Friends or Foes?

Written by S. M. Hali •  Cover Stories  •  June 2013   

What dynamics will the new Prime Minister develop with the military forces and what challenges will he face?

The clock has turned full circle and fourteen years after having been unceremoniously deposed and exiled, Mian Nawaz Sharif has assumed the mantle of power. During his previous rule as Prime Minister, Sharif had an uneasy relationship with the military. He sacked three services chiefs, was forced to play along the Kargil misadventure, ultimately swallowing the bitter pill of approaching the US President to mediate a ceasefire. Unfortunately, when he chose to sack his own handpicked Army Chief in an unconstitutional manner on October 12, 1999, attempting to replace him with Lieutenant General Ziauddin Butt at the whims of his father, “Abba Jee”, he paid the ultimate price of being unseated and suffered incarceration.

Mian Sahib has been bitter in expressing his disdain for the Army but he will have to behave like an elderly statesman after becoming the chief executive of Pakistan. The circumstances have changed exponentially since his previous term. The country is embroiled in a deadly war on terror (WoT), which has taken a heavy toll of human life and there have been doubts as to the ownership of the war. So far the political dispensation had delegated the responsibility of executing the WoT to the military. In his historic address on “Youm-e-Shuhada” (April 30, 2013), General Kayani, the current Army Chief, who is serving an extended second term, had announced that the WoT is Pakistan’s war and must be fought to the logical end. Mian Sahib made major promises in his election campaign about extricating Pakistan from the WoT, re-ascertaining Pakistan’s sovereignty and bringing Pak-U.S. relations on an even keel. The scarlet thread here is restoring the civil-military balance in favor of the civilian dispensation.

Even before he took oath of the premiership, Mian Sahib received a three-hour briefing from the Army Chief on the ongoing WoT and military matters. Nawaz praised the role of the army in strengthening democracy and providing security during the elections. The PML-N president also presented the National Charter to General Kayani, who gave the former assurance of his full cooperation. This was the first meeting between General Kayani and Sharif since the PML-N emerged victorious in the May 11 general elections.

While pursuing his avowed goal of restoring civil-military relations, Mian Nawaz Sharif will be plagued by a number of pitfalls.

First, he will have to curb the urge of immediately clipping the wings of the military as General Kayani has enjoyed unprecedented powers for nearly six years. In 2012, Forbes magazine named him the 28th most powerful person in the world. Fortunately, for Mian Sahib, General Kayani’s term of office expires on November 28, 2013. There may be pressures on him to extend General Kayani’s term of office at least till 2014 end, when the U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, but Sharif should desist from this. In his nomination of Kayani’s successor, the PM should avoid repeating his previous mistake when he appointed General Pervez Musharraf, sacrificing seniority and merit to a supposedly benign personality and the apolitical background of Musharraf.

During the election campaign, Nawaz Sharif claimed that after becoming PM, he will be the army chief’s “boss” while General Kayani would be replaced by the next “senior-most” general when he retires in November. If we go by Mian Sahib’s words, the current Army seniority list reveal Lieutenant Generals Muhammad Haroon Aslam and Rashid Mahmood as being the senior most. In the beginning of the current calendar year Lt Gen. Muhammad Haroon Aslam, who had been serving as Corps Commander Bahawalpur, was given the charge as Chief of Logistics at GHQ and Lt Gen. Rashid Mahmood was appointed as the Chief of General Staff (CGS), which is the senior most position in the army after the COAS. It is among the most important and coveted positions within the military, since the CGS is the institution’s operations and intelligence head. Both are due to retire on 9 April 2014.

