New Age Islam Edit Bureau
16 January 2017
Optimism Vs Gloom
By Huma Yusuf
The Curious Case Of Pakistan-India Relationship
By Shazar Shafqat
Pak-US Ties: Return Of Carrot & Stick Policy
By Dr Muhammad Khan
South Asia In The Emerging World Order
By Shahid Javed Burki
A Nation Which Loves To Laugh At Others
By Aminah Suhail Qureshi
Trump: Opportunities For Pakistan
By Khurram Minhas
Space For The Sharifs
By Syed Talat Hussain
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Optimism Vs Gloom
By Huma Yusuf
January 16th, 2017
THE words on these pages over the past few days have well captured the despair many of us feel at witnessing the slowly sinking ship that is our democracy, our human rights, our freedom of speech, our very belief that humanity is united by a basic sense of decency.
But if you follow Ahsan Iqbal on Twitter, you’re probably in a much cheerier mood. From his perspective, “Pakistan is rising”. This year has started on a particularly high note: on The Economist’s Jan 6 ranking of the fastest growing economies, Pakistan was the highest-ranked Muslim-majority country. The CEO of Nestle Pakistan has said that Pakistan is poised to enter a “hot zone” of economic activity with double-digit growth. The year 2017 will see Pakistan break free from its categorisation as a ‘frontier’ market and romp ahead as an ‘emerging’ economy as per MSCI indexing, which will no doubt attract more investors. The Nikkei Asian Review has given Nawaz Sharif “top marks” and predicted he’ll win the 2018 elections thanks to his administration’s orchestration of an economic turnaround and the CPEC windfall.
How does one reconcile the growing anguish of many Pakistanis with the buoyant projections of the country’s outlook on its planning minister’s Twitter feed? During a recent prize acceptance speech, British novelist Zadie Smith discussed optimism and despair, and reminded us that “in this world there is only incremental progress. Only the wilfully blind can ignore that the history of human existence is simultaneously the history of pain: of brutality, murder, mass extinction, every form of venality and cyclical horror. No land is free of it; no people are without their bloodstain; no tribe entirely innocent. But there is still this redeeming matter of incremental progress”.
The powers can’t have their cake and eat it too.
Smith also warned that those with “apocalyptic perspectives” might miss incremental changes and fall into despair. Perhaps that’s the issue — too many liberals and champions of democracy are giving in to their apocalyptic perspectives and failing to suitably revel in the incremental progress?
Sadly, I think not. The problem is not one of perspective, but of precariousness. Pakistanis are despairing because they no longer know the rules — and more importantly, the values and priorities — of the country in which they live. And this sense of precariousness, and the uncertainty and fear it produces, is a direct consequence of the state’s confusion about its vision for Pakistan.
A Pakistan in which sectarian militant groups are defended by the interior minister and social media activists disappeared is not an unfamiliar place. How could we forget the 1980s so soon? Such events align perfectly with an entrenched belief that Pakistan is under existential threat from its neighbours and the world’s great powers, and that only a securitised state can protect the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In this context, anyone that threatens the power and control of the securitised state — whether it be external actors with Cold Start doctrines or no-name Facebook users who question security policies — is the enemy. This paradigm is consistent and familiar.
But Pakistan cannot both be rising and existentially threatened. These world views do not and cannot align. The state’s dilemma is that it cannot reconcile the disconnect, nor can it wilfully induce cognitive dissonance among the public. And while this disconnect endures, Pakistanis will remain on uncertain footing, fearful of falling, and that too on unfamiliar ground.
A country cannot simultaneously experience prosperity (reflected in the rise of a middle class, improving socio-economic indicators, inward investment and greater connectivity with the world) and peril (which demands authoritarianism, surveillance and repression).
The past few days are a good illustration of why the contradiction must be resolved. Each good news story about Pakistan’s economic prospects and positive outlook is undermined by a negative news headline about persistent militancy and widespread human rights violations. International allies, investors, and the diaspora community may rejoice at the former, but they don’t like the latter. Even our all-weather friend China has called for tighter border controls with Pakistan (at the same time that it’s putting up the cash for mega projects aimed at facilitating the movement of goods and energy supplies across that border).
