Dec 2

#ThankYouRaheelSharif

Posted on Friday, December 2, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

#ThankYouRaheelSharif

Despite temptation, provocation and instigation by politicians, subordinates, flatterers and hypocrites, General Raheel Sharif did not overstay his welcome like his two predecessors who clung on for 16 years. #ThankYouRaheelSharif.

Despite prevarication, cowardice and confusion among politicians and media, General Raheel Sharif did not spare the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and MQM terrorists, unlike his two predecessors who played good assets and bad liabilities among the same terrorists for 16 years. #ThankYouRaheelSharif.

General Sharif started off in real earnest with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani when he determined to drag the Afghan Taliban to the table. But he was thwarted by vested interests inside the Intel agencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan no less than by power struggles inside the Afghan Taliban. When he left, Pak-Afghan relations had hit rock bottom and the Afghan Taliban were morphing into IS and attacking Pakistan.

General Sharif’s India policy also couldn’t break out of the military’s sum zero paradigm. Worse, he seemed to be out of step with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s vision of regional peace and stability as a core building block of Pakistan’s economic development and welfare. Whenever Mr Sharif attempted to talk “normalization” with India, the dogs of war in the media and jihadis were let loose. By the time General Sharif left, India’s “offensive-defense” doctrine against Pakistan was in full flow in Balochistan and across the LoC and Pakistan’s NSA backchannel appointed by the PM had been rendered jobless.

General Sharif was billed as a soldier’s soldier, someone who abhorred politicking. But in reality the military’s relations with the PMLN regime under General Sharif were as bad as they had been under General Kayani during the Zardari administration. Indeed, in his first year in office, he bought into the political conspiracies and shenanigans of Kayani’s remnants in the Intel agencies via the dharnas of Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri and in his last year he couldn’t resist the indiscreet charm of his PR Tweet Maestro who built him up as the Saviour on Horseback mowing down the corrupt governments of Zardari in Sindh and Sharif in Islamabad. Indeed, his attempt to link corruption with terrorism endeared him to the masses as much as it alienated him from their elected representatives, a sure shot recipe for political destabilization.

General Sharif’s media management was also problematic. When the military’s Intel agencies were not running amuck as in 2014-15, trying to close down “errant” channels and launch “loyal” new ones, his PR agency was tweeting abuse at independent media persons in 2016 by calling them “traitors” and “Indian agents” when it wasn’t paying off two bit anchors and reporters to pray to Almighty Allah to nudge General Sharif to clamp down on them. All the while, General Sharif was rampant on the front pages of newspapers and breaking news on TV channels.

In truth, General Raheel Sharif was well intentioned and incorruptible. He never harboured any thought of seizing power. #ThankYouRaheelSharif. But, as is the wont of simple and honourable men in positions of absolute power, he was led into quagmires by scheming and ambitious subordinates with soaring ambitions and dubious stratagems. In the end, it is a happy omen for the country that General Sharif was given a warm and befitting farewell when he handed over the baton to General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

General Bajwa’s first task is to take stock of General Sharif’s good legacies no less than his failed leftovers or misplaced concreteness. Terrorism must be rooted out. Kabul must be brought back into the loop and India must not be excluded from it. The corruption of politicians must be delinked from the toll and menace of terrorism, whether religious or criminal, local or foreign inspired. The military has no business publicly lecturing elected leaders about good governance – that is a task best left to watchdogs in the media and judiciary. The NAP must be jointly owned and implemented with the civilians to foster tolerance and pluralism. And so on.

General Sharif did well to personally stay clear of the media. He disavowed likes and dislikes. But he erred in upgrading the ISPR into an organization Goebbels would have been proud to own that did exactly the opposite on his behalf. The military needs a low profile if it isn’t interested in seizing power. Pakistan is too complicated and diverse a country to be slotted into a singular militaristic identity that feeds off various “us versus them” themes – Pakistan vs India, Good Taliban vs Bad Taliban, Good Muslim vs Bad Muslim, Friends vs Enemies, Soldiers vs Civilians, Majority vs Minorities, Martial Law vs Democracy, Feudals vs Capitalists, Punjab vs Sindh, Western CPEC Route vs Central Route, etc.

