T.C.A. Ragha­van

A gen­eral elec­tion amid political tur­moil, mount­ing pres­sure to mea­sure up to US’s ex­pec­ta­tions on fight­ing ter­ror and the eco­nomic cor­ri­dor with China—2018 will be a tough year for Pak­istan

India Today - - INSIDE - By T.C.A. RAGHA­VAN

THE PAST AND THE PRESENT fre­quently col­lide in Pak­istan. The 70th year since the found­ing of Pak­istan was also the 40th an­niver­sary of Gen­eral Zia-ul-Haq’s coup and the 10th of the siege and storm­ing of Lal Masjid. The shad­ows of th­ese sem­i­nal events have re­mained to in­ter­rupt Pak­istan’s en­deav­ors to script a new his­tory. As the or­der came from the Supreme Court on July 28, dis­qual­i­fy­ing Nawaz Sharif as prime min­is­ter, many in Pak­istan won­dered, with some merit, whether they were watch­ing the re-run of an old clip. The prime min­is­ter, the court held, was in con­flict with ar­ti­cles of the con­sti­tu­tion that pro­vided that the peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives be ‘sadeeq’—truth­ful—and ‘ameen’—right­eous. Th­ese were pro­vi­sions in­tro­duced by Gen­eral Zia as he sought to make Pak­istan’s con­sti­tu­tion con­form to his no­tions of Is­lamic piety. Sharif him­self, as he mo­bilised sup­port against his ouster, re­ferred to the par­al­lels with the Maulvi Tamizud­din case of 1955. In the lat­ter, the ‘doc­trine of state ne­ces­sity’ was in­voked by the Supreme Court as it ruled against a pe­ti­tion against the dis­missal of the Con­stituent Assem­bly. The 2017 ver­dict that un­seated the prime min­is­ter was thus in­evitably seen in the larger con­text of Pak­istan’s his­tory in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s as ju­di­cial in­ter­ven­tions ter­mi­nated par­lia­men­tary tenures.

Many ar­gued the op­po­site—Pak­istan’s deep­rooted cor­rup­tion could only be cleansed if the broom

be­gan at the very top. Amidst th­ese com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives and slo­gans, the role of the Pak­istan mil­i­tary was ob­vi­ously cen­tral: Sharif ’s ten­ure was through­out char­ac­terised with civil-mil­i­tary tur­bu­lence through three chiefs of army staff. If his ouster then evoked all of Pak­istan’s tan­gled his­tory with its mil­i­tary, the fact also is that a larger op­por­tu­nity had passed Pak­istan by. Had Sharif com­pleted his full ten­ure, it would have been a first in Pak­istan’s his­tory.

Ter­ror­ist at­tacks reg­u­larly punc­tu­ated Pak­istan’s political chronol­ogy through the year. While the over­all in­ci­dence and in­ten­sity of ter­ror­ist at­tacks has de­clined since 2015, their per­sis­tence sug­gests that, de­spite claims to the con­trary by the Pak­istan army, some re­group­ing of ex­trem­ist groups and their men­tors is un­der way. The tar­gets in most of th­ese at­tacks were also pre­dictable: Shias, po­lice and army per­son­nel, and soft pub­lic tar­gets. Not that Sunni Mus­lims were spared: the at­tack on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shah­baz Qa­lan­dar in Sindh was part of a con­tin­uum that in­cludes the 2005 car­nage at the Bari Imam shrine in Is­lam­abad and the 2010 at­tack on Data Dar­bar in La­hore. Th­ese il­lus­trate the deep-rooted an­i­mosi­ties of many of the ter­ror­ist groups to sites of pop­u­lar Is­lam and to the devout Barelvis who fre­quent them.

But the Barelvis were in the news not just as vic­tims of ter­ror­ist at­tacks. In Novem­ber, a sit-in protest in Is­lam­abad demon­strated their street power as they dis­rupted life in the cap­i­tal city and forced the govern­ment into ne­go­ti­a­tion and, fi­nally, ca­pit­u­la­tion. At the van­guard of this was the Tehreeki-Labaik Ya Ra­sool Al­lah, a group that had arisen from the cult fol­low­ing that de­vel­oped around Mum­taz Qadri, the as­sas­sin of a Punjab gover­nor in 2011. The Barelvis are nu­mer­i­cally pre­pon­der­ant in Pak­istan, but lacked the political clout as­so­ci­ated with the Wah­habis, Deoban­dis and Ahle Ha­dith sects. Each of th­ese sects has ben­e­fit­ted from army pa­tron­age from the time of the Afghan ji­had in the 1980s and then had con­sol­i­dated its po­si­tion through par­tic­i­pa­tion in cross-bor­der ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Jammu and Kash­mir. The Barelvis pos­si­bly felt in­creas­ingly marginalis­ed and dis­em­pow­ered. In any event, the re­cent dis­play of street power an­nounces their dra­matic ar­rival on the larger political scene. The mo­nop­oly of the Is­lamic space in main­stream pol­i­tics— held by par­ties such as the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pak­istan—will now be chal­lenged by the Barelvis.

