THE PASHTUN TAHAFAZ MOVEMENT

The nascent Pushtun Tahafuz Movement is not a treasonous movement. It is not against the integrity of Pakistan. No one can deny the fact that the people of Pakistan’s FATA have suffered the worst brunt of US’s war in Afghanistan, not to mention Pakistan’s own clean-up operations. Wars lead to social break down in the areas where they are fought. The shock generated by total social break down leads to self-organization not seen before. As such, the emergence of the PTM is comprehensible. It is triggered by an act of injustice, Naqeeb ullah Mehsud’s murder by a policeman who absconded after killing an innocent.

The PTM, as such, is a social movement, not an insurgency. How can any one think of putting it down? It is akin to Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, where excessive police killings of the Afro-American citizens led to the Afro-American citizens organizing themselves across all states of the USA to make an organized demand for end to such brutality. The first erudite spokesperson for the grievance the blacks expressed collectively was no less than the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Sensing the tension that was brewing post Zimmerman acquittal in Florida on July 13, 2013, Barack Obama became the spokesperson for Afro-Americans and stated unequivocally that there is racism in America, and that before he became a senator, he too was stopped by police at night if he stepped out to buy a pack of cigarettes, and questioned for no other reason than the fact that he is black. Empathy from the President of the United States immediately calmed the tense nerves of the blacks. The Afro-Americans could not find a better spokesperson for their grievance than the President of the United States. Obama’s wisdom saved America damages from the riots that were all set to follow Zimmerman’s acquittal. The leaders of Pakistan must treat the PTM in similar manner. Needless to mention, the Black Lives Matter movement materialized only after Obama left office.

Imagine what would have happened if Obama had chosen to proselytize instead of empathyzing with the blacks,  and had alleged that the blacks who are out on the streets against the Zimmerman verdict are miscreants and misdirected individuals……that the fact that Obama is the President of the United States shows that there is no racism in America……that the verdict of the court must be respected and law must be obeyed?! Had the POTUS made such pronouncements, he would have enraged a restive people even further by speaking irritating half truths to those who had lost members of their community to unjustified police shoot  outs.

A modern nation state does not suppress movement for social justice. Such suppression turbo charges the movement and could transform it into uprising.

War causes economic dislocation (businesses and jobs are halted), social dislocation, (people have to migrate out of war zones and move to neighborhoods where they are surrounded by strangers) psychological dislocation, (they lose their loved ones in a violent separation) and structural dislocation, (their homes and neighborhoods are destroyed in bombardment). In the case of FATA, yet another hazard faced its people, their cognitive branding as people from a terror infested area and therefore possibly contaminated. This cognitive aspect of the war on terror has been a particularly vicious one. Both the state’s and the rebels’ perpetual man hunts has led to the disappearance of many an innocent persons.

Given the set of domestic and international circumstances, my patriotism demands that I support the PTM. If Pakistanis do not support the legitimate demands of the PTM activists, we will be building a wall around them which will suffocate them. In such a state, support from outsiders will begin to matter. In due course, foreign bribes will be rolling in to turn activists into separatists. The foreign hand knows how to draw on the long standing insurrectionary tradition in FATA. Gun running would hardly be a problem. Channels already exist and are hard to choke.

In Fata, the traditional mechanisms of control have been weakened, leading to the release of energies that have helped to create a new political space. The moment war started, we should have known that such a space will come to exist. It usually takes a decade for a people exposed to violence to recover and start organizing as an  interest gourp.  Islamabad and Rawalpindi should have been prepared to deal with the matter eruditely. Badmouthing the movement for no  good reason exhibits poor capacity to deal with political developments in a sophisticated manner.

PTM is built on a victory. It has won support through demonstrated ability to be heard. Rao Anwar, the absconder, has been produced before the court. Movements built on acts of victory should be congratulated, not suppressed. We must let the PTM youth have faith in the institutions of Pakistan – we must let them see and feel that the latter work for them. All over the Muslim world, the war on terror has led to heightened ethnic identities. It is only where this rise in sentiment has been maltreated by the concerned authorities that separatist movements have developed.