Nawaz Sharif must know by now that no army chief is the PM’s man even if the PM has handpicked him above his peers. Equally, General Qamar Bajwa must also know how to be his own man rather than that of his flatterers or subordinates. For helping us learn these lessons, we are obliged to say #ThankYouRaheelSharif!

Nov 25

Neither war nor peace

Posted on Friday, November 25, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

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India has progressively ratcheted up military tensions along the Line of Control and International Border with Pakistan. Considering that a fairly effective ceasefire held the ground from 2003 until the Modi regime came to power in India, what are the consequences of the new regional dynamics?

When Narendra Modi became prime minister, it was clear that the BJP under him would not deal with Pakistan in the same mode as Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani. The latter had staked the fag end of their political careers on trying to build a historic peace with Pakistan, albeit largely on their own terms. Advani’s yatra to Karachi and Vajpayee’s to Lahore were the cornerstones of that policy. Modi, on the other hand, has been intent on building his political career on anti-Muslim communalism and pro-West economic free marketeering. This has led to an overly hard posture towards Pakistan and a swooning attitude towards the US.

Ajit Doval, PM Modi’s National Security Advisor, spelt out the new posture when he unfurled his “Doval doctrine” of “offensive defense” in five manifest areas. First, aggressive electioneering and coalition building in Kashmir, followed by a brutal crackdown. Second, heating up the LoC to stop cross border incursions. Third, proxy-warring in Balochistan and Karachi. Fourth, staking Kabul by exploiting Pakistan’s diminishing leverage. Fifth, isolating Pakistan internationally as a “state sponsor of terrorism”. All dimensions are clearly in evidence today. The victory of Donald Trump in Washington is an added bonus – he equates support for India with support for Hindus.

Nawaz Sharif’s error lay in equating Modi with Vajpayee and misreading the new dialectic at work in Modi’s India. PM Sharif thought he could simply pick up the thread with India where he had left it in 1999 and stitch up a peace deal in 2014. So, just before the Indian elections, he decided to postpone the signing of a significant MFN trade deal with India under Dr Manmohan Singh – a long time Indian demand — because he wanted to start out on the right foot by signing it with Modi who was forecast to be the next prime minister of India. Accordingly, he went to the Delhi Durbar at the Emperor’s inauguration and wasn’t dissuaded by the Indian foreign secretary’s snub when he held out the hand of reconciliation. Indeed, Modi hasn’t missed any photo-op to embrace Nawaz Sharif – in Raiwind too — even as he has continued to wield the knife behind his back like a modern day Shivaji.

The Pakistani military establishment disapproves of Nawaz’s naïve diplomacy. Therefore it has reinstated Kashmir as the sole “core” issue with India, a position long abandoned since the Musharraf era, and opened the jihadi tap just a little to stress its centrality in the face of a highly repressive situation in Kashmir. So, in a sense, Nawaz has been outplayed by Modi and also outwitted by his own military establishment. If Modi has internationalized Balochistan’s “liberation” from the ramparts of Delhi on Independence Day and exhorted the UN to declare Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism, the Pakistani military has hit back directly in Pathankot and indirectly in Uri, paraded the Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadev as proof of Indian proxy warring in Balochistan and distributed evidences of the RAW connection with Altaf Hussain in Karachi. Both countries have recently expelled each other’s diplomat-spys in equal measure.

India has not even been interested in talking about talks. The back channel has been wound up. The NSAs haven’t met in ages. India provoked a cancellation of the SAARC Summit in Islamabad by pulling out. Recently it conjured up a series of “strategic military strikes” against alleged jihadi outposts along the border inside Pakistan and whipped up an orgy of media glee at its invincibility. Now Pakistan is having second thoughts about attending the Heart of Asia Conference scheduled in Amritsar.
Meanwhile, India has successfully wooed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani away from Pakistan and is betting on tilting President Trump in its favour too.

Some people think that India is veering towards outright war with Pakistan. That is not correct. The last thing Modi wants is a war with nuclear Pakistan to raise the hackles of the world. Indeed, any real sign of war would trigger capital flight out of India and scare potential foreign investors eyeing India as an emerging market par excellence. It would shatter Modi’s showcase of shining India, sow political discord at home and lose him the next state and general elections.