Our powers that be should not be greedy at the expense of Pakistan’s institutions and social fabric. They cannot have their cake and eat it too. They cannot have both complete power and prosperity. They cannot live by the fallacy that Pakistan is both rising and falling at every moment. They must choose between optimism and despair as they craft their vision for the country, and know that their choice will be reflected in the daily experience of its citizens. My vote is for optimism, and the open, democratic, progressive and prosperous Pakistan that it entails.
The Curious Case Of Pakistan-India Relationship
By Shazar Shafqat
Authorities in India and Pakistan are at it again. The war of words has recently echoed in the United Nations. His Excellency, Mr. António Guterres, the ninth Secretary General of the United Nations, may not find it the most opportune time to have taken over the reins of the UN.
Whether it be the dossiers prepared by the Pakistani government highlighting the espionage activities carried out on the Pakistani soil by the Indian operatives, or the Indian calls for declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism. All of these are politically motivated moves aimed at having the last laugh, and unsettling the adversary’s policy decisions back home.
Does this bode well? No. Whenever the tensions between India and Pakistan are on the rise, the entire South Asian region comes under jeopardy. Well, you just can’t endanger 1.7 billion lives-can you? That’s how catastrophic it can be.
After going nuclear in 1998, both the countries have, at many a times, scared the hell out of the entire world, particularly the South Asians. Remember December 13, 2001? Remember the eyeball — to-eyeball confrontation? Remember the Mumbai episode? You’ll surely remember the latest Uri and Nagrota Base incidents that have flared up the discussions on lowering the nuclear threshold even more. This is where the stability-instability paradox comes into play. Although, India and Pakistan have enjoyed relative stability at the nuclear level, yet the instability at the sub-conventional level is an anathema in itself.
The possession of nukes might have played a key role in deterring both the countries from engaging in any sort of heroism. The concept of limited war with controlled escalation does prevail. But, with emotions running high on both sides of the LOC- who is to ensure the war, once started, would remain limited? After all, considering the love lost both the countries have for each other; sanity, in such a situation, often takes a back seat.
It is pertinent to note that individual consciousness determines the level of conscientiousness one will exude. For leaders in India and Pakistan, the level of insight and command over regional as well as international affairs tend to matter a lot. The absence of which can lead to jingoistic, narrow and short-term policy objectives, whereas, a high level of perceptivity can infuse calmness and equanimity. The problem with leaders in India-Pakistan region is that they’re either too ingenuous in their claims and policy decisions, or they succumb to the right wing-the largely popular- narrative, all too easily.
If Mr. Nawaz Sharif can maneuver himself through two sit-ins in the last two years, presumably come out unscathed from ‘Panamagate scandal’ and ward off his critics by being back in business after his open heart surgery in London last year, then surely enough, a long-lasting peace initiative can also be envisaged in South Asia.
Mr. Narendra Modi’s popularity graph has been on a steady rise ever since he took the office in 2014. He has delivered to a large extent, and even the areas where he has somewhat failed to live up to the expectations of his voter base are appeasable enough.
If none of this can be channeled towards harmonizing the South Asian region and spreading love and amiability, then one may wonder, what else can. After all, what munificent gift can there be for the South Asians if peace and tranquility looms large over the India-Pakistan horizon.
Whatever the media tells you, it is all but hogwash. Pakistan’s relationship with Iran is at loggerheads. Introspection might assuage the conspiracy theorists a bit. Let me put it straight. No, it’s not India, Israel or even the Unites States that tend to pull the strings. The question is; does Pakistan actually need outsiders to create panic and consternation? Aren’t the Pakistanis good at it anyway?
General Raheel’s decision may be somewhat personal, but the ramifications can be significant enough for Pakistan’s internal security. Similar Pan-Islamism ideas have been pitched in the past, and the results haven’t been auspicious. It ought to be deciphered whether, in the light of the current scenario, Pan-Islamism or Pakistan’s internal security is what needs the most attention.
