Indicated earlier (last month) in these very columns, was the initiation of the Pakistan-USA Security Dialogue with the participation of all three services, in the USA. In the follow-up of that, meetings between civilian stakeholders too have taken place. In the statements coming out of the dialogue in Islamabad, it seems now clear that the points of reference between the US administration and the Pakistani state remain the fall-out of the most recent engagement; the post-9/11 one.
These developments are further indicated by how the top military brass is consoling the business community about the expected economic recovery. In the reported meeting of the COAS with business leaders and repeated stories of ‘optimism’ displayed by the top, points towards complete command. It means that the global security order, best personified in the form of Pentagon and NATO, the established order in Pakistan has been recognized as the ‘resource persons to deal with’. as was evident in the February dialogue between the three services and their counterparts in the US military.
To back that up, an unprecedented crackdown against dissident political trends like the PTI, with scant regard to the human rights aspect, clearly points out that with the US-led security setup at the back; the domestic security systems, following the footsteps of defunct SAVAK of Muhammad Raza Pahlavi, feel emboldened. The brutal killing of an autistic political activist seems to have turned into a baggage for the current dispensation; with the contradiction that it feels emboldened like yesteryear’s pro-US system led by General Zia ul Haque.
It will be naïve on the part of politicians on either side of the political divide to claim that a new Pakistan will dawn out of the much-awaited general elections. With every party referring to the ‘source’ of ‘real power’ in one-way or another; it is pure politics at work permitted under the proverbial SOPs of the ‘home rule’. For the PTI, it is a lifetime dilemma as well as the opportunity to transform itself into a true revolutionary vanguard or remain just any other political party, only interested in currying favour with the powers that be. Time will tell and the genuine will of its leadership will be the deciding factors
In the backdrop of these developments, what is the role of the civilian heads of states, heads of the government etc; whosoever is able to take the reins of power after much awaited 2023-2024 polls? A policymaker role, which the late ZAB tried unsuccessfully between 1971 and 1977. Alternatively, the one, which was practiced by the Congress and Muslim League ministries during the Home Rule option allowed by the British before 1947? It was a scenario where Congress and AIML were allowed independence in local affairs with almost no say in the international and defence domain.
For the political parties committed to play by the book, during that era, it meant either supporting the British war effort or looking the other way in a noncommittal manner, and not opposing it. While in the case of the succeeding states of Pakistan and India, Indians tried successfully to remain non-aligned. Keeping a distance and a working relationship with major powers like the USA, the then USSR and emerging European powers, Pakistan regretfully fell like a ripe apple in the lap of the US-led security order. A fall, which still haunts that nation state to date.
Consequently, the first decade of chaotic civilian rule in newly independent Pakistan was punctuated with the usual making and breaking of coalitions, while the country’s security imperatives were allowed to slide into the Pentagon’s sphere. In 1954, much before the coup by Ayub Khan in 1958, Pakistan was made part of the Baghdad Pact, the forerunner of CENTO, with duties similar to what it was to perform in later defence cooperation pacts. That earlier integration was indicative of the fact that the international security establishment was cozier with the ‘regimented’ and less likely to talk with the ‘civilians’.
In fact, the only time the USA expressed its desire to have the participation of the civilian counterpart was the ‘Kerry-Lugar Bill’, which recognized the then civilian government led by the PPP as the sovereign countersignatory. The bill was unusual even from the point that it called for more civilian integration between the governments of the USA and Pakistan, while keeping the military sphere subject to certain checks and balances. It also made an unusual commitment to ‘democratic rule in Pakistan’ besides parliamentary say in issues of national security.
Coming back to the discourse, ZAB, despite the fact that he led a radical grouping of left-leaning activists formulated in the form of the PPP, could not struggle to get Pakistan out of CENTO or SEATO when he finally led Pakistan as head of the state and head of the government between 1971 1977. What he was able to do was to diversify Pakistan engagements; specifically during the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict.
The next civilian Prime Minister to be shown the door for asking too much was the late Mohammad Khan Junejo; who tried to assert his authority over the controversial Ojhri Camp blast in 1988. Apologists of the late dictator Zia still criticize the former PM for what they call forcing a civilian solution on the Afghan Jihad; admonishing him for what they called ’surrendering Mujahedeen gains in the Geneva talks’. At the core was neither the interests of the Afghans or combatants, it was just the case of a ‘no ball’, a proverbial crossing of the crease by Junejo.
Regretfully, the USA, despite its commitment to ’democratic ideals’, forced the PPP led by the late Benazir Bhutto in 1988 to negotiate power sharing with the legacy leadership left out after the ill-fated C-130 crash. The new democratic government was the first instance of ‘home rule’ where the national-level party was supposed to touch a few domains and leave the others in the arms of the armed forces.
In that context, the Nawaz Sharif-led PML was more realistic. It took upon itself infrastructure investment in the form of motorways, within the city transport facilitation initiatives and catering to its core vote bank; the trading community; through a few cosmetic reforms, a few incentives in the Finance Bill part of the federal and provincial budget documents. However, its central leadership’s bid to control all aspects, led it to run into conflict with the established order. One presidential dismissal under Article 58(2b) and one coup was indicative of when cr)ossing the red lines was not tolerated.
The two experiences f the mainstream parties PPP and PML(N with the powers to be in the aftermath of Musharraf too have been the similar story. There has been virtually no bar on ‘home rule’ initiatives, benign legislation and a few social assistance programmes. Any other initiative has been opposed by the established order. One exception has been the Osama raid, where the establishment was caught compromised. At that time, the DGMO took pains to explain the circumstances of the US raid. The other exception was Pakistan’s decision not to be part of the Saudi coalition in the Yemen war. At that time, the supremacy of Parliament was made use of by the civilians to upstage the military.
In that context, a relatively new entrant in the corridors of power the PTI, understandably choose to tread the safe line; like pro-poor initiatives, PM complaint portals and such like. It even supported marginalization of the specific groups under suspicion of links with undesirable neighbouring countries to appease the real power centres, until the Ukraine War. Despite denials from both sides as to what transpired, for a staunchly pro-US nation state like Pakistan, it was an unbelievable thing to do.
Seen in the backdrop of these ground realities, it will be naïve on the part of politicians on either side of the political divide to claim that a new Pakistan will dawn out of the much-awaited general elections. With every party referring to the ‘source’ of ‘real power’ in one-way or another; it is pure politics at work permitted under the proverbial SOPs of the ‘home rule’. For the PTI, it is a lifetime dilemma as well as the opportunity to transform itself into a true revolutionary vanguard or remain just any other political party, only interested in currying favour with the powers that be. Time will tell and the genuine will of its leadership will be the deciding factors.