It is up to the state in Pakistan to blow the PTM out of its current proportions or channel it towards positive achievements. Mishandling the movement could have a crippling effect on reconstruction and peace building in the affected areas. Suppression of the movement will inevitably lead to broadening of its alliances. Business leaders, workers, academics and house wives and elite within a community tend to lend support to those they believe are working for safeguarding their rights and are suffering in the process. If there is no suppression, other groups within the community do not feel the need to join hands with the movement, as an active group seems to be making fair headway on its own.

If the authorities know of an enemy hand behind the movement, they must put it before the public in a convincing manner so Pashtuns and fellow Pakistanis do not support the current leadership of the movement. As things stand right now, the PTM is standing up for something. You suppress it, it will turn into against something – namely you, the suppressor. What will follow will be our enemy supporting the movement at all levels, verbal, diplomatic, financial and finally the support of the last stage the Indians openly allude to after the Hindu extremists have come to occupy New Delhi. They will see an opportunity to bank roll the urban poor to join in the making of an ugly movement they’d be steering themselves undercover.

A well read Pakistani politician, Shireen Mazari has lost no time in coming out to support the PTM. She has done so because she has studied all aspects of security during her pursuit of doctorate in the subject. She has acknowledged the fact that the community that is making the demand for fairer treatment has suffered hell on earth and deserves to be heard. Mariam Nawaz, a politician who stands at the opposite end of the spectrum, has also expressed similar thoughts. I second the stance of both the politicians.

The authorities must trust the Pashtun youth that is peacefully active for its rights it perceives as being violated. If the state empowers the youth with trust, they will respond positively. Right now is a critical time for channeling the movement towards a positive outcome for the nation. A very senior member of the Pak military recently stated that after a long and arduous journey, just as we reached our destination, a movement has started. He is right in qualifying the timing of the PTM. It is when the war is over, the suffering is over and the fear is over, that there is an intense longing to break decisively with the past and to work for making sure it does not return.

Because of the American posture, there is fear that war could start again. There is fear that discrimination against the survivors of war could become embedded. Eighty percent of the members of FATA’s youth population works short term in bad conditions in the mega cities of  all over Pakistan- they are the constituency of the PTM movement.

Engage the movement by directing them towards positive pursuits and helping them attain reforms in justice, health care, education, income generation, poverty alleviation, land cultivation and shelter provision. Last but not the least, the community needs social and legal protection against the crime of discrimination, especially when it is perpetrated by mindless and unbridled officers in law enforcement.

The military and civilian authorities’ support to the PTM should be part of the rehabilitation and repatriation effort.

 

 

 

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PTI – PREDICAMENT VS PROSPECT

PTI’s membership enrollment strategy has entailed opening the door to what Imran Khan calls the “electables,” i.e., people who know how to ‘work within the system and can avail it to their advantage.’ This shows that the party considers coming into power more important than commitment to the program that has helped it become a popular party. However, once in power, if the PTI fails to implement its quintessential program of building a just society, (as opposed to emphasis on building a gateway society as has been done during the last eighteen years) PTI’s own tactics of undermining a government’s ability to entrench itself by staging prolonged dharnas and protests could come back to haunt the PTI government itself.

The PTI will therefore have to implement a radical shift in domestic and foreign policy, when and if it forms government. It will have to prioritize welfare, education,  healthcare and better working conditions for the low wage worker. It will have to end unquestioned cooperation with west’s war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been built as a gateway state for the last eighteen years. Big investment in infrastructure, roads, bridges, gated housing schemes for the rich, etc., have been made. There has been little or no investment in the poor. The PTI will have to  shift the emphasis to a welfare state, while also continuing to build a gateway economy. It will have to maintain a pro Pakistan tilt while welcoming foreign investment.  It will have to create better regulatory frameworks for foreign direct investment, build transfer of technology paradigms, legislate for phased withdrawal of foreign technology and gradual transfer of technology to domestic labor force. It will have to implement labour laws more effectively. It will have to think outside the box to empower the poor. It will have to reform the police and implement judicial reform.

Whats more, it will have to hit the ground running after it forms the government post 2018 electoral victory. The circumstances in which it is coming into power do not give PTI the luxury of a long honey moon period.

Leaders often fail to implement their campaign promises. For IK, such failure can create political conditions that disallow the PTI to complete its term in office. Imran Khan’s wealthy and politically experienced opponents are waiting in the wing to destabilize PTI’s first government if it is formed post 2018 election. (There is a general belief in Pakistan that PTI will form the next government). Plans have been made and funds may already have been set aside to disallow PTI a full term in office. Imran’s chance of thwarting such plans is greater if he is seen to be sincerely working to enact the change whose promise earned Imran Khan a popular following.