Well, yes, a Muslim Military Alliance might come in handy, but the timing isn’t appropriate. Pakistan is mired in internal conflicts, extremism seems to be penetrating deep down within, and sectarian strife doesn’t seem to end anytime soon. In such a quagmire, this is what the Pakistani intelligentsia needs to know: The threat lies within, not without.
Considering the current hostility between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, normalization seems to be too big a wish to ask for. The solution, although, isn’t fatuous. Both India and Pakistan should look to marginalize the hate-mongering far right extremists. This is what’s needed to break the impasse.
If India wants Pakistan to neutralize Hafiz Saeed, then it may need to replicate the policy decision at home. India should look to keep Raj Thackeray and the likes at bay, particularly when it comes to India’s policy decisions regarding its western neighbor. Pakistan, on the other hand, should ensure that the state no longer patronizes the India-focused ultraists. If this can be achieved, then a breakthrough might just be around the corner. If not, the people on both sides of the international border aren’t any stranger to the jingoistic rhetoric, anyway.
Shazar Shafqat is an independent researcher and a security analyst having expertise in writing about counter-terrorism, internal security and military related affairs
Pak-US Ties: Return Of Carrot & Stick Policy
By Dr Muhammad Khan
January 16, 2017
Two significant statements about the Pak-US relationship have surfaced from US this week. The future Pentagon boss; US Defence Secretary-designate, General (retd) James Mattis, promised incentivising Pakistan, provided Pakistan follow the American dictates; do more for the security of Afghanistan and safeguard the US national interests in the region. He said while responding the questions from Senate Committee, that, “If confirmed, I will work with the State Department and the Congress to incentivise Pakistan’s cooperation on issues critical to our national interests and the region’s security, with focus on Pakistan’s need to expel or neutralise externally-focused militant groups that operate within its borders.” Indeed, the statement of US Defence Secretary-designate clearly points towards the future American strategy, in fact a revival of the ‘carrot and stick policy’
While the procedure for the confirmation of the Defence Secretary was conducted, the US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, endorsed the allegations; Kabul had levelled against Pakistan, after Afghanistan was targeted through multiple attacks. After the attacks, Kabul blamed Islamabad that, “the existence of safe havens in FATA allowed terrorists to carry out attacks inside Afghanistan whenever they want.” Whereas, the Kabul regime was direct and blunt in accusing Pakistan, the State Department spokesman was very tactful, while making accusation against Islamabad.
It was through an indirect approach, the US apportions the blame on Pakistan and included some positive words too, about the Pakistani achievements. He said that, though Pakistan “had made some progress and had taken some steps to address these safe havens, but clearly the problem persists.” In a way, it was negation of what Pakistani military has achieved over the years against the menace of terrorism, which US along with forty-eight countries collation could not achieve in one and half decade and withdrew its forces, without meeting a slightest success. Even US and NATO drawdown (leaving 10,000 US Special Forces behind on nine strategic bases) was fully supported by Pak Army, otherwise Taliban would have butchered them, as they did with former Soviet Army in late 1980s.
US military commanders and civilian leadership like John Kerry were full of praise for Pakistan Army, once it supported and cover US and NATO forces drawdown. Then, they were quite appreciative of the major military operations against, Pak Army undertook in almost all agencies of FATA. What has gone wrong now that, there is a restart of the blame game and demand for do more?
In all military operations, Pak Army has operated against the militants indiscriminately, without any biases. Indeed, neither Afghan Taliban nor Haqqani network has any acceptability in Pakistan. They have never served the Pakistani interests, thus, there is no place for any of them. Therefore, Mark Toner’s statement that, “United States continues to urge Pakistan to act against all terrorist groups without any discrimination” is based on ill will and just to second the allegations from Afghanistan, whose leadership is acting as US and Indian puppet. Washington and Kabul should not expect Pakistani security forces fight against militants inside Afghanistan.
