Lessons for India: Room for stability

While an election earlier than the one scheduled for August 2023 is expected, Indo-Pak relations are likely to look up with High Commissioners back on their desk as early as June

Though uncharismatic and prone to public outbursts, the new Pak PM Shehbaz Sharif (70) has the reputation of being a workaholic and tough administrator who speaks fluent German, Arabic and English
Though uncharismatic and prone to public outbursts, the new Pak PM Shehbaz Sharif (70) has the reputation of being a workaholic and tough administrator who speaks fluent German, Arabic and English

Nilova Roychaudhury

What really stood out in Islamabad over these past few weeks was the determined bid by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) to ensure that the sanctity of the country’s Constitution was upheld, despite the most brazen attempts by the executive to thwart it, by bypassing the due process in the legislature.

Equally impressive was the role that media and civil society played in calling out the rather desperate actions of former prime minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) member-appointees to the posts of Speaker and his deputy in the national legislature.

Indians look down and sneer at Pakistani democracy, mostly with good reason, but the way the recent political drama played out there has several salutary lessons for India. Primarily, that the judiciary and the media can and must withstand pressures and machinations of the political establishment and, secondly, the critical importance of a strong opposition to sustain a democratic framework.

However, despite the veneer of democratic processes functioning in the due process of the removal of a prime minister lies the other reality of Pakistan, with the Army scripting the agenda from behind the scenes.

The Army has been unimpressed with cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan’s record in governance. Not only did Khan mishandle the economy and rising debt increased public frustration and unrest, he also alienated traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

However, the Army’s disenchantment with Khan came to a head last October when he sought to challenge the deep establishment and got involved in making crucial army appointments.

After the Taliban was established in Kabul, Khan wanted his favoured commander, Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed, then Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who actively assisted in the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, to remain in the post. Hameed had been publicly sighted in Kabul helping in the Taliban government formation talks and was therefore deemed to be compromised, necessitating his transfer out of the ISI.

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa posted Hameed to Peshawar as corps commander of the XI Corps, handling Afghan affairs, and appointed Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum as DG ISI. Khan, as PM, tried to stall Anjum’s appointment, setting up a direct confrontation with Bajwa, but had to finally sign the orders approving the appointment.

After ‘securing’ Afghanistan by installing the Taliban government and ensuring that India does not have a tangible footprint there, the Pakistani deep establishment did not need a PM to harbour ambitions of his own, with the help of some amenable army commanders.

With no party having the requisite numbers in the Pakistan National Assembly (PNA) to remove the PTI government, the main Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and several smaller, including religious, parties and independents came together.

Increasingly vocal in their demands for Khan to quit, the last straw was when Khan, visiting Moscow on the day Russia launched its military assault on Ukraine, called his visit as happening “during interesting times.” Although it was the first visit by a Pakistani Premier to Russia after decades, Khan’s insensitive comments were deemed to have embarrassed Pakistan.

The new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, younger brother of former Premier Nawaz Sharif, and several family members have serious corruption charges against them, ensuring that it will not be an easy tenure for him.

A defiant Imran Khan who, like all his predecessors has been unable to complete a full, five-year tenure in office, has organised nationwide protests to challenge his removal. His efforts to claim a ‘foreign’ (US) hand in his removal carries some traction among his supporters.

Sharif ’s appointment is unlikely to quell Pakistan’s political crisis. It is most likely that national elections will be called as soon as the Pakistan Election Commission is ready even as the election is scheduled for August, 2023.

In his acceptance speech, Sharif raised the issue of Kashmir. The cease-fire along the Indian border and LoC, agreed last February, has largely held. Given Pakistan’s higher levels of comfort in Afghanistan, where India is no longer a major threat, it is unlikely that Pakistan will immediately reopen costly covert hostilities with India along Jammu & Kashmir or even Punjab.

On April 2, Gen Bajwa, who oversees India policy, said, “we have not seen any major incident along the LoC since last one year, which has brought great relief to the people living along both sides of the LoC. Pakistan continues to believe in using dialogue and diplomacy to resolve all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute, and is ready to move forward on this front if India also agrees to do so.”

Pakistan National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf, who has been conducting back channel negotiations with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, resigned last week, but it is unlikely there will be any escalation of hostilities along the LoC or attempts to infiltrate terrorists, despite the passes opening up after the winter.

It is indeed very likely that full bilateral diplomatic ties will be resumed and High Commissioners back in office as early as June.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

(Views are personal)

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