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PAKISTAN’S ROAD TO REDEMPTION

Last month, after the historic 11 May polls, a jubilant Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif communicated his urge to bury the hatchet with cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. He should be credited for that. Nawaz’s adherence to similar principles, however, is imperative too. His handling of what has passed would decide the fate of this golden opportunity presented to him. Primarily, Nawaz’s decisions involving former president Pervez Musharraf are tantamount to his personal as well as professional evolution.

Whether Nawaz can bury the hatchet with General Pervez Musharraf is pertinent to Pakistan’s fragile democratic future. It was General Pervez Musharraf who ousted Nawaz Sharif in 1999 staging fourth and till now last military coup in Pakistan’s history. The Punjabi politician was sent to exile in Saudi Arabia and it was not before eight years that Nawaz could make a comeback to the Pakistan politics. He is now back with a bang and certainly the incoming prime minister has every reason to avenge Musharraf but in the interest of the country he should do otherwise.

Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N won 124 of 272 contested seats in 11 May parliamentary election. He is swearing in as prime minister for the third time on 5 June. But he will have to be most careful in handling the military in order to avoid jeopardy. It is crucial for Nawaz Sharif to tackle the Musharraf issue warily in order not to risk any confrontations with the powerful defence brigade, especially in view of his evident unpopularity amongst the Generals. Khawar Ghumman in his article ‘Musharraf cases pose early test for Nawaz’ in The Dawn newspaper said, ‘Former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s presence in the capital is major concern which the party will have to address soon after taking over the charge on 5 June.’ Ghumman quoted a senior PML-N leader as saying, ‘The party could ill-afford any controversy relating to cases against General Musharraf soon after taking over. Maybe a go slow or hands off policy can work in the party’s favour.’

All eyes in Pakistan remain glued to see whether Sharif’s government would try Musharraf under Article 6 for subverting the constitution. It certainly would be the first major confrontation for the new government. Currently under detention, Musharraf is facing a litany of cases, including trial under Article 6 of the constitution for imposing emergency on 3 November 2007, for his alleged role in assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Akbar Bugti, Lal Masjid operation case and the judges’ detention case.

Saleem Safi in The News says that Nawaz’s actions on Musharraf could cause major problem between him and the military. ‘The sooner he (Musharraf) leaves the country the better. It is hoped that he will have left the country before Nawaz takes oath as prime minister. And even if he gets delayed, Nawaz must let Musharraf go. Musharraf’s presence in Pakistan now is not only a risk to his life but will also hinder Nawaz Sharif from concentrating on concrete issues. At any moment, this issue could become a point of no return between Nawaz and the armed forces.’
Civil-military relations have undoubtedly been the most debatable issue in Pakistan since the country’s inception. One should not belittle Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) completion of first ever five-year term and transition of one democratic government to other. It is an event worthy of praise, but Pakistan military’s hawk-eye approach to civilian governments is not something covert and outdated. Former President Asif Ali Zardari rather was cunning in managing military during his five year term. Nawaz Sharrif is expected to act as more seasoned politician.  

Mahir Ali quoted in BBC saying, ‘When Nawaz Sharif was removed from power in 1999, many Pakistanis expressed great relief, describing him as corrupt, incompetent and power-hungry. By overlooking that history and giving him such a strong mandate in this weekend’s elections, Pakistanis have expressed their confidence that Sharif is now an older and wiser politician.’

Another contentious issue at hand for incoming government involving military is its stance on India. The sabre-rattling in Pakistan intensifies on any issue related to India who the Pakistan military publicly regards as an ‘external threat’. Nawaz’s prenuptial intentions to build bonhomie with India has put military on an alert.

As Katharine Houreld writes in Reuters, ‘Sharif’s policies towards India will be heavily scrutinised – some in the army justify its massive budget on the potential threat from India – but there are signs the military may be slightly more amenable to overtures than in the past.’

It is no secret that the very reason for the civil-military conflict in 1999 was Nawaz’s relations with India and Afghanistan, eventually leading to a military coup. Nawaz’s relations with the military have been far from excellent since then. In fact, it is said that military backed Imran Khan’s PTI to keep Nawaz from coming back to power. Already prospects of good relations between Nawaz and military are bleak despite former’s statements that he will not interfere in Army’s promotions for which he was earlier accused by the military. However, everything is possible if Nawaz chooses to act righteously.
 
After all Nawaz has been there and done that. And at this juncture there could be no versed leader than him who could bring the country out of bad governance. Issues of power outage and Taliban insurgency should be on Nawaz’s leitmotifs but he will only be successful in managing them if he strikes a chord with hegemonic military. 

Undisputedly, the ball is in Nawaz’s court now and how he plays his innings is crucial. Former President Asif Ali Zardari speaking for the first time on Monday after facing defeat in elections said, ‘Nawaz Sharif would have to decide how to handle the cases of former military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.’
If anyone, on Pakistan military, would wish to succinctly make a remark ‘handle with caution’ is an automatic outcome. Nawaz Shariff knows that very well. It remains to be seen now how he chooses to sail through this democratic voyage combating, rather negotiating, the 
military storm. 

The author is principal correspondent at Millennium Post
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