If there are bomb blasts and attacks within Afghanistan, how can Pakistan be blamed. Is it not the responsibility of Afghan Security forces to secure Afghan land? Definitely, the “remoteness of the area along Pak Afghan border is an issue, but, Pakistani security forces have proved that, it can tackle any threat and combat any danger through its Grand Military Operation, “Zarb –e- Azb. This operation has proved the worth of Pak Army and there has returned the peace and stability in entire country after the successes of this and related military operations all over the country.
Yes, If there is a problem along Pak-Afghan border, it is on the Afghan side, where RAW and NDS are collectively training, arming and harbouring the militants against Pakistan. These militants of TTP are hiding in safe heveans in Nuristan and other bordering provinces of Ahjnistan and operate against Pakistan, as per dictates of RAW and NDS, which have the backings of their respective Governments. Why cannot General Mattis and Mark Toner see that aspect? He has been Commander of US central Command and commander of US forces in Afghanistan. This mean whatever Afghanistan and India do against Pakistan through their spying networks has acceptability for Pentagon and State Department and Pakistan can be blamed even after doing so much against terrorism and for the global peace. This is unjustified and indeed a discriminatory policy of United States towards Pakistan.
The Foreign Office spokesman of Pakistan, Mr Nafees Zakaria has strongly rejected these US and Afghan allegations. Indeed, Pakistan does not allow usage of its soil against any other country, which is a very clear state policy. In fact, Afghanistan is home of terrorism and extremism and housing all sort of terrorist organizations; the Taliban, The TTP, The Al-Qaeda, Daesh (ISIS) and host of others. How can Pakistan or any other country fight these terrorist outfits within Afghanistan? Mr Zakria said that it is “not appropriate to blame others for the adversities due to the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. The oft repeated claims regarding safe havens are, therefore, more of rhetoric than anything else.” Furthermore, “The activities of Indian spy agency – Research and Analysis Wing – and its nexus with Afghan agency – NDS – remain a matter of deep concern for Pakistan.”
The revival of Carrot and Stick policy of the US should be rejected right from the outset. Pakistan had enough from US in its last seven decades history. Let us not be dictated by U.S anymore and have a relationship based on equality and mutual respect.US has always used Pakistan for the promotion of its national interests, which mostly run counter to national interests of Pakistan. Owing to strong footed Pak-China relationship, US is on defensive and trying to realign with a new strategy, which Pakistani government should not forget is a revival of its old game. Let us not be trapped again. Pakistan has lost over 65,000 people in this global war on terror, besides, suffering over 119 billion USD on economic grounds. Besides, let us talk clearly with Afghanistan on the bilateral issues, the NDS-RAW nexus and about its blame game, which must be stopped now.
South Asia In The Emerging World Order
By Shahid Javed Burki
January 15, 2017
Donald Trump’s unexpected political rise is more than just intriguing. It will have consequences that will go well beyond his country’s borders. It has already invited a great deal of commentary by those on the left of the political spectrum. It has also begun to be examined from different regional perspectives. The left in Europe worries that Trump’s triumph is a part of a general phenomenon that has become apparent on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain, Brexit was also an unexpected development. This resulted from a referendum called by then Prime Minister David Cameron to determine whether the British wanted to stay with the European Union or leave and go on their own. Some 52 per cent of those voting were in favor of leaving. Most of the “leave” vote came from the country’s smaller towns and rural areas. Those in London and other large cities voted overwhelmingly in favour of “staying.” This rural-urban divide paralleled the one that occurred a few months later in the elections in the US.
These developments should worry Asia, in particular the southern part of the continent. Judging from the commentary in the South Asian media, it appears that there is much fascination with the Trump drama. It is seen as political theatre. It is yet to dawn on the politically-wise pundits that the South Asian region which was next in line to benefit from the world economic and political order built after the end of the Second Word War would greatly suffer. That order is now under threat. It had essentially three features.
