By Najam Sethi
IN A recent TV interview, the former prime minister and current leader of the opposition, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has made some extraordinary statements. These show that Mr Sharif has come a long way in understanding the nature of the Pakistani state and the core issues that confront it. More significantly, some of his current views are out of sync with the articulated positions of the post- Musharraf “national security establishment” that remains the “state within the state”. This has implications not only for the development of a democratic culture and viable political system in Pakistan but also for Mr Sharif’s political career. Consider.
Mr Sharif wants enduring peace with India. He believes that without it Pakistan will not be able to establish civilian supremacy over the military, nor develop its economy for the socio- economic upliftment of the people. The running conflict with India provides the military with its pre- eminent raison d’être (custodian of national security and national power) as well as the largest slice of the fiscal cake ( at the expense of poverty alleviation and development) which gives it muscle. He is ready to solve Kashmir (“set it aside”) so that it doesn’t adversely affect India- Pak relations.
His proposed solution to Kashmir would focus on what Kashmiris in Srinagar want rather than on what some ideological or military quarters in Pakistan have always demanded — a plebiscite to determine whether or not Kashmirs want to become a part of Pakistan.
HE SAYS he set out to do this in 1999 when he invited India’s prime minister to Lahore. But this initiative was sabotaged by General Pervez Musharraf’s misadventure in Kargil, the coup against his government and the military’s belligerent approach to India. Mr Sharif was vindicated when General Musharraf did a U- turn in 2004 by embracing his peace formula with some candid out- of- the- box thinking on Kashmir.
This envisaged joint control over the whole disputed territory for the foreseeable future and the disengagement of the militaries of both countries from the territory until a more propitious time for a final settlement in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and India and Pakistan. Mr Sharif realises that the conflict with India has made the military politically pre- eminent, deformed Pakistan’s political system and laid the economy low.
This view is now at odds with the post- Musharraf military establishment once again. Despite its avowed peaceable intentions, India is back on Pakistan’s national security agenda as a “core threat” because of its “military capability and cold- start doctrine”. Indeed, under instructions from GHQ, the Pakistani Foreign Office has formally repudiated the Musharraf doctrine while the Zardari government has meekly consented to a reversal of its old position under Benazir Bhutto, which was actually a precursor to Mr Sharif’s position in 1999.
Thus, by an irony of history, Mr Sharif is now considered a “national security” liability much as Benazir was in 1988 when she first came to office.
The similarity doesn’t end there. Benazir tried to establish control over the military and build peace with India. But she was ousted in 1990 for being a “ security risk”. Mr Sharif followed suit in 1999 and met the same fate. Mr Zardari made a move in early 2008 to rein in the ISI and talk peace with India. Today he is hopelessly besieged as a result of it. Under the circumstances, Mr Sharif has staked his political career by making such a bold statement. He should be commended for his vision.
In the same context, Mr Sharif criticised the army’s public displeasure last year of the text of the Kerry- Lugar bill. This hugely embarrassed the Zardari government and destabilised it. He says that if the army high command has strong views about anything, these should be aired at the proper civil- military forum, like the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, or even privately in meetings between the army chief and the prime minister or president, but never in public in opposition to government policy. He referred to a public statement by General Jehangir Karamat, the army chief in 1998, stressing the need of a national security council, which provoked Mr Sharif to sack him for speaking out of turn.
Mr Sharif also reiterated his position that army chiefs should be generally appointed on the basis of seniority and institutional rules should be followed in matters of promotions and extensions rather than the whims of civilians or demands of generals. This is a significant intervention since it comes amidst public speculation on the issue of an extension in the service of the current army chief General Kayani, in view of the on- going war on terror that he has successfully prosecuted.
The brass cannot be too pleased with Nawaz Sharif’s views. At the very least, if any khaki- black robed intervention is conspiring to oust Mr Zardari it cannot think of Mr Sharif as a viable alternative. That is why Mr Zardari should build fences with Mr Sharif so that the fledgling parliamentary system is not derailed by new adventurers and civilian control over the military is established as a primary condition for Pakistan’s salvation from the ranks of the failing states of the world.
Finally, Mr Sharif admitted that, for the military to obey the civilians, the civilians must be worthy of the military’s confidence.
Truer words were not spoken.
Unfortunately, that remains as true today as it was in the time of Benazir and Mr Sharif as prime ministers. Indeed, regardless of party affiliations, the civilians are constantly tripping over themselves to be more corrupt, incompetent and disreputable than their predecessors. Until this reformist charity begins at home, there is no way in which Mr Sharif or Mr Zardari or any other civilian politician can earn the military’s trust and persuade it to take a back seat in ruling Pakistan.
The writer is Editor of The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today