Millennium Post

The coup that wasn't

Leaders backed the prime minister and in parliament sang eulogies to their joint effort in keeping the military at bay. But Pakistan is a slippery slope and possibilities of a sudden U-turn cannot be ruled out from its uncertain political class. In a joint media briefing last Wednesday, the leader of the opposition negotiating team, Jamat-e-Islami (JI) chief Siraj-ul Haq, said the meeting was productive.

‘It has been a productive meeting. There is still a deadlock, but 70 per cent of the work has been done. We believe there will a concrete solution soon.’ He meant a dilution of demands kept before PM Sharif and mitigating the now three-week-long standoff that almost sent Islamabad into the arms of the army.

The anti-government protests led by PTI chairman Imran Khan and PAT chief Tahir-ul-Qadri began on 15 August in an attempt to topple Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who they accuse of rigging the 2013 general elections.

While Khan and Qadri continue to demand Sharif’s resignation, a joint session of parliament last week saw all parties put aside their differences and come out overwhelmingly in the support of the prime minister. The protests turned violent and as a result, at least three people were killed with over 450 protestors injured.

‘To be fair to Nawaz Sharif, neither Imran Khan nor Tahirul Qadri have a real case against him. Nor for that matter do they have a cogent and coherent plan on how to run Pakistan, if indeed they manage to force Nawaz Sharif out of his office and take over power. Sloganeering is one thing, fixing a broken down country like Pakistan quite another.

Given the brainlessness, belligerence and anarchic demagoguery on display, both Imran Khan and Qadri don’t inspire any confidence whatsoever that they are up to the job. Their main demand for now is to see the back of Nawaz Sharif. Chances are that if they achieve what they want, it will be a pyrrhic victory, one in which they will also be left out in the cold’, said Sushant Sareen, a senior fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation.

He further adds, ‘ I think it’s binding down now because the Army has had to back off which was supporting the whole thing, the politicians closed ranks except Imran Khan. The whole political structure has closed ranks behind Nawaz Sharif. There is no political support to this. At the public level, I don’t find any relevance in rest of Pakistan. Protesters wanted to catch TV cameras to induce the public in all across the nation but that did not happen.’

The political government seems to have survived this round and it might even come out little stronger than it was, but that will ultimately depend on how it plays its cards in coming future. So my own reading is that perhaps the storm is over’, said Sareen.

Past intervention by Army

Pakistan’s interior minister had said the intransigence of anti-government protest movements has left no alternative but mediation by the army to end a two-week-long political crisis that has shaken the nuclear-armed nation. The country’s powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif had held talks with populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan right in the middle of the stalemate between the government and protesters. The move raised fears of increased military dominance over the civilian government in a country ruled for more than half its life by the army.

Both Imran Khan and cleric Qadri have drawn thousands to the streets in Islamabad, though support has dwindled over the last week and their call has not mobilised a mass movement in the country of 180 million. But the logjam has weakened Sharif, and led a number of observers to say the military would use the crisis to reclaim hold over its traditional spheres of influence in Pakistani politics-
defence and foreign policy.

‘Whosoever may be the ruler in Pakistan, Army’s help has always been sought. And even Imran Khan’s party has strong ties with the military. Whenever democracy takes birth, elections held and government formed, the opposition has always questioned the whole process.

It had happened in 1990 between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. And now Imran Khan and Qadri are questioning the Sharif regime. So the first and foremost condition of any thriving democracy is that the elections must be held fairly and properly and the verdict must be accepted by the political class and wait for the next elections. But this political culture does not exist in Pakistan,’ said professor Sujit Dutta from Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia university.

Impact on India
 ‘The army is widely viewed as hostile toward Sharif's efforts to normalise ties with India- the perceived threat from Pakistan's giant neighbour is a big part of the justification for the military's large budget and prominent role. Sharif is also thought to have angered the military by pursuing treason charges against former chief General Pervez Musharraf.

There is speculation that the military will use the current crisis to get Sharif to let Musharraf — who deposed him in a coup in 1999 — leave the country. A military-negotiated end to the crisis would also lend credence to the view, held by many analysts, that the army and its intelligence agencies have been providing material aid to the opposition groups,’ opined Mukesh Kumar who is a PhD scholar in foreign affairs in Panjab University, Chandigarh.

But, Sushant is of a different view. ‘Now when we try analysing Indo-Pak relations with this turmoil in the background, it has two sides. First, we have accepted that the civilian government has survived in Pakistan as of now and there are only two ways this government is going to function. One is if it concedes foreign policy, defence and security policy to the military, since it barely makes any difference to India.

Because in the last six decades, there’s not been any case of Army calling the shots in brokering a greater peace deal with India. So more of the past will repeat in the future. Thus the possibility of any kind of breakthrough between New Delhi and Islamabad is nil and there is a theoretical impossibility as long as the Pakistani army keeps calling the shots. The army will keep playing the game which it has been playing since ages and no change is expected in their foreign policy towards India.’

Lessons to be learnt
The denouncement of this clear collapse of state authority in the face of a marauding mob is not yet clear. However, what is evident is that democracy has been grievously damaged, the civilian government has been reduced to a mockery of itself and the political and administrative system has been brought on the verge of a terminal meltdown. The question is no longer of Nawaz Sharif’s survival, but of what sort of caricature he will be reduced to if he survives and who/which party will replace him if he doesn’t survive. Even more important will be the impact of the political implosion underway on the security, stability and economic viability of Pakistan.

Dutta explains, ‘In Pakistan, the democratic structure, values and institutions have constantly been very weak because of the nature of its society, culture and composition of its political configuration which helped the military to step in during mid 1950s and take up a guardian’s role. Pakistan could not put the constitution in place after a civilian regime led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came in 1973 since it could last for just four years before the military again stepped in and took over under General Zia-ul-Haq. The democracy in this nation has suffered constant blows with military’s incessant interventions. Now the parliament has backed Sharif but the military must fall in line and the battle should be won by none other than the civilians. The politicians must understand and share a common view that they all are for the betterment and strengthening of democracy. If Imran Khan’s party thinks the elections were rigged in 2013, street protests are not the solution. They must approach the court.’  

‘What Imran Khan and Qadri have done today, some other political party or even religious party can do tomorrow, making governance by a political government next to impossible. To an extent, this template of political terrorism or mobocracy has been on display in other parts of the world – Egypt (Tahrir Square), Ukraine and Georgia among others. Even in India, the AAP tried something similar when they decided to besiege the PM house some months back. But Pakistan is being put through a political churning that could easily escalate into a political implosion which at the very least will deal a body blow to the fledgling democracy in that country,’ says Sareen.

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