At present, the Pakistan Army has 2 full generals, 23 lieutenant generals and around 160 major generals. Seven lieutenant generals, including Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif, Inspector General Training and Evaluation (IGT&E), GHQ, Lieutenant General Tariq Khan, Commander, I Corps, Mangla, Lieutenant General Muhammad Zaheerul Islam, DG Inter-Services Intelligence (DG ISI), Lieutenant General Salim Nawaz, Inspector General Armaments (IGA), GHQ, Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani, Commander, XI Corps, Peshawar, Lieutenant General Muzammil Hussain, Commander, XXX Corps, Gujranwala and Lieutenant General Sajjad Ghani, Quarter-Master General (QMG), GHQ, are due to retire on 1 October 2014 while General Khalid Shameem Wyne, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) is also due to retire on 6 October 2013 and a suitable replacement from one of the three Services is mandatory.

Once Mian Sahib has nominated the new Army Chief, he should make sure that the incumbent remains subservient to the civilian leadership as the constitution of Pakistan requires.

The second challenge that Mian Sahib faces is the case of General Pervez Musharraf. The shoe is now on the other foot. It is the General, who is currently incarcerated and facing trials while Mian Sahib is back at the helm of affairs. He will have to be magnanimous as most of the cases against the General are trumped up and flimsy. It would be befitting to let the judiciary give General Musharraf a fair trial and drop the cases if they have no substance.

The third challenge will emerge when Mian Sahib attempts to restore better relations with India. The Pakistan Army, whose raison d’être is maintaining vigil against an Indian threat, will be wary and may oppose peace overtures. Mian Sahib needs to strike a meaningful balance between the need to normalize relations and war preparedness. After all India’s new war doctrine “Cold Start” is Pakistan-specific. In the recent past, Indian forces have upped the ante across the Line of Control, violating it on numerous occasions and despite claims to the contrary, remain poised in a hostile posture towards Pakistan.

Overall, Mian Nawaz Sharif will have to restrain his natural impetuousness to dominate the military and call the shots in daily affairs. He would be best advised to keep the military in its rightful place, respect its professional competence and not interfere in its working. After all, the military is a pillar of the state and should be a source of strength to the elected government and not be allowed to become its Achilles’ heel. 


Tough Decisions

Written by Talat Masood •  Cover Stories  •  June 2013   

Major foreign policy challenges lie ahead for Nawaz Sharif and it remains uncertain whether he will be able to maneuver them in Pakistan’s favor.

In his two previous incarnations, our third time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been heavily preoccupied with domestic issues. He has engaged in foreign policy when circumstances practically forced him, otherwise his interest was minimal and it was mostly reactive. There were however a few occasions such as when Pakistan conducted the nuclear tests in 1998 or when the Kargil fiasco triggered a serious international crisis.

This time the PML government of Nawaz Sharif is assuming power when the country is faced with acute domestic and foreign policy challenges. On the domestic front is the ongoing insurgency in FATA, increasing terrorist attacks, an acute energy crisis and a faltering economy. Combating these domestic issues will need peaceful borders and international support both at the economic and political level. Equally demanding attention of the government is the external scenario; especially relations with India, Afghanistan and the US. And the external and internal situation is intertwined.

From the recent statements of Nawaz Sharif it is amply clear that he has accorded high priority to moving forward with India on the peace process. He plans to build from where his efforts at reconciliation were abruptly cut off in 1999, following the military coup. The Indian leadership has responded positively, but cautiously. It seems they would be closely watching the political government’s control over foreign policy and especially matters that affect India. In his pre election interaction with the Indian media, Nawaz Sharif has expressed his determination to pursue the judicial case against the perpetrators of the Mumbai incident and control the jihadi elements in Pakistan. To what extent he would succeed in taking along the military on these sensitive issues would be of great significance for the Indian leadership. If Nawaz Sharif can demonstrate that he can take calculated risks on the India-Pakistan track and move faster than other politicians it would be reassuring for the Indian leadership. He has strong credentials to build a positive relationship with India and be a reliable partner in the quest for peace. If he is able to build a reputation for better governance, is personally uncorrupt and takes incremental steps to bring the military under institutional control of the executive then he will manage to facilitate building bridges with India.

