Complicating a constitutional crisis
A few days ago, the foreign minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Asia, while speaking at a think tank in Washington DC admitted that Islamabad’s decision to join the US in the Cold War was a mistake. The minister further argued that “We developed a militaristic ethos in Pakistan intentionally to justify the US’s intervention in Afghanistan. We became a proxy to legitimise a relationship with the United States and in order to create a pro-jihad narrative we termed our hero’s into non-heroes and non-heroes into heroes.”
It’s encouraging to see that Pakistan is finally realising the mistakes which the country’s leadership made decades ago. However, the question which is of the essence here is this: Do the remarks of Asif at a major think tank reflect the policy of the state which also involves the country’s military establishment or the viewpoint is the stance of the civilian government that remains on loggerheads with a number of other state institutions? If it’s the former then in the coming months and years we may see a paradigm shift in Pakistan domestic and regional security policy. But if it’s the latter than the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is only looking to deepen the country’s constitutional crisis further by pitting various state institutions against each other.
The way recent politicking has unfolded in Pakistan, it appears that Asif’s remarks in Washington DC were the stance of the civilian government alone. The military establishment would neither call its predecessors’ policies a ‘mistake’ and nor would it call LeJ and Haqqanis ‘liabilities’ at a time when the narrative in Pakistan is that ‘we do not have safe heavens’ of militant groups in the country. If one is to assess Asif’s statement strategically, it’s clear that his remarks, while much needed and need of the hour, were made as part of Nawaz’s recent policy to highlight the establishment’s alleged extra-constitutional role in the country.
When it comes to Pakistan’s security policy, which, by and large, has remained one of the biggest flashpoints in Pakistan’s domestic politics, the military and civilian government of Nawaz Sharif’s political party have always remained on the collision course.
The policies which Asif talked about in DC were never the initiatives of civilian governments; rather those policies were formed and nurtured beyond the country’s foreign office or the prime minister house. So when Asif says that groups such as the LeT and Haqqani are a ‘liability’ for Pakistan he reflects the longstanding desire of Sharif who always wanted a foreign policy which had the element of securitisation at the periphery against India or Afghanistan. It remains to be seen if the military establishment acknowledges the recent remarks of the country’s foreign minister or considers it an attack on its overall policy outlook.
Now, this leads us to Nawaz’s political future. The government has been making efforts to bring Nawaz back to politics. Recently, the parliament amended the Political Parties Act to ensure that Sharif can still lead his political organisation despite the fact that the Supreme Court (SC) has declared him ineligible from holding any public office.
While the parliament may have paved the way for Sharif to return, it’s going to be very tough when it comes to the latter’s smooth return to politics. Sharif has quietly been working on garnering an institutional support base for himself but so far the efforts have remained futile. If SC takes the Parliament’s action as an effort to undermine the former’s role in the recent accountability process which has been termed political, it’s possible that the country’s top court may intervene at some point to reverse Sharif’s legitimate way back to politics.
On the other hand, if the military establishment reads the recent remarks of Asif as an effort on Sharif’s part to criticise the former’s policy initiatives than its likely that Sharif and his political party will find itself in deeper problems in the coming weeks. From here onwards, Sharif’s policy of taking on the establishment is only going to earn him more enemies. It should also be expected that such as policy will leave a deep impact as far the political party’s own unity and organisational structure is concerned. It would be interesting to see that how the Shahbaz group, which has always sought reconciliation with the establishment, reacts to Nawaz’s policy of open confrontation with the military.
One thing is for sure, Sharif’s return back to Pakistan’s politics is going to complicate the country’s constitutional crisis.