How Indo-Pak relations pan out depends on three factors. First, Narendra Modi’s domestic compulsions to whip up anti-Pakistan sentiment on the eve of state elections in several big states early next year. Second, Donald Trump’s foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region. Third, Nawaz Sharif’s political longevity and civil-military balance in Pakistan. At worst, the current calibrated hostility will persist. At best, India and Pakistan will start talking about talks again sometime next year. Neither war nor peace is forecast.

Nov 18

Internal and External Pressures

Posted on Friday, November 18, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Internal and External Pressures

As Pakistan grapples with two divisive internal issues, it is being compelled to contend with two external pressures that are adding to its destabilization.

The first internally divisive issue relates to civil-military relations. They are not good. The prime minister doesn’t want to grant an extension in the tenure of the army chief; he disagrees with the military high command on how to deal with India and Afghanistan, anti-Kabul Taliban and anti-India Jihadis. And he is reluctant to give more powers to the army and Rangers to tackle corruption amongst politicians under the garb of fighting terrorism.

The second internally divisive issue is the continuing confrontation between the combined opposition and the ruling party. The opposition wants to oust Nawaz Sharif by hook or by crook not just from government but also from politics altogether so that the PMLN is shorn of its popular leader and loses the next election. These two issues have dragged the military, street, media and courts into the fray and hugely destabilized the country.

The two external pressures are coming from India and Afghanistan. Since the rise of an indigenous intifada in Kashmir, India’s ruling BJP has tried to divert attention from its unprecedented repression and human rights violations in the valley by heating up the Line of Control and International Border. Nothing plays to the galleries better than conflict with “arch enemy” Pakistan. First there was the orchestrated farce of “strategic strikes” against Pakistan. This was followed by boastful claims of picking off Pakistani soldiers like flies along the border. Now PM Narendra Modi is facing the wrath of the public over his ill-managed currency demonetization scheme and has shown ever greater keenness to fan the flames of military conflict with Pakistan.

Much the same sort of problem confronts Pakistan in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is not ready to act against Pakistani Taliban groups holed out in the border areas of Afghanistan which are attacking Pakistan because Pakistan is not ready to take action against Afghan Taliban groups like the Haqqani network with sanctuaries in Pakistan. The problem has been accentuated by internal power struggles among the Afghan Taliban in which hard liners continue to spurn efforts to negotiate peace with Kabul and have morphed into IS that is both against Kabul and Islamabad. IS has now joined forces with sectarian terrorist groups from Pakistan and is launching attacks in Balochistan from their southern strongholds in Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban hard liners are angry at Pakistan for abetting the CIA’s assassination of Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor on Pakistani territory and for trying to assemble a pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban leadership amenable to leveraging dialogue with Kabul.

There is one factor that is at the core of all such issues. This is the military establishment that formulates, commands and controls Pakistan’s national security doctrine, that in turn impinges on the military’s relations with elected civilian governments and the country’s foreign policy, especially in relation to the US, China, India and Afghanistan. The perennial core of this doctrine posits India as the existential arch enemy and the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with Pakistan’s desire. In pursuit of this objective, the doctrine has staked asymmetric conflict with India based on Pakistani jihadi non-state assets under a nuclear umbrella. It also posits a friendly Afghanistan that is unfriendly to India, hence the need to create and nurture non-state Taliban assets. This doctrine now faces a blow back on several fronts that is immeasurably destabilizing Pakistan.

First, civil society, media, judiciary and political parties are now united in asserting the supremacy of civilian constitutional rule and the military’s ability to impose martial law is fast deteriorating. The rise of Nawaz Sharif, a popular Punjabi politician determined to challenge the military’s political hegemony, has hastened this process and thereby created tensions in civil-military relations. Second, the military’s failure to stitch up Kabul and Kashmir via non-state Taliban in Afghanistan and Jihadi actors in Pakistan has rebounded with a chilling vengeance. Elements of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s sectarian Jihadis have joined forces and are now attacking Pakistan even as the other pro-military non-state elements inside Pakistan and Afghanistan are straining at the leash to attack Kabul and India in a global environment in which every such attack further isolates Pakistan and puts it on the spot as “a regional sponsor of terrorism”. This backlash puts pressure on the civilian leadership that has to contend diplomatically at the regional and global arena and brings it into conflict with the military leadership that spawns and controls Pakistan’s national security narrative. When this military leadership tries to disarm and weaken the elected civilian leadership by winking at its political opposition, the whole polity is destabilized to the benefit of Pakistan’s external detractors.

