Talk of a ‘soft’ coup by the Army in Pakistan has been doing the rounds for quite some time now. Seen any way Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been delivered the knock-out blow by the appointment of Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Nasir Janjua as the PM’s National Security Adviser replacing the old war-horse,Sartaj Aziz.That announcement too came while Nawaz Sharif’s was in Washington.Janjua, a former Army Commander has taken over from Aziz as NSA.He will advise the Prime Minister on National Security matters, while Aziz will focus his attention on diplomatic matters. That is the official line put out by Islamabad. The reality however, is that Janjua, who will function from the PM’s Secretariat will be the new NSA, no matter who says what!
Sadly though Nawaz Sharif will not be able to sleep in peace even in the US,for he had wanted to spend five-days in America, but the Army cut it down to three! To add insult to the injury, the Army decided that Nawaz would be followed to Washington by the Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif. Not to be left out, Nawaz Sharif was preceded by ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar and the latter briefed the PM on US-Pak ties on the eve of the visit. The best part of it is that the US was expecting Nawaz Sharif to sign up on a civil nuclear deal. Even there, GHQ Rawalpindi had an objection and therefore, the deal did not see light of the day. Some reports had earlier indicated that Pakistan on being told about a possible nuclear deal to limit their nuclear programme that the US was pushing,went running to Beijing to seek their advice. The Chinese response which was non-committal to begin with, later was more emphatic in saying ‘no’ as Beijing was also vary of the US getting involved in an area in which their hold is near complete.
What is difficult to comprehend is that both the US and China continue to prop up the Pak military, directly and indirectly despite knowing fully well that the Pak military is doing what it is best at doing; taking Pakistan down the wrong road. With Beijing the motives are slightly clear in that it is developing a client state in Pakistan for its own ulterior motives. The US on the other hand is more difficult to understand. Knowing fully well that Pakistan presents a threat to US interests in South Asia and elsewhere, Washington continues to support the military in Pakistan, with weapons and equipment.
It could be argued that Washington looks at Pakistan through the Afghan lens and has expectation that Islamabad will lead the road to Taliban sitting on the negotiating table with the Afghan government. This expectation has in recent times proved to be a misnomer. with even President Ashraf Ghani realising that Pakistan is not a game changer in Afghanistan, it would have to be the US, but on its own steam. It should be said that Pakistan’s efforts to gain, what in the old days, was termed as “strategic depth” in Afghanistan are a pipe dream. All they are likely to succeed in doing in the current situation is create more chaos in Afghanistan. The situation is complicated because the Taliban is a new monster, under Akhtar Mansoor. While the ISI continues to exercise control through the Quetta and Peshawar Shura, other players like the Islamic State are creating waves that Pakistan cannot handle in the Afghan ocean!
In the domestic arena also Nawaz Sharif faces a difficult situation. Don’t worry about other things such as terrorism and the like, his biggest worry is the Army which controls most state institutions, including the judiciary. The military courts are sentencing and hanging people across Pakistan almost on a daily basis. The economy is in bad shape and power shortages are the norm.
Some time ago, Nawaz even publically offered to resign if he was not allowed to function. But will he? While the boxing ring is thus getting smaller for Nawaz Sharif and there is little he can do about it, he will stay a while longer. Nawaz Sharif is not about to hang up his boxing gloves as yet.The question is how long? The issue here is that he is a useful figurehead for the Pak military. Nor does the US want a military man in the chair. Thus, for the time being, Nawaz Sharif is safe. The military in Pakistan is anyway in the driver’s chair, therefore it has no reason to walk the talk and be in the forefront tackling the myriad problems that Pakistan faces. If Gen. Raheel Sharif needs a word of advice on governing Pakistan he should turn to former Army Chief and President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf was a past master in getting the Army involved in governing Pakistan, but even he failed to provide the necessary impetus required to push the country out of the mess that it was in.
Therefore, Pakistan has a long road ahead; a road paved with thorns, for there are no solutions to the myriad challenges facing the country. There is much that needs to be done and the US could take the lead by supporting Nawaz Sharif and the civilian government over the military’s surreptitious creep to take over state institutions in Pakistan. A mere change of guard at the top will not resolve the issues. Thus, PM Sharif and Gen. Raheel Sharif will have to think of other means to save Pakistan!