Imran’s ‘slogan’ of creating a just society must transform into ‘determination’ to create a just society. He will have to cut down cost of government and attack (not just tackle) the high level of debt incurred by his predecessor. He will have to prioritize provision of better healthcare facilities to the middle income and the poor, better education facilities, better housing and shelter to the have nots. He will have to create enabling conditions for implementation of labour laws to improve work place environment for the low wage earner, and generally undertake projects for the betterment of common people’s lives in Pakistan.

PTI’s performance will need to be akin to that of the PPP after it came into power post 1970 election that took place after a mass uprising against General Ayub in 1968 to 1969. In foreign policy, IK will have to move away from the west and closer to regional powers, Russia being the foremost among them as the previous governments have not been able to establish the kind of  relationship with Russia that is need of the hour.

PTI’s ability to last its full term in office, not to mention its survival at the helm of politics in Pakistan, depends on its ability to put its own stamp on Pakistan’s politics as soon as it forms its first government. The more IK changes direction for the better, and is seen to be changing direction for the better, the greater will be his ability to prevail over the opposition, should the latter decide to get restive.

Tabdeeli must follow PTI’s electoral victory, if PTI is to remain stable as it forms national government. The last three governments carried on more or less the same age old policies despite the fact that Pakistan’s strategic environment was undergoing rapid shifts. The PTI will not be able to afford to continue with the status quo conditions after coming into power – and coming in to power at the federal level is a prospect that seems certain.

It took PTI decades to succeed as a party. The time it has to prove its metal in office is far shorter. Success will depend on who the PTI government has on board!

WHEN TO APPLAUD, WHEN NOT!

Malik Nadeem Abid, a representative of the Human Rights Watch, recently broke down during a meeting at the UN as he narrated the atrocities committed by India in Occupied Kashmir. He was describing victims, females as young as seven to as old as seventy seven, who were raped by the Indian armed forces  with impunity. India is using rape as a political weapon  to control a population that no longer wants to live under India’s rule. The most recent of such cases has brought the Indian civil society out on the streets all over India, where mass demand for an end to this political savagery is being made with unprecedented multi-religious and multi-ethnic unison. Similarly, the HRW delegate’s heart felt cry at the UN was just a civilized man’s desperate plea to the international community to take action to stop the crime.

The manner in which the august gathering responded was shockingly contrary to the rubric of  diplomatic protocol and etiquette.

As the speaker broke down, unable to speak any more, the audience too was moved – but this is what they did to show their empathy. They started clapping as the speaker started crying, then got up and continued clapping till the speaker was able to regain his composure.

The gesture that was required at the moment was one of standing collectively in silence, to commemorate those who died at the hands of the violence, to show respect for those who survived it, and to demonstrate support for the speaker’s emotion.  Thunderous and prolonged clapping belongs in a theater. Good theatrical performances are applauded thus.

We know  that the twenty first century is suffering from a world wide absence of good leaders. The galaxy of leaders like John F. Kennedy, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Kwame Nkrumah,  Martial Tito, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Kenyatta, Charles De Gaulle, (not to mention Nehru and up to 1948,  Jinnah) is no where to be seen. These were leaders who shaped the nations they led.

The current world wide absence of good leadership reveals the abysmal lack of standards of excellence in leadership production. And now we see that the carefully nurtured system of diplomatic decorum and proper etiquette too is dying.  A room full of international delegates to the UN couldn’t come up with the appropriate response when faced with one among them breaking down in pain while describing an atrocity.

They get up and start to clap!!

Zeenia Satti is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She is a political analyst and executive director at Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management – (website at http://www.ppldm.net – PPLDM blog can be found at http://www.pldmsite.wordpress.com).

Ms. Satti can be reached at zeenia.satti@post.harvard.edu

 

 

PAKISTAN – BEFORE AND AFTER ELECTION 2018

It appears that Imran Khan will be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. The PTI seems set to win either a landslide or a comfortable majority in the upcoming election, whenever these are scheduled to take place. The incumbent PML(N) is in a bad shape. The PPP will be at most wheeling and dealing for the foreseeable future. It is also possible that after the accountability process has gone through the PML(N) cadre, it will turn its attention to the PPP top brass. The latter is just as vulnerable as the PML(N).

