Pak gets a taste of its own medicine : The Tribune India

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Pak gets a taste of its own medicine

The country’s position on national security issues is becoming increasingly difficult to justify

Pak gets a taste of its own medicine

Dynasty politics: The reins of power in Pakistan will remain in the hands of family patriarch Nawaz Sharif (left) through his younger brother, Shehbaz. AP/PTI



G Parthasarathy

Chancellor, Jammu Central University, & Former High Commissioner to Pakistan

PAKISTAN has, over the past four decades, described the main objective of its foreign policy, especially in its immediate neighbourhood, as a quest for ‘strategic depth’ against India. The definition of ‘strategic depth’ in the lexicon of the Pakistani army has included support for radical Islamic groups within the country and in its neighbourhood. Islamabad believed in the use of ‘radical Islam’ for terrorism in India and Afghanistan. While the US enjoyed backing radical Islamic groups for ‘bleeding’ the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan, it paid a heavy price when the fundamentalist Afghan Taliban turned their guns on the US forces. The subsequent, hurried withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan was not exactly the most glorious moment in America’s history. The Pakistani army patted its own back for having humiliated both Russians and Americans in Afghanistan, even as the US was flooding Pakistan with substantial military and economic assistance.

Pakistani politics is being shaped by differences between its ousted but highly admired ex-PM Imran Khan and the armed forces led by Gen Asim Munir.

Many groups and media organisations in Pakistan celebrated and rejoiced that the use of ‘militant Islam’ had brought two superpowers — USSR and the US — to their knees. The resort to such policies had two major effects. First, it strengthened the grip of the army on Pakistan’s polity. Second, ‘radical Islam’ and the use of ‘low-intensity conflict’ to influence developments in Pakistan’s neighbourhood became integral elements of Islamabad’s policies. Radical Sunni groups like the Taliban remain a cause for deep concern, not only in Shia-dominated Iran, but also in Arab countries of the Gulf, ranging from Saudi Arabia to the UAE.

These developments continued for around three decades and had adverse effects on Pakistan’s relations with some of the oil-rich Gulf states, besides Iran and Afghanistan. The earlier warmth in Pakistan’s relations with Gulf countries, like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, no longer exists. Nevertheless, quite naturally, these countries do help when Pakistan’s economy seems to face a collapse. Pakistan’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Asif Durrani, has given an indication of his country’s desperation in dealing with radical Islamic groups. He recently claimed that 5,000 to 6,000 militants of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who have taken refuge in Afghanistan, were being funded by India.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced recently that Pakistan had carried out cross-border raids on Afghanistan, hitting targets in the country’s border provinces of Khost and Paktika. Pakistan has, thereafter, made it clear that it intends to act strongly against Afghanistan’s territorial transgressions across its borders. The Afghans have, however, responded with heavy weaponry to target Pakistani troops across the border in the Kurram and North Waziristan provinces. Similar tensions were prevalent in January when Iran targeted separatist Balochistan-based groups operating from bases in Pakistan. While referring to these developments, Durrani announced that Islamabad had undertaken an air raid on Iran as a retaliatory strike for attacks on its territory by Baloch groups.

Pakistan’s position on such national security issues is now becoming increasingly difficult to justify, both domestically and across its borders. Most importantly, its politics is being shaped by differences between its ousted but highly admired former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the armed forces led by army chief Gen Syed Asim Munir. They are engaged in virtual day-to-day rivalry in Pakistan. Gen Munir has been constantly interfering in and seeking to influence and guide the domestic and foreign policies of Pakistan. This is not surprising as he is behaving no differently from his predecessors. Gen Munir’s interference continued during Pakistan’s recent parliamentary elections, which were marred by rigging allegations. Imran responded by having many members of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), contest as independent candidates, knowing well that the odds were stacked against his party. Gen Munir was outsmarted by these PTI members who won as independents.

Despite the blatant rigging which was supervised by the army, candidates backed by Imran’s party won 93 seats. They were followed by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, which won 75 seats, and the Bhutto family-led Pakistan People’s Party, which won 54 seats.

Not surprisingly, after much bargaining, the military, which wanted to install a government opposed to Imran, succeeded, quite evidently, by manipulation of the poll results. The ‘deals’ concluded before the elections also led Bilawal Bhutto’s father, Asif Ali Zardari, to become the country’s President. Pakistan is today led by members of two families: the Sharifs and the Bhuttos. The tough task of getting Pakistan’s economy back on track has been left to Shehbaz, the younger brother of Nawaz. The reins of power in Pakistan will remain in the hands of the family patriarch, Nawaz, through Shehbaz. Nawaz appears to be preparing the ground for his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who has been made the Chief Minister of Punjab.

The current PM has, thus far, strictly abided by Gen Munir’s wishes by resorting to changes acceptable to the latter. He has enough experience and political acumen to avoid displeasing the army and its chief while also meeting the needs of a demanding elder brother.

Mercifully for Pakistan, Shehbaz has substantial experience in leading a bankrupt nation into agreements with the International Monetary Fund. Overcoming Pakistan’s foreign exchange shortage is going to remain the most crucial problem that the Sharifs confront.

There has been talk in Pakistan about restoring trade ties across its land borders. It should be made clear that such changes would depend on an end to Pakistan-based terrorism against India. It would be useful if ‘back channel’ talks between India and Pakistan were initiated to examine whether and how the two countries could move ahead in restoring a useful bilateral dialogue.

#Pakistan


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