‘The military has made a dramatic comeback in Pakistan’s national affairs’

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DSC_0439 copy (2)Raza Rumi — a Pakistani columnist, policy analyst and journalist — has recently written the book The Fractious Path, which focuses on Pakistan’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, and how democracy evolved immediately after the period of Gen Musharraf.

In an interview with Riyaz Wani, Rumi discusses how Pakistan has oscillated between weak democratic governments and brutal military dictatorships since 1947, the latter ruling for about half its existence.
edited Excerpts from an interview •

The Fractious Path follows Delhi by Heart, your first book on India’s capital city. Are the two books related?

Indeed it does follow Delhi by Heart. But it is different from the first book because Delhi by Heart was a travel memoir with a bit of ‘exploring one’s history’ over the centuries. In contrast, The Fractious Path focuses on Pakistan’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, and how democracy evolved immediately after the period of Gen Musharraf. The five years under President (Asif Ali) Zardari (2008-2013) were critical as they culminated in the first ever peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another. The book looks at that particular moment in Pakistan’s recent history.

How does The Fractious Path add to the prevailing discourse about Pakistan?

The Fractious Path is a collection of political commentaries on key issues that concern Pakistan’s domestic governance and its foreign policy. It documents political, security, economic, constitutional crises, that Pakistan faced during 2008-13. I am not sure if it adds to the discourses but it certainly tells you that Pakistan is not a black or white case. It is a complex, evolving and transitional country and my analyses on a number of issues highlight this. This was a time when I had started my engagement with mainstream media and had the opportunity to gather information and views from a variety of sources. I would say that my writings — even when you disagree with them — give a desi insight into Pakistan as opposed to lots of commentaries done by outsiders especially since the ‘war on terror’ commenced.

How do you look at Pakistan’s democracy eight years after it was restored following Musharraf’s exit from the scene?

Pakistan’s democracy is gradually stabilising. In the past eight years, we saw the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power after general elections of 2013. We also saw a consolidation of the democratic system whereby President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the military chief, all four transitioned in 2013 sending a message that now the system is functional and constitutional processes cannot deviate. At the same time, democracy suffered a few setbacks. The stalled trial of former dictator Musharraf is an example. Democratic control over the national security apparatus has yet to be established; and the military, since 2014, has made a dramatic comeback in Pakistan’s national affairs. Yet, unlike the past eras, it cannot launch a coup easily nor does it think that direct intervention is good for the institution and its interests. In any case, democracy is a long-term project, and if the current process continues, it may consolidate further.

The dominant opinion in India is that the power structure in Pakistan continues to remain hopelessly split between Army and the civilian leadership.
No one can deny that Pakistan has been virtually ruled by military generals directly or indirectly. The process of elections and installing a civilian dispensation does not change the balance of power between military and the civilian leadership. It will take few more rounds of elections and greater influence by the civilian leadership to exert control over Army. At the moment, Pakistan is battling multiple insurgencies and civil conflict, which enables the army to exert extra influence in domestic politics and national policy making. More importantly, the Pakistani politicians have yet to show full faith in the Parliament and remain open to backdoor deals with the Army.

New Army chief is credited with a successful campaign against the terrorist groups in Northwest Pakistan and Karachi. This is believed to have made him powerful relative to Nawaz Sharif.

By all accounts, Gen Raheel Sharif appears to be more influential (and perhaps popular) than PM Sharif. This is due to his clear stance on Pakistani Taliban and taking them on which has been appreciated by the wider sections of the society. PM Sharif had preferred talks with the Tehreeh-e-Taliban Pakistan. Secondly, the political crises of 2014 — in part fuelled by sections within the state – also left PM Sharif weak. PM Sharif in recent months regained some of his political capital and his party bagged most of the seats in local body elections in major cities. But the recent Panama Leaks have made Nawaz more vulnerable and tilted the scales in favour of the Army.

With regard to the bilateral talks with India, the Udhampur attack has introduced a seemingly unresolvable complexity in the process. The thinking in India goes as to what purpose do the talks serve when a part of the security establishment wants to sabotage it.

India-Pakistan peace process has always been complex. There are naysayers on both sides. Security establishment in Pakistan seeks to safeguard its corporate (and power) interests. Moreover, Pakistan’s national security advisor, who is also a former senior commander of the Army, is engaged with Indian national security advisor. Talks through NSA channels led to Pakistani investigation team visiting India in recent weeks. Thus, despite being complex, the bilateral process is not dead, even though it proceeds at a snail pace.

There’s this ambivalence in Pakistan against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Establishment sees it as a terrorist group and  the opinion that it is aided by  India also holds sway. What’s  not clear is its relationship to Afghan Taliban.

 TTP has come out and directly attacked Pakistani state institutions, military installations, and personnel across the country (such as PC-3 Orion aircraft destroyed at Naval base in Karachi). Pakistan’s intelligence is convinced that TTP  has been supported by India to foment instability within Pakistan. Thus, TTP is the enemy of the  state and has to be degraded and defeated at all cost. The TTP has not descended from outer space — it comprises sections of militants that Pakistani state earlier supported and which have gone rogue for a variety of reasons. The key reason is ideological where the military is viewed as a toady of the West especially the U.S. by the hardliners among the violent extremists.

There are linkages between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban but currently, their interests are divergent. Afghan Taliban doesn’t carry out attacks inside Pakistan as they need the support of Pakistan state. The TTP wants to harm Pakistani state so ends up harming military interests and scaring the civilian population.

One more thing to be noted is that Pakistani military believes Afghan Taliban is a legitimate political/national force in Afghanistan. Thus, the state policy assumes that to exert and gain strategic influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan must have a certain degree of communication with Afghan Taliban. It is well known that Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy is largely driven by the fear of Indian encirclement (and India fears terrorism if Afghanistan slips back into militant hands). This is why India and Pakistan need to talk candidly about their respective concerns. Otherwise, stability shall remain elusive in the region.

‘At the moment, Pakistan is battling multiple insurgencies and civil conflicts, which enable army
to exert extra influence in domestic politics and national policy making,’

There is also an opinion that TTP is Afghan Taliban’s replication of the ISI’s strategic depth strategy. Like Pakistan seeks or once sought Afghanistan as a strategic depth against India, Afghan Taliban has it in TTP.

Yes, the problem of reverse sanctuaries is a reality now. For Pakistan, this is a major concern. Pakistan says Afghan Taliban is a legitimate faction in Afghanistan, while TTP isn’t a legitimate force in Pakistan. Thus, TTP should be denied safe havens in Afghanistan. Pakistan has in the recent month put a degree of pressure on Afghan Taliban but it can’t go beyond a limit due to constraints imposed by larger policy towards Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan.

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