In­evitably, the emer­gence of this new political force has led to ques­tions about the role of the Pak­istan mil­i­tary. Pos­si­bly, there is a tac­ti­cal el­e­ment at play, with the aim be­ing to weaken Sharif and his party as much as pos­si­ble be­fore the next elec­tion. But equally, the ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence in­flicted by groups of a Wah­habi or Deobandi per­sua­sion within Pak­istan it­self has also led to some re­think within the Pak­istani es­tab­lish­ment about the need to de­velop al­ter­na­tives, and the Barelvis fig­ure in th­ese cal­cu­la­tions. In any event, the in­cip­i­ent Barelvi resur­gence may be one of 2017’s longer term be­quests to Pak­istan’s his­tory.

A non-political event in 2017, but with wider ram­i­fi­ca­tions, mer­its re­call. Pak­istan re-en­tered cen­sus his­tory this year, hold­ing a coun­try­wide count for the first time in al­most two decades. This was, given the state to which Pak­istan’s in­ter­nal se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion had de­te­ri­o­rated in the pe­riod 2007-2015, a con­sid­er­able ad­min­is­tra­tive and political achieve­ment. The re­sults of the cen­sus were, how­ever, star­tling. Be­tween 1998 and 2017, the pop­u­la­tion grew at an av­er­age an­nual rate of 2.4 per cent. In brief, ef­forts to re­duce pop­u­la­tion growth have been largely in­ef­fec­tive. The sheer size of the pop­u­la­tion at 207 mil­lion has strong fu­ture im­pli­ca­tions, both for the coun­try and the re­gion. Pak­istan is now the fifth most pop­u­lous coun­try in the world, but with only the 40th big­gest econ­omy. His­tor­i­cal com­par­isons il­lus­trate this point dra­mat­i­cally. In 1971, the erst­while East Pak­istan had a pop­u­la­tion greater than its west­ern part. To­day, Bangladesh’s pop­u­la­tion is 30 mil­lion less than Pak­istan’s.

Pak­istan’s ex­ter­nal en­vi­ron­ment re­mained un­favourable with a not un­fa­mil­iar tur­bu­lence


in re­la­tions with In­dia and Afghanista­n. Ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran and within the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil formed an­other axis of un­cer­tainty. But by far the most dra­matic of change came in Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with the United States. The Trump pres­i­dency has ini­ti­ated in­tense US dis­ap­proval and pres­sure over Pak­istan’s Afghan and In­dia poli­cies and for the sanc­tu­ary it pro­vides to ter­ror­ist groups. Pres­i­dent Trump’s first tweet of 2018 both summed up 2017 and pro­vided a roadmap of what is go­ing to fol­low. Pak­istan’s re­sponse through 2017 was a mix­ture of pub­lic de­fi­ance and a qui­eter diplo­matic ef­fort to meet US ex­pec­ta­tions at least half­way on Afghanista­n. But the US pres­i­dent’s lat­est broad­side un­der­lines that this ap­proach has not worked. Nev­er­the­less, a purely do­mes­tic im­pulse to adopt de­fi­ant pos­tures against the US should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. While 2017 cer­tainly was the year when Pak­istan saw the most in­tense pres­sures of the past decade-and-a-half, the events of 2011—an­other an­nus hor­ri­bilis of Pak­istan-US re­la­tions—are worth re­call­ing: the Ray­mond Davies episode, the de­tec­tion and killing of Osama bin Laden and a NATO at­tack that killed over 20 Pak­istani sol­diers. In 2012, Pak­istan had re­sponded with a pro­longed clo­sure of NATO sup­ply routes into Afghanista­n, un­der­lin­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of deal­ing with a coun­try that has a pop­u­la­tion of 200 mil­lion, is a nu­clear power and has a lo­ca­tion that makes its iso­la­tion dif­fi­cult.