The PML(N) government has tried to exacerbate the religious sentiment of the  people in the hope the religious parties will be politically activated to cut into Imran Khan’s political constituency, but their tactic has not worked thus far due to the presence of other sobering forces in the country.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s PML(Q) is re-emerging from oblivion, and will likely absorb those who are leaving the PML(N), but do not want to join Imran Khan out of fear of being sidelined in his party. PML(Q) has been a pro Musharref party in the past and there are rumors that the establishment is helping the PML(Q) regain its lost political strength. If true, the party will be able to reverse its losses, tap into the Punjab vote bank and bag a reasonable number of seats in the upcoming election.

Sheikh Rashid has made a reputation in playing smart political chess, but instead of further building his party, the Awami Muslim League, he has been concentrating on playing second fiddle to Imran Khan. Sheikh Rashid is the smartest politician in Pakistan. His conduct will earn him a significant role in the near future, but despite his highest approval ratings on Pakistan’s TV channels, and his unrivaled reputation as the smartest chess player in Pakistan’s politics during the last three years, Sheikh Rashid does not seem interested in building his own independent power base. He embodies the paradox of Pakistani politics, wherein popularity alone can-not build political platforms. Material resources seem as important, if not more. Hence, Sheikh has concentrated on being a personal friend and political ally of Imran Khan, the savy, upper class leader who has learned to excavate capital during his philanthropic fundraising campaign as the builder of free cancer treatment hospitals in Pakistan. Sheikh Rashid too is facing accountability court at present, but he is likely to play his cards much better than Nawaz Sharif did during such proceeding. It would be interesting to see how Sheikh Rashid emerges from the probe.

Another person of interest who has yet to show which way he will lean is Chaudhry Nisar. Chaudhry Nisar has openly parted ways with Nawaz Sharif but has not formed a splinter group of his own. Curiously, he remains in the PML(N) fold. Chaudhry Nisar has earned political respect, but has not turned this into a political clout to form a separate entity under his leadership. For now, he is allied with no one and seems to be waiting for some development to take place. What is he waiting for?

ALLIED MISSILE ATTACK ON SYRIA – ANOTHER VICTORY FOR RUSSIA

The first ever coordinated US, French and UK missile attack on Syria has been a badly planned and ill executed affair. Despite the fact that no one in the world wants to condone the use of chemical weapons, each one of the governments that launched the attack are besieged at home and discredited abroad. It need not have been so. If only the three western leaders waited for the inspectors in Syria to do their work first, and got domestic approval for military action before launching it, the outcome would have been different.

While the world awaits retaliation from Kremlin, the most significant point to note is the fact that Russia has already emerged politically victorious from what can only be termed as a political fiasco for the west. Russia’s military presence in Syria remains intact while the attack affords Russia the opportunity to further consolidate its political position there. Putin’s ally Bashar ul Assad now enjoys greater degree of support at home as heightened nationalist sentiment has rallied around him. This will undoubtedly give him further momentum against the rebels. The conquest of Syria’s South is now a matter of time for Damascus.  Within the region, the timing of the attack (just before the arrival of the inspectors to find evidence of chemical weapons) is casting aspersions on the intent of the attackers. Within the international community, by passing the UN has invited widespread apprehension.  Even Japan, a country that has been regularly endorsing US position in international affairs, has refrained from directly supporting the missile attack on Syria.

It would be fair to say that the attack was a much needed diplomatic respite for Putin that came, paradoxically, from the governments of US, UK and France just at the time when their propaganda against Putin had begun to gain diplomatic ground. Though the Skripal allegation was beginning to collapse, the hacking of the US election and the manipulation of the Brexit vote had successfully cast Putin in a negative light, making Russia look like a rogue state and its leader Putin a threat to democratic systems.

The tables have been turned with each of the governments that launched the rash attack on Syria outside the framework of collective security and without domestic endorsement now facing criticism both at home and abroad. At every level of analysis, the consequences of the attack have been negative for the west, especially US, UK and France while Russia has gained military, political and diplomatic ground within Syria, Europe, and the world respectively.