It is expected that Nawaz Sharif will impress upon his Indian counterpart that no substantive and enduring relationship can be forged without movement on core issues, even if these are kept on the backburner for a few years. With Indian elections not far away in 2014, Prime Minister Singh’s space for maneuver on the core issues of Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek in the near term will be very limited.

Meanwhile, the two countries should press forward on less contentious issues of trade and commerce, easing of the visa regime and cultural exchanges and create an amiable environment. The visit of Mr. Lamba as a back channel emissary of PM Manmohan Singh, soon after the elections was good signaling and a welcome development that needs to be followed up.

With the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, managing relations with Afghanistan and the U.S. for the new government would be crucial. President Karzai’s rather aggressive and unpredictable behavior toward Pakistan, especially since the last few months, makes matters more complex. By scape-goating Pakistan for all of Afghanistan’s woes, President Karzai, whose term of office expires in 2014, hopes he will rehabilitate his political standing and deflect attention from his government’s poor record in governance and corrupt reputation.

No doubt, President Karzai has certain expectations from Pakistan that remain unfulfilled. He has been pressing Pakistan to release the Afghan Taliban and use its influence to bring them to the negotiating table. About ten to twelve Taliban leaders were released last year but the process has since stopped. The Taliban leadership refuses to engage in dialogue with the Afghan government and wants to deal directly with the U.S. More importantly, President Karzai wants Pakistan to ensure that the Pakistani Taliban do not join the fight with the Afghan Taliban in the event that peace efforts fail. Nawaz Sharif will try to improve relations with President Karzai and reach out to the Northern Alliance and other power centers in Afghanistan. Addressing the concerns of Afghan leadership would be a difficult task for the new government.

The peace overtures and offer of talks to the Pakistani Taliban by Nawaz Sharif would be welcomed by the Afghan regime provided these result in their joining the political mainstream and not be diverted to fight side by side with their Afghan counterparts.

From the PML (N) government’s side, it will be wary to any excessive strategic space being provided by Afghanistan to India. Already agreements exist whereby the Indian military is providing training and supplying weapon systems for the Afghan security forces. Despite the restricted space for maneuver, the new government will make serious efforts at improving relations with Afghanistan.

At a time when U.S. forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, relations with it acquire special significance. The use of drones will be a major irritant. The policy on drones announced recently by President Obama restricts its use worldwide with the exception of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite protests from our political leadership, drone strikes in the tribal region will continue during the withdrawal phase from Afghanistan to keep pressure on the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda residing in the sanctuaries of the tribal region. The responsibility of their use will rest with the CIA. It is possible that the frequency of strikes may be reduced to partially mollify the political leadership, but will not completely stop.

Pakistan will have to come up with a more holistic approach towards dealing with the TTP. Nawaz Sharif opposes the use of drones and is in favor of dialogue with the Taliban. If Washington were to accede to Pakistan’s demand on drones, which of course is unlikely, and the government engages in dialogue with the TTP unconditionally, it would be giving them complete freedom to expand and consolidate their position.

The ability of Pakistan to provide safe passage to weapons and equipment of U.S. and NATO forces during the withdrawal phase will be an important factor in building confidence and trust with these countries.

The U.S. also expects that the Pakistan army undertake military operations in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network but of late has been restrained in pressing on this demand in public. Unless Pakistan regains control over these ungoverned areas, the relationship with the U.S. and Afghanistan will remain tense and unpredictable. The sanctuaries in North Waziristan and other parts of the tribal region have become the haven of terrorists and criminals that are destabilizing the country and are a threat to its neighbors. No responsible government can afford to ignore these hard realities.

The new government will have to effectively address these issues if it wants to sustain the support of its people and regain credibility abroad. 


Hold Your Horses!

Written by S.G. Jilanee •  Cover Stories  •  June 2013   

All eyes are glued on Nawaz Sharif, and how he performs.

