hand over to a demo­crat­i­cally elected new govern­ment. Nearly 60 per cent of Pak­ista­nis who form 86 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers cast their bal­lot. The elec­tion com­mis­sion was in rea­son­able charge. A care­taker govern­ment was in place for the elec­tions.

The main con­test was be­tween in­cum­bent Asif Ali Zar­dari-led Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party (PPP), Nawaz Sharif-led Pak­istan Mus­lim League (PML(N)) seek­ing a third time man­date, and the first-timer Pak­istan Tehreek-e-In­saf (PTI) of Imran Khan. In­ter­est­ingly Pervez Mushar­raf’s can­di­da­ture was re­jected on var­i­ous le­gal grounds and he was put un­der house ar­rest two weeks be­fore elec­tions. Elec­tions were marred by pre-elec­tion vi­o­lence killing 130 peo­ple. Pro-Amer­i­can par­ties were mostly tar­geted. Pak­istan re­ceived praise from the world com­mu­nity for hold­ing a fair elec­tion. Praise also came for Pak­istan Army for al­low­ing a smooth back-to-back sec­ond elec­tion. The United States had an­nounced in ad­vance that it does not favour any par­tic­u­lar elec­toral out­come and prefers free and fair bal­lot.

PML(N) emerged the clear win­ner with 130 seats, nearly four times the num­ber of seats vis-à-vis the sec­ond party PPP (35) and 70 ad­di­tional seats in the re­served cat­e­gory would be al­lot­ted in the ra­tio of win­nings. Nawaz Sharif, who re­turns to the helm af­ter 14 years, will be the third-time Prime Min­is­ter. In his open­ing re­marks he said: “We will ful­fill all prom­ises we have made. We have pro­grammes to change the state of Pak­istan”.

The 63-year-old, Am­rit­sar born, Kash­miri-Pun­jabi lawyer, Sharif car­ries years of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Ini­tially propped up dur­ing Gen­eral Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, he has been the Prime Min­is­ter in two ear­lier tenures (both less than three years, but the sec­ond with a his­toric two-thirds ma­jor­ity), been leader of op­po­si­tion in the national assem­bly and also two con­sec­u­tive terms as Chief Min­is­ter of the most sig­nif­i­cant state, Pun­jab. As the owner of It­te­faq Group, he is also one of the coun­try’s wealth­i­est men. He has re­tained close links with the Army and In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI).

His sec­ond term was sig­nif­i­cantly full of ac­tion. He stripped the pow­ers of the Pres­i­dent by pass­ing the 13th con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. The nu­clear tests were con­ducted in his ten­ure. Pak­istan be­came the first Mus­lim coun­try and sev­enth na­tion to be­come a nu­clear power. He even dared to force out the Army Chief, Je­hangir Kara­mat, and re­place him with a rel­a­tively ju­nior and later his bête noire Pervez Mushar­raf. The ill-con­ceived Kargil War was thrust upon him by Mushar­raf whom he there­after tried to sack but the re­sul­tant Army coup ousted his govern­ment and he went into ex­ile to Saudi Ara­bia. He re­turned in 2007. His party then re­gained Pun­jab where he is pop­u­larly called ‘The Lion of Pun­jab’. He there­after ac­tively sup­ported Mushar­raf’s im­peach­ment and re­in­state­ment of the Chief Jus­tice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

His im­me­di­ate con­cern would be to re­cover Pak­istan from the debt-rid­den econ­omy and take calls on ter­ror­ism. He would have to strengthen civil­ian supremacy over the Army. In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Dr Man­mo­han Singh has ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion to him be­fore he has even taken over. In his ear­lier tenures his fo­cus was on im­prov­ing the na­tion’s in­fra­struc­ture, growth of dig­i­tal telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion, bank and in­dus­trial pri­vati­sa­tion, en­cour­aged and pushed Is­lami­sa­tion and con­ser­vatism ini­ti­ated by Zia, and in­tro­duced Is­lamic laws. On for­eign pol­icy is­sues, he sided with the UN res­o­lu­tion on Iraq. He worked closely with the Saudi Royal fam­ily who came to his res­cue when he was ousted. Un­like the late Prime Min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto, Sharif’s nu­clear pol­icy was seen less ag­gres­sive to­wards In­dia and fo­cused the atomic pro­gramme for the ben­e­fit of pub­lic us­age and civil so­ci­ety. Be­sides Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto, no leader has en­joyed his level of pop­u­lar­ity. In 1999 he signed a bi­lat­eral agree­ment with the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee, pop­u­larly known as the La­hore dec­la­ra­tion, and Pak­ista­nis fully backed him. Sharif also pushed for set­ting up an­titer­ror­ism courts. But all the gains were lost be­cause of the Kargil War.