Pakistan desperately needs a new social contract in which the military is subservient to the constitutionally elected leadership of the country that is in turn focused on good governance and peoples welfare as the core determinant of national power.

Nov 11

Trump’s triumph

Posted on Friday, November 11, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Many months ago, Michael Moore got it right: “This wretched, ignorant, dangerous, part-time clown and full-time sociopath is going to be our next president”. He advised fellow-Americans who thought otherwise, to stop living in a bubble and face the truth. What is the truth?

The truth is strewn around in bits and pieces. Hilary Clinton’s “unpopularity” because she can’t be “trusted”, not even by a majority of white women! Bernie Sanders’ depressed liberal voters who just couldn’t sufficiently drag themselves out of bed to vote for Hilary. Working class anger in the electorally critical industrial states of the Upper Midwest at Democrat policies in support of NAFTA that had taken away hundreds of thousands of jobs. But in the final analysis, it all boiled down to one main factor: fear. This fear translates into the majoritarian, protestant, white man’s angry last stand against “Feminazi”, against blacks, gays, “Mozies’, “outsiders”, “them”, etc, who are threatening to “take over” America and end this white male’s domination of the last 240 years!

This is borne out by statistical facts. Given demographic changes, it is forecast that by 2042 the US will not be a white majority country. Conservative Republicans, in particular, will become a minority in the US. This rapid radical ethnic change that is based on immigration policies and birth rates, coupled with waning religious cultural practices among the young, is creating a sense of “dislocation” in white America. This dislocation has created an identity crisis that has led to the politics of identity: US vs THEM. This identity crisis is most marked among white protestant low education working class Americans whose fragility has aroused both anger and fear and compelled them to reassert their white supremacist vocabulary.

It is ironic that the very notions of economic and cultural globalization, multiple identities and political correctness that characterize the rising new millennium of freedom and assimilation have sparked a fearful reaction in the leader of the “free” world and “free” market. Immigration, refugees, jobs, outsourcing, brain drain, etc, are all manifestations of globalization that has created multiple identities and notions of equality and political correctness in the First World. Donald Trump’s victory is based on a correct reading and exploitation of white Christian society’s fears triggered by such dislocations.

It is all the more ironic that the impulse for change in America is not based on the sort of hope for the better – better defined as more culturally liberal and assimilative, more globally integrated, more politically equal, more free, more politically correct — that Obama and then Bernie Sanders inspired, but exactly on its opposite; that is, fear that the social change underway is unacceptable because it is “anti-American” (“give us our country back” effectively means “don’t erode white protestant supremacist ideology”). It is also remarkable that this anxiety has led to a wave of fear and loathing amongst the majoritarian liberal democratic regimes of Europe by fuelling similar sentiments among jingoistic and racist parties and groups.

Why did the pollsters get it wrong until the votes were counted? One reason may be that many Donald Trump voters did not want to be seen as being politically incorrect, so they lied about whom they had voted for by exorcising their anger and fear in the anonymity of the ballot box. No other American election to date has been based on such subliminal politically incorrect and divisive sentiments. What next?

Donald Trump has quickly moved to reassure Americans that he will be president of them all just as Hilary Clinton has exhorted her followers to continue the good fight for all the politically correct causes. The sense of angry dislocation is now palpable in the very section of state and society that is accused of it by the dislocated classes who have voted for Mr Trump.

However, Mr Trump in office may not be the same man Americans have come to loathe or love in opposition. Establishment real politik has a way of reasserting itself in foreign and defense policy. Europe will resist attempts to erode NATO. Big business will not allow Trump to dictate the terms of globalizing markets and capital. Even Republican Congress will not allow its pet themes and projects to wither on the vine. Indeed, since the popular vote is evenly shared, Trump is likely to meet with popular resistance if he tries to turn the tide back on issues like abortion and mixed marriages. Similarly, it is easy to promise jobs and difficult to deliver them by spurring higher rates of economic growth in just four years of economic policy making. The noticeable change may only be in tighter immigration controls and homeland security in relation to “them”. If he can significantly reduce income taxes, all America will applaud him. But again, that is easier said than done. Pro-India rhetoric is unlikely to be matched by anti-Pakistan action.