As US pres­sure grows and takes its toll, Pak­istan will draw sus­te­nance from be­ing in a camp that in­cludes Rus­sia and China and will play its cards ac­cord­ingly. Yet its do­mes­tic flux will also af­fect all its ex­ter­nal re­la­tion­ships, not just with In­dia and the US but also China. It can rea­son­ably be ex­pected that 2018 will be a test­ing year for the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC)—the fact is that re­gard­less of the sup­port that the Pak­istan mil­i­tary may pro­vide, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of large projects re­quires a sta­ble political en­vi­ron­ment.

For many, per­haps most, in Pak­istan, it is a given that the US and In­dia now act in con­cert. The US des­ig­na­tion of the Kash­mir-cen­tric Hizb-ul-Mu­jahideen as a global ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion in Au­gust 2017 ce­mented such views. Re­la­tions with In­dia re­mained at a low plateau, fur­ther eroded by reg­u­lar clashes on the Line of Con­trol, plum­met­ing num­bers of visas is­sued and toxic lev­els of rhetoric. The re­lease of Ja­maatud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed from cus­tody a few days be­fore the an­niver­sary of the 2008 Mum­bai ter­ror­ist at­tacks sym­bol­ised the un­re­solved dilem­mas of the re­la­tion­ship with In­dia. All this is a fa­mil­iar repet­i­tive pat­tern, but as al­ways in In­dia-Pak­istan re­la­tions, there is also al­ways some­thing new. This new de­vel­op­ment was In­dia mov­ing the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice over the death sen­tence de­creed by mil­i­tary court mar­tial for Kulb­hushan Jad­hav, an In­dian na­tional in Pak­istan’s cus­tody on charges of ter­ror­ism. For most Pak­ista­nis, the im­por­tance of the Jad­hav case is that it en­ables claim­ing an elu­sive moral equiv­a­lence with In­dia in so far as the charge of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism goes. The de­bate on this is­sue, both in In­dia and Pak­istan, re­volved around the de­par­ture from the strict bi­lat­er­al­ism that has been In­dia’s pre­ferred ap­proach for decades. There may well be a deeper sub­text here re­volv­ing around the con­trast of the con­fi­dence with which In­dia in­ter­faces with the world to­day and the sus­pi­cion and men­tal­ity of siege that char­ac­terise Pak­istan’s ap­proach.

The year ended with Pak­istan pen­sively com­plet­ing 70 years as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try. The civil-mil­i­tary tan­gle re­mains un­re­solved as gen­eral elec­tions loom. The political blood­let­ting has not spared any of the main­stream par­ties or their lead­ers. Their loss of cred­i­bil­ity will cede fur­ther space to Is­lamists of var­i­ous hues—the Deoban­dis, Barelvis and a range of ex­trem­ist groups like the JuD keen to main­stream them­selves. The elec­tion will more­over be fought in the back­ground of Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary re­turn­ing to the cen­tre of its polity. Do­mes­ti­cally, the nar­ra­tives of ac­count­abil­ity ver­sus civil­ian supremacy will con­test each other, an­i­mated re­spec­tively by Im­ran Khan and the Sharif fam­ily. Nev­er­the­less, the elec­tion in mid-2018 will be im­por­tant also be­cause the ar­chi­tec­ture it throws up will re­veal the shape of things to come with re­gard to In­dia too.

For In­dia, 2018 strad­dles the Nepal elec­tion of 2017 and its own gen­eral elec­tion in 2019. In 2018 it­self, apart from Pak­istan, Bhutan, Bangladesh (in Jan­uary 2019) and pos­si­bly the Mal­dives go to polls. Afghanista­n too will have par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. Each of th­ese coun­tries presents its own sets of is­sues and chal­lenges. Nev­er­the­less, each will also look to us and try to de­ci­pher the script we in­tend to fol­low. For In­dia, the choices, es­pe­cially with Pak­istan, re­main dif­fi­cult, and mean choos­ing from a menu of bad op­tions. But it is use­ful to re­call May 2014 when a clus­ter of elec­toral changes pro­duced a South Asian mo­ment at the fore­court of Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van at the swear­ing-in of a new govern­ment. Go­ing back into his­tory is of course not an op­tion. It never has been. But look­ing back while try­ing to con­struct a new script is not a bad idea. In any case, the ‘se­cret’ meet­ing in Bangkok in 2017-end be­tween the two na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sors un­der­lines that older scripts in South Asia are usu­ally put aside tem­po­rar­ily, but never shred­ded.


T.C.A. Ragha­van is a for­mer In­dian high com­mis­sioner to Pak­istan

Illustrati­on by TANMOY CHAKRABORT­Y

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