One, it was based on the rule of law put in place by agreement among states and was not enforced by one powerful nation. Two, institutions of governance were established to ensure that internationally agreed principles were followed by all nations. Three, countries could not follow their own interests; they had to abide by international law. Donald Trump’s rise is expected to dismantle this order. The conduct of international trade was by far the most important element of this economic order. It was trade that propelled forward the countries in East Asia the World Bank called the “miracle economies.” China was the next big beneficiary of this system. Next in line were the countries of South Asia. It was this recognition that brought in China to Pakistan with its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. (CPEC)
What has given the new American president the clout is the support he has received from the people who were not political regulars. Since they were not active in politics they did not figure in the many polls that were conducted as the Americans headed for the November 8 presidential elections. It was their vote for Donald Trump that put him in the White House. It is their politicisation that will push the existing global economic order in a direction that will harm many world regions, in particular South Asia. Post-election survey data suggests that the Trump voters were not bothered by his bigotry, lack of decency, thin-skinned approach to criticism and his use of cooked up data to get across his ideas. Soon after the elections were over, there was near-consensus that these voters went for Trump since they had been badly hurt by the process of globalisation. There was job loss because of the migration of many industries to countries such as China and Mexico. Lower-paying jobs went to immigrants from Mexico and the countries in Central America. Trump seems to have read the situation correctly winning the support of this group by promising to bring back to the US, the industries that had left and building a wall along the country’s southern border to keep out illegal immigrants who have entered America. These people want policymakers to concentrate on what is good for America, not necessarily support a rule-based world order.
The most damaging aspect of the new system Trump is likely to put in place is that it will, in his words, place “America first.” Washington would not subscribe to a world system which requires that some classes in the country may get hurt. The most important consequence of this approach will be in the area of international trade. It will become protectionist rather than open and rule based. This will come about just as South Asia was getting ready to step in the shoes of China which was moving out of manufacturing of goods that would be produced by cheap and not highly trained workers. CPEC was supposed to move Pakistan in that direction.
A Nation Which Loves To Laugh At Others
By Aminah Suhail Qureshi
Having my wrists shackled with the manacle of nationalism, I struggled not to write on this particular topic. I made a strenuous effort to resist my fingers from typing these words as I feared crossing my boundaries and defaming my country and its people. But even bacteria stabilise themselves after shifting from lag to log phase. What are we (I did not use “Who” on purpose!)? We, as a society, have set certain principles for ourselves, no matter how shabby and rotten. One of them is finding entertainment and amusement in others’ mistakes, sufferings and agonies. Our collective attitude, as a nation, towards dealing with almost every controversy can adopt different dimensions. While one aspect comprises jubilation, censuring, and abomination, the other facet consists of mocking, damning those who initially derided, and then being remorseful. I have reached this conclusion after my years of observation and, regretfully, this theory has been vindicated by some incidents that have occurred lately.
Back in 2012, when Malala was shot in an assassination attempt, the initial national sentiments advocated for her safety and catching the culprits. I remember how every single person prayed for her health and well-being and how supportive the whole country was towards the decision of moving her to the United Kingdom for further treatment. But then the dynamics changed and the same nation started execrating the same Malala as an ‘agent’. The same Malala who was being celebrated as flag-bearer of female education was later ridiculed for gaining the apparent windfall fame and admiration from the West. She was accused of being an opportunist who fled from her land for her personal gains in contrast to thousands of girls who are still fighting the war raged against them on the actual battlefield. This particular example followed the first course: jubilation, censuring, and abomination.
All along his career until recently, Misbahul Haq has been admonished for batting slow. Who does not remember him being dubbed as a ‘Tuk Tuk’? He was scrutinised over his captaincy in 2013 after series defeat against South Africa. After years of denunciation and threats of being removed from the team, Misbah announced his retirement from ODIs and T-20Is after playing the 2015 World Cup. The same captain became the leading run scorer in the tournament from Pakistan. The same ‘Tuk Tuk’ became the oldest captain ever to score a test century while playing against England at Lord’s in July 2016. The same Misbah’s captaincy helped Pakistan in achieving the number 1 ranking in test cricket for the first time since 1988 in August 2016. Now his slowness is described as his composure and he is no more targeted after shameful defeats, including the latest one against Australia. This specific case assumed the second approach: mocking, damning the ridiculers, and being rueful.