The fact that the allied attack came critically hours before the chemical weapons inspector were to inspect the area for traces of chemical weapons and seems to have destroyed “evidence” has shifted media’s focus from alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad to the ‘question of ‘intent’ behind west’s military offensive. This has in turn further fogged the allegation that Putin was behind the Skripal attack in UK. People are now seeing a western ‘design’ in the events that led up to the missile attack on Syria.

Intelligently invoking the specter of the third world war, Russia has monopolized the attention of world’s population. All over the globe, apprehensive readers are trying to assess what Putin will do next by hitting sites on the internet that contain Putin’s speeches and interviews. In the process, Putin, a hugely intelligent and articulate man who knows how to win an argument, has found an unprecedented opportunity of getting his view point across the world, while the three leaders who carried out the attack are busy explaining their action at home. What is prevailing now is Putin’s allegation that the west wants to destroy all sources of governance in the Middle East and where ever they have intervened and destroyed central authority, terror groups have risen to threaten world peace.

The people of the region want an end to the Syrian civil war. Morally weary of the refugee crisis, the people of Europe too want an end to the war. Coming at a time Damascus had begun to win the civil war, the attack, committed outside the framework of international law and without  domestic approval, lacks legitimacy. The attack pitches the governments of US, UK, and France as ‘rogue’ and Putin as the proponent of respect for international law and sovereignty of nations and end to environments that breed international terrorism. Had the Russian intelligence planned a design to extricate their leader Putin from the clutches of a rapidly deteriorating image, it couldn’t have built something better than to bait the US, UK and France into attacking Syria at the specific time in the specific manner. The attack has been an inauspicious start to John Bolton’s new career. The episode has shown intelligence on one side and dissonance on the other.

The Pentagon maintains that the Syrian military hit its missiles, while defending themselves, at nothing on April 14. It appears it is the west that has hit at nothing except its own feet on April 14, 2018. The Middle Eastern streets are a buzz with US hostility towards them and the ease with which the US decides to launch attack on Middle Eastern populations. Loss of US’s political weight in the Middle East entails political gain for Russia. Columns have started to appear in the press, and the social media has started recounting the lies told by the US about Iraq weapons of mass destruction, reasons for Libyan intervention, and the senseless destruction of states by the west which is always followed by the rise of terror groups. The propaganda war has turned on the West.

The Syrian missile attack was meant to make the western powers look morally superior. It has had the opposite effect. Russia, Iran and Hezbullah, on the other hand, have gained political leverage.

Putin has been placed in an advantageous position. He is likely to use this advantage to strengthen his position further in Syria and the Middle East. The US position in the Middle East has been greatly weakened due to the obsession for regime change in Syria. The obsession to  oust Assad invited  Russia in to Syria.  US forces are overstretched in the region. Russia’s forces are not. This gives Russia a comparative advantage. West’s brash attack on Syria has helped Russia strengthen the advantage further.

After winning diplomatic and military wars in its near abroad, Russia is now making political headway in the Middle East. It is winning the Middle East through its soft power as well as through the hot pursuit against the West in Syria. The reverberations of Syrian missile attack will go as far as Afghanistan, where the US’ eagerness to reach a settlement with the Taliban may run into fresh trouble.

A GEOPOLITICAL PERSPECTIVE ON PUTIN’S RE-ELECTION

On March 19, 2018, Vladimir Putin has won reelection for a fourth term as President of Russia. He has already been president for 18 years. Getting elected for the fourth time has not come without controversy. Putin is widely considered to be authoritarian in the west, though his popularity at home rests on solid grounds despite the fact that he had imposed many restrictions on civil liberties.  He is suspected of engaging in various acts of suppression of opposition, such as killing critics and getting his most ardent critic Navalny convicted of a crime.

In 2008, he invaded West’s ally Georgia. In 2014, he sparked a serious international crisis by annexing Crimea and supporting a separatist war in the Ukraine. During the 2016 US presidential election, Republican nominee Donald Trump was on friendly terms with Russia and there have been suspicions since then of Russian meddling in the election, illicit ties between Trump’s team and Russia, and Russia holding Trump in blackmail. Then, just days before the 2018 Russian election, a former Soviet defector, Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in the United Kingdom. The British government pinned the blame on Russian intelligence and held none other than Putin responsible. Soon after, the scandal that Russia may have meddled in Brexit vote surfaced. What followed was a Cold War style series of expulsion of Russian diplomats from western countries and tit for tat expulsion of west’s diplomats from Russia.

