Army stages a back-door coup as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was getting too big for his shoes, giving discomfort to the Army. Apparently, the Army roped in judiciary to oust Sharif in an year-old case in which he is not directly involved
Brig Anil Gupta
Pakistan, our unfriendly neighbour, has once again lived up to its tradition of not letting an elected Prime Minister completing the mandated five-year tenure. The people of Pakistan are very familiar to the oft-quoted popular quote of Pak Army, “Sorry for the Interruption, We will be back very soon.” They are used to “Khakis” overthrowing the civilian government through coup d’état, an art mastered by the men in uniform. However, this time the people were exposed to a new phenomenon, a judicial coup- planned by the military establishment and executed through the judiciary. It is the same judiciary which had earlier brought an end to the dictatorial regime of General Pervez Musharraf. The Army learnt a bitter lesson at that time, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Quick learner is what the army training makes its men. Accordingly, the military hierarchy in Pakistan was quick to realise that the people’s aspirations have changed and they can no more be controlled through the fear of gun. They want development, transparency and accountability which is difficult to come about under the martial law. The military, therefore, decided to opt for a win-win situation and have the best of both the worlds. It mastered the art of ‘controlling the driver’s seat”, with remote control, after the downfall of Musharraf. The army started ruling the country through dummy prime ministers. It never parted with the self-acquired power of determining the “India Policy”, that continued to be planned and executed from Rawalpindi (the headquarters of Pak Military) and not Islamabad (the seat of civilian power).
As it is said that while most countries have armies, but in Pakistan the army has a country. Ever since, its formation after the partition of the Indian sub-continent and division of the British Indian Army, the Pakistan Army has enjoyed considerable influence in the national decision making. Whether in or out of power, the Army in Pakistan wields tremendous influence in deciding the head of the government and remains a virtual king-maker. Nawaz Sharif, who had been a victim of military’s high-handedness and extra-constitutional authority in his previous two tenures was very careful in dealing with the military during his current tenure. He was inclined to improve the lot of a common Pakistani and lead the nation towards development. He was convinced that the same can only be achieved if he could manage friendly relations with his bigger, more developed and economically superior neighbour India. The new Modi-led government in India also desired to have peaceful relations with all its neighbours including Pakistan. Presence of Nawaz Sharif during the swearing- in ceremony of Modi and subsequent developments signalled peace between the two neighbours. It was against the policy framed by the military in Rawalpindi. Nawaz’s hot and cold relationship with the previous Army Chief, Gen Raheeel Sharif, became a household talk in India and Pakistan. Much to the dislike of Nawaz Saharif, Raheel Sharif lost no opportunity in demonstrating the military’s political might that did not flow from any mandate but the clout military enjoyed in the county’s unique governance model. The political system in Pakistan is so fragile that Islamabad has no option but to succumb to the pressure of the military and Nawaz Sharif was no exception. Only difference was that he continued to nurture his desire of better relations with India through track-2 diplomacy or back-door diplomacy. Despite objections from the Army and the Opposition parties, he met an Indian industrialist, Sajjan Jindal, in April 2017, at his private residence in Murree, which gave rise to the speculation of the two countries reviving bilateral talks. It was also alleged that Jindal conveyed a message to Sharif from Modi concerning the controversial death sentence of Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer who was abducted by the ISI agents from Chhabahar in Iran to Baluchistan and later arrested on fake charges of spying. This infuriated the Deep State in Pakistan. It decided that Nawaz Sharif was growing too big for his shoes and needed to go. The Panama Papers leak that had surfaced exactly a year ago involving Sharif and his family gave legitimacy to the Army’s plan for his ouster. The Supreme Court verdict ruling that “Sharif had been dishonest to the Parliament and the judicial system and was no longer deemed fit for office”. The Deep State was successful in its mission and the judicial coup to oust Nawaz Sharif was executed with a perfect military finesse.
The speculation runs rife in media about his possible successor and implications for India. Who succeeds Nawaz Sharif hardly matters. Whether it is another Sharif or somebody else, he will ultimately have to succumb to the diktats of all-powerful army. Nawaz Sharif’s toppling has once again brought to the fore the concerns about Pakistan’s struggling democracy viz-a-viz the all-pervading military establishment. All civilian heads in Pakistan realise that the collective will of the army as an institution will always overpower the fragile office of the PM. Meddling in politics has become part and parcel of the professional ethos of The Pakistan Army. As far India is concerned it will now have to confront an even more hostile and arrogant Pakistan Army. Pakistan Army has a single-point agenda of “hate India”. Quoting Christine Fair again, “main motivation of Pakistan Army is to resist and weaken Hindu-dominated India in whatever way possible. It sees India as an existential threat,” an ideology born out of the two-nation theory.
Irony is that despite repeated failures of Pakistan Army in the battlefield against India, or its failure to protect Pak’s sovereignty when US Marines penetrated deep inside Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden, many Pakistanis still love the Army. Internationally, Pakistan army is labelled as a nuclear proliferator as well as harbourer, financer and trainer of radical Islamic terrorists. The army’s poor track record at home of human rights violation, murders, kidnappings and genocides in Baluchistan, Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, Pak-occupied Jammu & Kashmir (POJK) and Sindh has drawn enough adverse criticism at home and abroad. On top of that Military continues to gulp lion’s share of total public spending in Pakistan because of its Punjabi domination and the claim of being the sole protector of Pakistan’s nationhood. As per rough estimates the army corners 70-80% of the current annual spending of Pakistan, substantial amount of which is spent to finance terror. According to Christine Fair, author of “Fighting to the End”, a treatise on ‘strategic culture’ of Pakistan Army, “the $30 billion of direct and indirect aid which America has given to Pakistan in the past 11 years has done little but enrich the military men”.
But despite all that, the army’s forays into politics enjoy public support because of the latter’s disillusionment with the politicians who have let them down more often than not. Thus the poor people of Pakistan are left always to choose between a rock and a hard place or between the devil and deep sea. Though whenever the Army has ruled the nation it has brought more strategic losses to the nation at the cost of short term, narrow tactical gains, the anti-India hysteria it creates endows it to the public and that accounts for no furore in Pakistan on the removal of Nawaz Sharif.
(The author is a Jammu-based
columnist and strategic analyst)