A few months back, the cameras of our beloved media captured the moment when Bilawal Bhutto was shedding tears for his mother while taking her name. Some proclaimed it as a proof of his effeminateness and taunted him for not befitting in the scaffold of masculinity, and yet some doubted these tears to be pretentious and weapons which could be used for emotional manipulation of the masses for political gains. What has this nation not called him? Billo Rani, Zanani, and what not? Even our politicians do not spare him when it comes to his English accent. At such times, the whole nation stands united for deploring Bilawal’s naivety when it comes to speaking in Urdu. But was this incident not poles apart from just delivering a political speech in front of a bunch of people who are more interested in the food that is scheduled to be served after political assemblages instead of the speeches? Is the realm of politics actually derived of emotionalism to such an extent that a 28-year-old man weeping in the remembrance of his mother appears sissy and is unacceptable in this misogynist society? This incident and all those related to this man mostly go through the following process of audit: mocking, damning the taunters, and regret.
Interestingly, we are such people who are difficult to be satisfied. While we would not spare any single press conference for laughing at Bilawal Bhutto’s English accent, we could not help shaming the Lahorite who accidentally blurted out a phrase that actually is not deserved by us. She impulsively uttered “We are proud of you.” We laughed and had a great time jesting at how bad her spoken English was. So is more than half of this country’s! Should we all commit suicide over this? Has it not been ages since we won freedom from Britain? Or are we still living in an illusion of being a colony and have failed to enter postcolonial era? Individuals who expressed their thoughts on social media and showed ‘concern’ that this might be her only chance to speak in front of a camera should realise that creating a Facebook or Twitter profile might be their only chance to opine about something.Quoting Jibran Nasir’s Facebook post on January 13, 2017, “All those making fun of a little girl’s English to the extent of bullying her, do you think your parents can say to you “We are proud of you”?”
It is not about one, two or a few incidents, dear readers. It is about our common way of thinking and looking at things. It is about our frame of mind. It is about our orientations and inclinations. We do not even make a tiddliest effort to control our fits of cachinnation upon seeing a person falling from stairs or slipping in a puddle. This is what we learn from others and practise throughout our lives. Why is it such a big deal? It is a significant issue for the same reason as asking our government to make more dams and barrages, i.e. sustainability of the human race, not Homo sapiens, because we proclaim our superiority over animals. We just do not have to live; we have to live wisely.
Aminah Suhail Qureshi is a student of Biotechnology with an interest in current affairs, politics and journalism
Trump: Opportunities For Pakistan
By Khurram Minhas
Pakistani media has rendered Trump as the enemy of Islam and Pakistan. Situation in Pakistan was not in favour of Trump in the past several months. How Pakistan ran out of Trump’s unexpected triumph is a lingering question. Political pundits failed to apprehend Trump’s win in elections. Public opinion was not different from political pundits. They never expected Trump winning the election.
TV channels ran long discussions and broadcasted elections results and in the morning all were stunned. Their analyses fell on the grounds. In the morning, they were not prepared to make fresh, hasty, and unprepared comments and analyses on Trump’s unexpected victory. This was the lacuna of Pakistani media as they are habitual of pre-planned emotional reactions.
However, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wasted no time in sending a message to Trump for his victory in the hope to work together to improve relations under his presidency. The subsequent events after elections show positive trends towards Pakistan-US ties.
There is a brighter side of Trump’s election as President of the US. He has shown rationality towards various issues and gave due importance to Pakistan-US relationship during and after his electoral campaign. The Republican Party platform seems to mark a pleasant departure from usual Washington rhetoric of blaming Pakistan for its own internal as well as regional problems and asking it to do more. The 58-page party platform released during Trump’s election campaign is reflective of an unexpectedly friendly towards Pakistan and recognizes the historic ties the US has had with Islamabad. It also stresses the need to continue this relationship.