In the case of convicts, fourteen years is the period of imprisonment, often called the “transportation for life.” But 14 years in political wilderness can prepare one to perform a hat trick for the prime minster’s office as Mian Nawaz Sharif has recently demonstrated.

After his fall in October 1999, Sharif suffered many ups and downs of fortune. He was detained. He was prosecuted. He spent time in self-exile. Through adversity he learned his lesson in democracy. Today it is a different Mian Sahib who is in power.

Though how far he has changed will be discovered only after he starts working as prime minster, but it is expected that he will no longer be on a fighting binge with anyone perceived to be crossing his path; no repetition of his deadly combat with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan; sending raiders to chase Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah out of his court; easing President Leghari and Army chief, Gen. Karamat out or preventing the plane carrying the army chief from landing anywhere in Pakistan. Nor will journalists be harassed, abducted, and charged with preposterous allegations as during in his second stint.

Signing the Charter of Democracy with his political bête noire, Benazir Bhutto was a clear indicator that his sufferings had made Nawaz Sharif realize the virtue of democracy. In fact, it was his devotion to the “Charter,” that led him to refrain from attempting to rock the PPP government’s boat despite many standoffs thus allowing an elected government to complete its term for the first time in Pakistan’s history.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has won 126 general seats in the National Assembly in the May 11 elections. Adding 18 independents, who have since joined PML-N, 32 women and five minority seats, the party’s total number has jumped to 181 in a house of 342. With this simple majority it has decided to form the government, though Sharif is angling for JUI (F) chief, Maulana Fazlur Rahman to coalesce.

Sharif’s election victory has set off a deluge of comments, analyses, gratuitous advice from kibitzers in newspapers, and endless debates on TV talk shows. Congratulations have been received from foreign heads of state. President Obama, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi are among those who spoke with Sharif to felicitate while the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang made a personal visit, his first since being elected.

In an unprecedented move, Gen. Kayani made an informal visit to Sharif at his Lahore residence; “informal,” because he was dressed in mufti instead of fatigues. Their talk for a full three hours could certainly not have been about the weather. Kayani is completing his term in few months. His successor has to be chosen. He favors fighting the Taliban while Sharif supports talks. The army is chary of India’s rising clout in Afghanistan while Sharif has vigorously shaken the olive branch in Manmohan Singh’s face since his election victory.

A mountain of formidable challenges await Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, both on the home and international fronts. Compounding them is a judiciary and media different than what he had known in the past. Inside the NA, he will encounter a robust Opposition, comprising Imran Khan, Sheikh Rashid, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Khursheed Shah et al. Moreover, PPP has the majority in the Senate, which means that any legislation originating from the National Assembly could die in the upper house.

A prevailing countrywide energy crisis is the most urgent and immediate challenge. Next and extremely complicated is dealing with the Taliban. Sharif supports the policy of negotiations but the U.S. is deadly opposed to the idea and is eager to sabotage it. For example, recently, when there was some progress on the TTP’s offer for talks, a U.S. drone attack killed TTP’s second-in-command, Waliur Rahman. In consequence, the TTP promptly withdrew their offer.

Another intriguing issue relates to the fate of General Pervez Musharraf and whether Nawaz Sharif will illustrate political maturity and suppress his urge for revenge.

Interestingly, while PML (N) has swept the polls in Punjab, its representation in other provinces is nominal. This immediately creates an image problem for NS, making him look like the prime minister of Punjab. For Sharif to once again prove his legitimacy throughout Pakistan, the new Prime Minister will have to make some tough yet critical decisions that reverberate throughout the nation as opposed to being confined to a particular province.

Drone attacks present both domestic and diplomatic dilemmas. Mass feelings against drone attacks are strong. Shooting them down if America persists, is Imran Khan’s election vow. Solving this issue satisfactorily will be a test for Sharif. One possible alternative could be to negotiate stopping the attacks as a quid pro quo for allowing transit of millions of tons of U.S. military hardware through Pakistan for shipment back home.

