The Bind­ing Force

Southasia - - COMMENT - Syed Jawaid Iqbal

When the U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry in­vited Pak­istan Army Chief Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif over to the State Depart­ment on Thanks­giv­ing Sun­day (Nov. 30), it surely was not to chat about the hos­pi­tal­ity he had re­ceived on the trip as there were other mat­ters of greater im­port at hand. The meet­ing was not sched­uled in ad­vance and is said to have been hastily ar­ranged. It took place in a very cor­dial and friendly at­mos­phere and served to again support the view that the United States gives greater im­por­tance to the Pak­istani mil­i­tary than the civil­ians in mat­ters of run­ning the coun­try.

This is also borne by the fact that Pak­istan has only made real progress dur­ing the pe­ri­ods when it was ruled by the mil­i­tary. Ayub Khan may have had many faults but ev­ery­one agrees that Pak­istan took some im­por­tant key ini­tia­tives on the de­vel­op­ment front dur­ing his rule. Gen. Yahya may not have been in­ter­ested in run­ning the coun­try after Ayub’s exit and cer­tain politi­cians took ad­van­tage of this, think­ing noth­ing of break­ing up the coun­try to serve their own nar­row in­ter­ests. But Yahya can at least be cred­ited with giv­ing Pak­istan its first and only fair elec­tions. He was fol­lowed by Gen. Zi­aul Haq, a mil­i­tary man with his own axe to grind and a style of gov­er­nance that did not have many tak­ers. But Pak­istan’s econ­omy in Zia’s days was sta­ble and there were no alarm bells on the gov­er­nance front. He set the coun­try on the road to re­cov­ery after Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto be­fore him had re­versed Pak­istan’s for­ward mo­men­tum with his so-called ‘so­cial­ist’ agenda.

A game of mu­si­cal chairs fol­lowed after the death of Gen. Zi­aul Haq and again set the coun­try back. In fact the pe­riod when both Be­nazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif ruled turn by turn was de­scribed as a ‘lost decade.’ Then came Pervez Mushar­raf in 1999 and he again set about putting the coun­try back on rails. By this time, the re­gional and in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment had be­come in­tensely volatile but he man­aged things ju­di­ciously. His good work was again un­done by the ‘demo­cratic’ gov­ern­ment of the PPP after the 2008 elec­tions. When Nawaz Sharif won the elec­tions in 2013 and took over the prime min­is­ter­ship for the third time, the na­tion re­joiced on his ar­rival. Sadly, more than a year and a half later, Pak­istan is still in the woods.

Hav­ing spent some 13 years in Afghanistan and con­clud­ing that there was not much for the U.S. and NATO forces to do in the re­gion any­more, they de­cided to call it a day. A re­duced ISAF force will now stay in the coun­try for another year to en­able the new Afghan Pres­i­dent, Ashraf Ghani, to gain con­trol. The U.S. will not re­peat the mis­take it com­mit­ted back in the 80s after the Sovi­ets quit the re­gion and the Afghans were left to fend for them­selves. This time, how­ever, the Americans are also de­pend­ing a great deal on Pak­istan to main­tain peace on its western and north­ern bor­ders. For its part, Pak­istan has again started say­ing that its for­eign pol­icy would re­vert to seek­ing ‘strate­gic depth’ in the re­gion by en­sur­ing that no fur­ther mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures are un­der­taken and that other re­gional na­tions, par­tic­u­larly In­dia, do not take un­due ad­van­tage of the vac­uum caused by the NATO exit.

Here Pak­istan would be called upon to play a key role and this would all de­pend on how the army han­dles af­fairs un­der Gen. Ra­heel Sharif. The U.S. knows that he is just the right man for the job. He has grown up in a fam­ily with a proud mil­i­tary tra­di­tion - two Nis­han-e-Haider medals (elder brother Maj. Shab­bir Sharif and ma­ter­nal un­cle Maj. Aziz Bhatti). He knows the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the army as well as its lim­its in terms of mil­i­tary and civil­ian gov­er­nance mat­ters. He and his com­man­ders have suc­cess­fully led the Zarb-e-Azb op­er­a­tion in North Waziris­tan but it is good they have stayed out of po­lit­i­cal mat­ters. The army also closely mon­i­tors the ‘tyre and tube’ re­la­tion­ship be­tween the in­cum­bent Nawaz Sharif gov­ern­ment and the so-called PPP op­po­si­tion but leaves them to their own machi­na­tions as one is de­pen­dent on the other. If the ‘tyre’ of the Sharif gov­ern­ment bursts, the ‘tube’ of the PPP op­po­si­tion would be bound to follow so they both pro­tect each other. Where this is bound to lead the coun­try is a ques­tion that con­tin­ues to beg for an­swers. Mean­while, the army has its ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal role cut out and con­tin­ues to func­tion as a bind­ing force of na­tional unity that com­mands equal re­spect both inside and out­side the coun­try.

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