The best part of Trump’s apparent policy towards South Asia is his willingness of mediation for Kashmir dispute. He has publically expressed his willingness on two occasions; firstly, in an interview to “Hindustan Times”, Trump said that, he would be willing to play a mediatory role in addressing the “very, very hot tinderbox” of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Secondly, during the telephone conversation with Prime Minister of Pakistan he reaffirmed his willingness to mediate the Kashmir dispute. It was longstanding desire of Pakistani establishment to involve the US or any other major power of the world into mediation of Kashmir dispute, which was rejected repeatedly by the US. Therefore, Trump’s stay in White House as President represents one of the most important opportunities for the positive developments over Kashmir dispute.
Being a businessman he will try to increase economic relationship with the world and with South Asian countries. Trump’s business mindset is likely to support Chinese regional and extra-regional connectivity for business and trade. Since 2009, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of the US to Pakistan was decreasing gradually, which also negatively affected various sectors of Pakistani economy. However, it seems that during the Trump administration, Pakistan will regain FDI of the US in different sectors, which will help strengthening Pakistan’s economy.
Moreover, Pakistan has direct relevance in resolving the Afghan problem, which is a key to Trump’s apparent overseas defence policies. Pakistan’s importance will likely to increase during Trump’s presidency in South Asia due to Afghan reconciliation process. Trump’s policy of strong American economy cannot be materialized effectively until and unless it reduces defence commitments in the overseas. He has categorically rejected the possibility of military invasions during this tenure. He has criticised his predecessors over military invasions, which hampered American economy. In this backdrop, it seems that he will likely to decrease military forces from Afghanistan. Therefore, he would like to see resumption of Quad lateral Peace Talks (US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan) or other such forums in order to see reconciliation in Afghanistan during his tenure.
To conclude, opportunities for Pakistan are emerging from the White House after January 20, despite various challenges which have been highlighted by the media since the election of Donald Trump. Now there will be a testing time for the government of Pakistan that how it effectively exploit those opportunities in its favour.
Khurram Minhas is a research scholar at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Islamabad. He can be reached at email@example.com
Space for the Sharifs
By Syed Talat Hussain
January 16, 2017
Even though the political environment is Panama-leaks laden, the Nawaz Sharif government can draw comfort from the fact that it has got one front less to fight on.
Since the change of command in the army, there has been a visible shift in the tone and tenor of civil-military ties. General Raheel’s civilian-government smash squads and the accompanying PR machinery have both peacefully descended into the dust-bin of history. A more normal and professional outlook has replaced the functioning of the armed forces, whose leaders are vowing to uphold the institution’s “dignity and credibility through selfless ‘performance’ of our role and duties”. This is a far cry from the state of affairs a few months ago when cheap (and fake) ratings topped grace and propriety.
This has given the government space — a word that in the Sharifs’ world means that the army is off their political back. This, in turn, implies that they can be more emphatic and sure-footed in the exercise of power. However, this space isn’t guaranteed to last if the ruling family misreads its meaning and jumps to wrong conclusions about its implications. This space can certainly evaporate if the Sharifs try to harness it to their unfair advantage and attempt silly experiments. Understanding this space is, therefore, crucial for keeping civil-military ties on an even keel and ensuring that a good new beginning does not have a tragic ending.
What the government has to recognise is that the army’s command has changed but the army has not. It is the same institution that it used to be, whose professional upbringing since independence has been nurtured by coup d’états and direct control over all facets of national life.
The more recent generation of officers has seen a more complex interplay of factors define their worldview. The war on terror and the attendant cost of slow victory have taken the spread of their idea of defence of Pakistan beyond borders. Now every district and every union council is considered an area of legitimate action meant to secure the country’s survival.
From financial matters to what is taught at schools, from media reporting to the performance of the stock market, the army’s eye surveys all. Their business and real-estate dealings have woven them directly into the fabric of the national economy. These dealings have built a huge financial stake in matters that earlier were considered out of bounds.