Other domestic issues include choosing a successor to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, slated to retire in a few months, and resuscitate the economy in the shortest possible time.

On the international front, Sharif’s interest in cultivating peaceful relations with India has been evident from his statements since the elections. He wants to pick up the thread from where it had snapped following the Kargil episode. This augurs well because, “India is ready to lead a 500MW transmission wire over the border into Punjab. By extending its own pipeline network, it could also help supply natural gas, easing Pakistan’s reliance on oil.” (The Economist: May 16 2013).

Moreover, besides benefiting from direct trade with India, Pakistan may also be able to export its goods to Bangladesh and Nepal through India if it allows a transit route for Indian goods to be transported to Afghanistan and Central Asia through its land. But, here again is a caveat. As America sabotages talks with the Taliban, Hafiz Sayeed or any other “non-state actor” may throw the spanner in the work by staging an action replay of the Mumbai attacks.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. is “retreating.” Indian influence is increasing. Karzai is friendlier with India. Towards Pakistan he is hostile. What will happen after America’s departure? Would Karzai be dispatched like Najibullah? These are questions that will call for cool deliberation and sound decision from the “third-time-lucky” Mian Nawaz Sharif.

He has taken the oath. He has stepped on to centre stage. How he performs is what all eyes are glued to. 


‘Free, Fair and Transparent?’

Written by Munir Ishrat Rahmani •  Cover Stories  •  May 2013   

With massive allegations of rigging reported from major constituencies and lack of a firm and assertive Election Commissioner, Elections 2013 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Election 2013 was a mixed plate: there was the more than usual rhetoric, target killings of candidates, bomb blasts, explosions in public meetings, kidnapping of a high profile candidate, continued threats from the Taliban,  a pinch of drama provided by the fall from a platform of one of the top leaders, rendering him incapable of winding up an aggressive election campaign, considerable mismanagement at some of the polling stations and allegations of ‘rigging’ combined with agitation, boycott or ‘Dharna’ in major cities, to add spice to the whole show.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had conducted the last elections in 2008 successfully and this time had the additional advantage of modern technology for conducting free and fair polls and compiling accurate results. The ECP, under the chairmanship of Justice (Retired) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, was expected to make Election 2013 a great success and a landmark event as it was being held after the completion of a five-year term by a democratically-elected government. The Commission had the services of Rangers and Army at its disposal for assistance. Major political parties provided great motivation through aggressive campaigning and people were urged to come out in large numbers on May 11 to cast their vote despite Taliban threats of disrupting the Elections. Unfortunately, the exercise turned out to be a fiasco in some areas leading to bitter disappointment and severe criticism from all corners over the much-trumpeted but rather mismanaged general elections.

Those who had seen the previous elections of 2008 being conducted in a commendable manner and without much hue and cry, despite the parties in power losing a large number of seats, expected a much improved performance from the Chief Election Commissioner and his team in 2013. He made repeated pledges of conducting transparent elections in a manner that would be remembered for years to come. He was right: the Elections 2013 will certainly be remembered but for different reasons. The detailed planning of the exercise, provisioning of election equipment and training of the staff designated to conduct voting at polling stations left a lot to be desired. The Army was available on call but was not deployed at or near the polling stations to ensure non-interference by any undesirable elements.

A large number of complaints of irregularities from all provinces kept pouring in on the election day. The allegations of ‘rigged elections’ voiced by the media and political parties pertained mainly to the actual process of polling on  May 11 but it was observed that the rigging had started much before. It started when the Chief Election Commissioner succumbed to the pressure of some political parties by short-circuiting the process of genuine scrutiny required under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Many candidates who did not meet the criteria were allowed to contest the election.