In the west, Putin’s re-election is considered as predictable bad news the west will have to contend with.

What is certain is that Putin, during six more years in office, will likely play a major role in world affairs. Russia, the world’s largest country (but with a small population and handicapped by freezing climate), is a major world power. As the core of the Soviet Union, it used to be one of the world’s two superpowers. Since then, it seems to be making a resurgence that is credited to Vladimir Putin. When communism collapsed, Boris Yeltsin was left in charge.  Throughout the 90s, Yeltsin made a mess of post Soviet Russia. Communism gave way to an economy based on crime which bred tremendous insecurity amongst Russians. Also, people from the west started coming in and owning assets in Russia.

Yeltsin resigned and handed over power to Putin as Russia entered the twenty-first century, the first time a Russian leader gave up power voluntarily. Putin ruled with a firm hand. He made the country more stable and removed foreign influence. It seemed he restored Russia’s greatness but also Russia’s tyranny. Freedom is something that has been missing from Russia for most of its history. Despite his shortfalls, Yeltsin’s rule was the least authoritarian in Russian history. Putin, at least, brought more prosperity and security to Russians even if their freedoms were subtly chipped away and it is unlikely Putin will voluntarily give up his power until he can no longer rule due to old age. This is the historical pattern in Russia.

Putin also made Russia more hostile to western world powers. This is also part of historical pattern. What Putin is doing now is an extension of what has always been Russia’s foreign relations throughout history. Imperial Russia usually went to war with neighboring lands, mostly as part of its expansion, but also found itself fighting Britain and France in the 1st Crimean war. After Tsarist Russia gave way to the Soviet Union, the latter, throughout its seventy-five year existence, engaged in military confrontations with nearly every nation that it bordered, from total war with Nazi Germany and its allies to border clashes with the People’s Republic of China, at the same time engaging the United States and its allies around the world in the Cold War. Russia under Putin is doing the same through clashes with Ukraine and Georgia and expressing hostility towards other EU countries and America.

The reasons why Russia has always behaved this way through history are geographical. Russia has a long  coastline but much of it is icebound by the Arctic. Russia’s only long coastline with an open ocean, the Pacific Coastline, is remote and far away from the core of the country. Russia’s only other coastlines, the Baltic and Black Sea coastlines, are in enclosed seas which have outlets easily controlled by other countries. Therefore, the primary way for Russia to exert its power and its influence, military or economic, is through land. Russia has wide land borders with both European and Asian countries. At the same time, while Russia is very big, much of it is undeveloped due to being cold, desolate, and sparsely inhabited, especially Siberia, which makes up most of the country. Therefore, Russia has always felt the need to expand itself. Since it has to do so over land mostly, this means it gets in conflict with countries next to it, i.e., near abroad.

That has always been Russia’s past and under Putin, it is its present. But Vladimir Putin has taken power in Russia at a stage in world history in which geography itself is now changing. Primarily, that is through climate change, whose effect on Russia will be large-scale. With the warming of Russia in what may be the not-too distant future, farmland will expand to vast areas north, oil and gas can be drilled in the Arctic, and Russia can expand into the Arctic Ocean, taking its ships there when the obstructive sea ice melts. Putin has shown signs that he is planning ahead to such a future.

In the meantime, it seems he is willing and able to expand Russia’s power at the detriment of other nations, not just nature.

What goes on in Russia  under Putin’s administration is being closely watched by the world for it is likely to play a big role in the future of big power politics, a future that is uncertain and potentially dangerous.

The foregoing article is authored by Shahzeb Khan, Islamabad based OpEd columnist. Khan writes for Daily Times, Express Tribune, and Eurasia Review. Khan works as director at PPLDM (Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management). Khan’s blog can be read at http://www.pldmsite.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

THE BEST CHOICE FOR INTERIM PM: GENERAL RAHEEL SHARIF

The tumultuous third term of the PML(N) government in Pakistan is coming to an end. Four times during its term in office from 2013 to now, it appeared the government could fall any minute, but each time it endured. It is now expected to leave office by May. An interim set up is to take over for a period of ninety to 120 days, to hold free and fair election and supervise the transfer of power to the newly elected representatives.