Mentoring of the last decade and a half has hardened the unflattering institutional view of the civilian side. The Musharraf years taught them that politicians were a dispensable commodity, bought, sold and discarded at will. The Kayani years brought home the lesson that politicians need constant help and hand-holding ,and without the army’s advice and protection they cannot even do as much as hold a electoral exercise much less steer the country’s defence and foreign policy in stormy international waters.
The last three years have made them think that it takes a Twitter account to beat down the entire political class, and that marketing fictionalised glory is necessary for keeping a upper hand in national affairs. All this has happened together with the eruption of bruising political battles among the civilians, ruining everyone’s reputation and popularising the legend that every closet is filled with dirty skeletons.
COAS General Qamar Bajwa cannot rewrite this orientation of the armed forces over night. No commander can. He will not be able to change this mindset even in his full tenure. No commander can. The best that can be done is to create a more determined focus for this mighty force on pressing professional challenges, and insulate its functioning from the daily grind of politics regurgitated and projected ad nauseam through the national media. This is precisely what General Qamar Bajwa’s new team is attempting to do, even though this seemingly regular command communication itself has become a bit of a task.
This contextualises the space that the government has got for itself. More crucially, it highlights how limited this space is. Several things have to happen for this space to become the new normal. Foremost among these is enhancement of the capacity of the government to accelerate its decision-making process in key policy areas. It has to go beyond holding meetings and issuing re-assuring press releases. A calendar of activity with deadlines and marked areas of responsibility has to be created to speed up the process of gathering results in sectors that cannot wait.
The present agonising debate on proscribed organisations and military courts reflects nothing but poor commitment and shoddy planning. The interior minister’s bizarre stand in the face of growing national consensus on non-state groups is just one telling sign of the characteristic laziness that marks the prime minister’s exercise of his own command. Besides this, the style of governing the country continues to be slipshod and unmethodical. There is one Ishaq Dar for everything, and two foreign policy advisers and a defence minister for nothing. Prime Minister Sharif wants to run all affairs himself and yet does not want more than two persons around him as advisers.
His maximum time is consumed by debating the Panama leaks, and now recently on throwing loaves and fishes of development projects for political gains. Those designing the political strategy of survival of the government and defeat of its opponents are also deputed to design plans to manage and secure Pakistan’s interest in an extremely challenging regional and global setting.
Prime Minister Sharif does not have a team beyond his core team. The cabinet is a platform for endorsing pre-decided actions, and is dominated by the same individuals who control and call the shots outside the cabinet room. This is ad-hocism at its worst. No vision or reasonable plan of national action on strategic matters can be born out of it.
The coming months will test this system of running Pakistan through a kitchen cabinet. The new army high command must be making its own plans to tackle challenges they see as existential threats to or unique opportunities for Pakistan to secure its borders, and enhance its clout. These plans will not go very far if the political government does not own them or if it does not give its input for making them more realistic and achievable. This requires preparedness, sophistication in decision-making, a deep capacity to do follow up and, most important, constant attention to detail.
None of the above exists in the manner in which the Sharif government functions. It is chaotic and lacks professional depth that can only come from becoming genuinely inclusive in debate before planning. Fire-fighting methods have become innate to its governing instinct. The only exigency that it recognises is the exigency of survival in power.
If the government continues to skirt tackling core challenges to Pakistan and if it is consumed by daily politics, the space that it has vis-a-vis the army will not be of any use. The space will shrink and eventually become a thing of the past, generating the same debilitating disbalance in the civil-military equation that has been the bane of this country for decades.
So far the new army chief has sent out all the right signals. The barracks are no longer platforms of pointless boasting. Media space is used for articulating institutional interests only and meetings under the prime minister’s command have become more productive and congenial. In other words, he is improving and changing his institution’s game.
Can the Sharif government use this opening to step up to the plate? Can it significantly alter its style of policymaking? Can it act like a government in charge of a strategically important nuclear-armed state instead of remaining satisfied with performing mayoral functions only? So far the evidence suggests that it is the same old government it used to be when it did not have space.