About 45,000 Pak­ista­nis, in­clud­ing 7,000 se­cu­rity per­son­nel, have died in ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence since 2001. There have been 300 sui­cide bomb­ings. Karachi is a vir­tual bat­tle­field. Pak mil­i­tary bases have been un­der at­tack. Pak­istan also re­mains a state spon­sor of ter­ror. Three of the Amer­ica’s five most-wanted ter­ror­ists live in Pak­istan. The mas­ter­mind of the Mum­bai mas­sacre and head of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hafeez Saeed, makes no ef­fort to hide. He is feted by the army and the po­lit­i­cal elite, ap­pears on tele­vi­sion and calls for the de­struc­tion of In­dia and ji­had against Amer­ica and Is­rael. The head of the Afghan Tal­iban Mul­lah Omar shut­tles be­tween ISI safe houses in Quetta and Karachi. The Amir of Al-Qaeda, Ay­man Zawahiri, is prob­a­bly hid­ing in a villa not much dif­fer­ent than the one his pre­de­ces­sor was liv­ing in. Pak­istan also has the fastest grow­ing nu­clear arse­nal in the world, big­ger

than Great Bri­tain’s. The nukes are in the hands of the Gen­er­als, the civil­ian govern­ment only has nom­i­nal con­trol. Civil­ian govern­ment has lit­tle in­flu­ence over the ISI.

Will there be an end to Pak Army, con­trolled state-spon­sored ter­ror­ism against In­dia, or will the two coun­tries keep shar­ing sweet­noth­ings, only time will tell. In­dia will have to keep a close watch as it it­self goes into national elec­tions. Sig­nif­i­cant dia­logue can take place only one year hence. Gen­eral Ash­faq Parvez Kayani fin­ishes his ten­ure in six months and good for Nawaz, he seems dis­in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics. He has to be care­ful in not se­lect­ing an­other Mushar­raf.

The Econ­o­mist has tagged Sharif as the best bet for Pak­istan. Two-thirds of 185 mil­lion Pak­ista­nis are un­der 30, and 40 mil­lion of the 70 mil­lion 5 to 19 years old are not in school. Less than one mil­lion Pak­ista­nis paid taxes last year. Power black­outs are en­demic. Clean wa­ter is in­creas­ingly scarce. Growth is three per cent, too lit­tle to keep up with pop­u­la­tion de­mand.

Even as Amer­i­cans shuns them, US aid to Pak­istan goes on. The mil­i­tary has re­ceived 18 F-16 jet fight­ers, 20 Co­bra at­tack helicopters, six C-130 trans­port air­craft and a Perry class fri­gate and much more in the last decade alone. It must be un­for­tu­nate for the Pak­ista­nis to learn that a re­cent sur­vey of 21 coun­tries by the United States-based Pew Re­search Cen­ter found their main ally, China, and many Mus­lim coun­tries in­clud­ing Egypt, Tu­nisia, Jor­dan and Le­banon, see Pak­istan as a rogue state. Army con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar among the masses. Nearly 78 per cent Pak­ista­nis be­lieve that In­dia is a greater threat than Tal­iban and Al-Qaeda. In­dia al­ready has a 2,430-km-long fence to pre­vent bad ele­ments cross­ing over. Sim­i­larly, Iran is build­ing a 700-km fence, and that will make Pak­istan the most fenced state of the world. About 80 per cent Pak­ista­nis have poor opin­ion of the United States, the coun­try that is pre­vent­ing them from be­com­ing a failed state by giv­ing bil­lions of dollars in aid.

To­day, In­dia’s econ­omy is eight times larger than Pak­istan and by 2030, it will be 16 times larger. But an in­creas­ingly pros­per­ous In­dian mid­dle class does not want a failed neigh­bour. New Delhi will have to closely fol­low the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions in Is­lam­abad and Rawalpindi in 2013. The tag “Most coun­tries have an Army, but Pak­istani Army has a coun­try” re­mains. Will Nawaz Sharif be able to use this op­por­tu­nity to wrest con­trol of do­mes­tic, for­eign and se­cu­rity pol­icy from the Army? National con­sen­sus will be re­quired to re­vive the econ­omy, restore for­eign ex­change re­serves and com­bat ter­ror­ism. Crit­i­cal event ahead is the Amer­i­can withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. China’s con­cerns on Is­lamic ter­ror­ism will have to be ad­dressed. Nawaz Sharif is likely to let his busi­ness acu­men de­cide his deal­ing with the Amer­i­cans. There is pres­sure from Saudis and Amer­i­cans to re­view the Iran pipe­line deal. He will have to en­gage with the US and In­dia with­out com­pro­mis­ing Pak­istan’s national in­ter­ests. He will have to take a call.

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