A debate is now underway regarding who should be the most suitable person to head the interim government. The matter this time cannot be decided with the ease with which it was decided in 2008 and 2013 because the collegial atmosphere between the PML(N) and the PPP, two of Pakistan’s mainstream parties, has ended post Panama Leaks.

There are three national level political parties, the PML(N), the PPP, and the PTI. Each not only mistrusts the other, it wants to be seen to be mistrusting the other. Yet it is from within this very scenario that a consensus candidate must emerge to head the interim set up. Given the volatile nature of politics, the establishment of an independent and powerful interim set up is necessary to oversee free and fair election and smooth transfer of power.

Pakistan’s most sensational opposition figure, Sheikh Rashid, has requested the Chief Justice to decide the matter of the interim government because the politicians, he maintains, are unlikely to agree this time. Though the Pakistani public looks up to the Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, the ruling PML(N) has been vociferously maligning the CJ and the apex court for being biased and beholden to the establishment ever since the apex court’s verdict against Nawaz Sharif in 2017 that led to Nawaz Sharif’s removal from office. In such a scenario, it may not be the best thing if the Chief Justice takes on decision making in this regard. Appointment procedures introduced in the 18 and 20 amendment to the constitution lay down rules for caretaker governments, but there is room for more guide lines as observed by the EU election observation mission in 2013.  If political parties can not agree on care taker set up, the election commission is to take decision. However, the election commission itself has been subject of some controversy lately.

Election 2018 is taking place at time when international events are impacting Pakistan and events in Pakistan carry a direct relevance for international powers. USA wants Pakistan to play a role in helping it manage Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia has offered to help mediate in Afghanistan but it is clear it can not do so without Pakistan being on board. Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan but it is clear it can not be attained without US’s cooperation. Afghans want peace and for that, the regional and extra regional powers must negotiate a settlement with them. Escalated diplomatic activity is visible between the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan and not all parleys that are taking place are made public, to the chagrin of Pakistan’s media. The Prime Minister of Pakistan recently met the US officials in a meeting which can fairly be described as unusual. He was not accompanied by the usual foreign office officials while all those he met with in USA were South Asia experts in government.

All the dots of regional and international shuttle diplomacy connect in Afghanistan.

Pakistan will have to choose its interim set up very wisely under the circumstances. National and international developments point to the need for a care taker Prime Minister who should not only be morally acceptable to all, he should also be capable of staying put in power should unforeseen circumstances require an extension. I repeat, election 2018 is not being held in the collegial environment that prevailed between mainstream political parties during election 2008 and election 2013. Harmony has been replaced by discord and tolerance by resentment.

In the current circumstances, the one chosen to head the interim set up must embody not only neutrality but also capability. He should be able to enforce a regime of security. The nation prays for things to go smoothly but it needs to stay prepared for unforeseen circumstances.

Who ever oversees election 2018 must have his grip on two matters of urgent import in Pakistan at present – security and economy. Add to it the experience of dealing with big powers and there emerges the picture of some one all Pakistanis can accept without controversy. General Raheel Sharif.

General Sharif fought a determined battle against terrorism and ended it during his tenure. He later took to saving the holiest of sites in Islam, Kaaba, and did not let any opposition deter him from arriving in Saudi Arabia to protect Harmain Sharif against the evil plots of Islam’s enemies. These are not my sentiments. I am merely echoing the sentiment of Pakistanis in the matter of General retired Raheel Sharif.  should he be appointed as the care taker Prime Minister of Pakistan during election 2018, he is likely to inspire confidence. He carries the image of a strong administrator and a neutral officer. During Imran Khan’s dharna against Nawaz Sharif in 2014, General Raheel Sharif remained neutral and concentrated on his professional duties. He has the experience of dealing with big powers and could put it to use if the latter become too demanding for their own good.

The addition of Shahid Javed Burki to his team will be in order. Dr. Rizwan Naseer of Rescue 1122 fame could fulfill another dire political requirement during election 2018. With this threesome to start with, Pakistan can go on to establishing an interim set up that should be acceptable to all.

As regards General Raheel Sharif, my understanding of the regional and across Atlantic shuttle diplomacy tells me that something in this direction may already be afoot.