There were other forms of ‘organized rigging’ like the delimitation of constituencies in Karachi without the database of a fresh census. This was done even after the issuance of the election schedule! The order of the ECP did not meet the constitutional requirement and it was viewed as a biased decision. Another example of ‘rigging’ was the disenfranchisement of women in some areas of Pakistan. It was with the consent of the ECP that women were barred from voting in certain areas of Swat, Malakand, Dir, Mianwali, etc. This was also a blatant violation of the constitution. When an election commission’s credibility becomes doubtful, then the entire process of election can never be expected to be transparent, free and fair.

The ECP appeared to be quite weak in putting its decisions to practice. Either the local administration at various places did not fully cooperate with the ECP or it was its inherent weakness that on May 11 it could not ensure timely provisioning of proper staff, polling paraphernalia and facilities for the voters at the polling stations in a number of constituencies. There were many polling stations in various parts of the country where polling could not start on time. Karachi suffered the most with constituencies where polling started only after three to four hours of the scheduled time. In one strange instance in NA-250, the candidate of Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf himself brought ballot boxes in his personal car to the polling station and nobody from the ECP questioned or checked this irregularity at all! Perhaps, ‘rigging’ needed to be re-defined in the annals of the ECP.

Apart from the general mismanagement, the polling staff also did not perform their assigned task diligently and allowed irregularities inside the polling stations. Some party workers came forward with video recordings of bogus votes being cast in Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi but the ECP failed to take any action. Jamaat-e-Islami and Muttaheda Qaumi Movement were the first to protest against the irregularities noticed at polling stations in NA-250 and NA-246/248, constituencies, respectively.  Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf raised its voice against rigging in many constituencies in the Punjab. They accused Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) of influencing the polling through the presence of unauthorized persons inside the polling stations who were indulging in irregularities. Similar complaints were reported from interior Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. All parties cried foul.

The Election Commission decided to order re-polling at the polling stations where they thought the polling was disturbed and voters had not been able to cast their votes due to time constraints, irregularities by some outsiders or late arrival of the polling staff and materials. Re-polling was conducted on May 21 in the country, except in Karachi where it was carried out on May 19. The polling in Karachi was conducted under strict security arrangements provided by the police, Rangers and the Army but the turnout remained just about 15 percent or so as against about 55 percent on May 11. The PPP, MQM and Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the re-polling in Karachi, despite the efforts of Tehreek-e-Insaaf to motivate their voters, thus adversely affecting the turnout. They had, however, the consolation of winning one national and two provincial assembly seats in the one-sided elections. After all the chaos and drama that had consumed Karachi following allegations of rigging, re-polling did little to enhance PTI’s image.

With all said and done and setting the allegations of rigging aside, Election 2013 will be remembered for the simple fact that out of the 86 million registered voters, 55 to 57 percent came out on May 11 to exercise their right to vote. The urban areas saw long queues at polling stations that included large numbers of motivated ‘debutants’ to the voting process who had either just attained the age to become eligible to vote or belonged to the ‘reluctant elite’ that always preferred to stay at home and watch the elections on television. It signified political awareness and a definite change in the mindset of the citizens who decided to come out of their comfort zone in the hostile weather and defied threats of the Taliban to attain the satisfaction of electing their representatives for the assemblies.

Complaints of rigging are often heard in almost all countries that have a manual system of voting and vote-counting. The whole exercise, however, could have been better managed by the ECP had their team gone into the intricate details of the polling process at all polling stations and tied down the loose ends well in time. If required, the services of National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) could have been utilized for verification of thumb impressions of the voters, which was used at the time of casting the vote. Another useful feature introduced this time was the photograph of the voter in the list to eliminate the possibility of cheating. In retrospect, one felt that the Election Commission of Pakistan needed a more dynamic leader of the organization in view of the gigantic and sensitive task of conducting elections in a country where corruption is ingrained in the culture and an absolutely unbiased, assertive and firm approach is required to meet the challenge. 

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