The world has waited with bated breath for the US electorate to decide. Now it will wait anxiously for four more years as Donald Trump unveils his policy architecture.

Nov 4

Pied Piper of Pakistan

Posted on Friday, November 4, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

After six months of marching up and down the streets of Pakistan, the pied piper is back in the very courts of law that he has constantly debased and spurned. Now Imran Khan wants Nawaz Sharif to be ousted by the Supreme Court in one month after having tried every conspiratorial trick in the book and failed to achieve his objective. One core factor accounts for his failure.

The core factor is Imran’s inability to read the mind and motives of the military establishment. He thought that “they” disliked Nawaz Sharif intensely and would go to any lengths, including martial law, to get rid of him. Imran was right in the first part but wrong in the second. “They” do dislike and distrust Nawaz Sharif. But “they” are not ready to impose martial law to get rid of him.

The Kayani doctrine is alive and kicking. It aims to retain the military’s pre-eminent strategic position in the body politic of Pakistan by indirect intervention and pressure to keep the ruling civilians in line. Its main weapons are the “threat” of martial law, rather than martial law itself, coupled with the manipulation of public opinion through opportunist political parties, militant Islamists, nationalistic media and amenable judiciary to destabilise and weaken the ruling party in order to retain hegemony over the political narrative.

This Kayani doctrine was successfully tested during the Zardari regime from 2008-13. The military establishment fuelled the movement for the restoration of the judges and installed Iftikhar Chaudhry in the SC, then obtained an extension in the tenure of General Kayani by manipulating the media, Nawaz-opposition and Chaudhry-judiciary to corner President Zardari in Memogate, oust one prime minister and hound another. Central to this doctrine is the creation of a threat-perception that the army is ready to impose martial law and sustain it if the need arises.

Mr Zardari in office misread the threat and succumbed to it while Mr Sharif in opposition exploited it to destabilise and weaken the PPP and win elections. In the current situation, Nawaz in power has read it well and survived, while Imran in opposition has misread it and failed. Nawaz reasoned that if he stood his ground, the threat of martial law would not materialise. Imran misread it and thought the military would intervene to oust Nawaz if he refused to step down in the face of a popular onslaught. Nawaz also read the military mind better than Imran during the dharna in 2014 when conditions were propitious for a military intervention (he refused to budge because he assessed that the military would not take over in the final analysis) but Imran forgot that lesson last week when he launched his thinning brigades against Nawaz’s resolve to beat them down.

Indeed, Imran refused to heed the writing on the wall when the military’s key militant assets, Dr Tahir ul Qadri and the Defence Council of Pakistan, refused to join forces with him. He was also unable to read the mind of Nawaz Sharif when the prime minister refused an extension to the army chief earlier this year and announced his readiness to submit to a legalistic supreme court under CJP Jamali (as compared to a political one under CJP Chaudhry) for accountability when Panamaleaks broke.

The SC’s mind has been articulated. Initially it was reluctant to enter the political fray. Now it has imposed conditions. All protagonists must agree on the TORs for an inquiry; it will not play the role of Sherlock Holmes, ie it will not rely on discredited organs like NAB, FBR and FIA etc for evidence; it does not want to take forever to announce a judgment, ie, it will confine itself to the two main election disqualification petitions before it relating to Panamaleaks; and it must have guarantees that its verdict will not be debased later by any wounded party.

There will be problems. The PPP says it doesn’t accept the SC’s decision to bypass parliament. So there will be no mainstream party consensus. Nawaz is happy to submit to an exclusive Panamaleaks inquiry because he isn’t named as a beneficiary. But it’s moot how Imran will reconcile to it because his popular movement has been based on corruption charges against Nawaz going back two decades which will not be investigated by the SC. It’s also moot how far the SC will go in the direction of an inquisition in which both petitioners must prove their own innocence in which the onus of proving evidence of innocence rests on each of them rather than each proving the other guilty by providing evidence against the other.

Finally, given Imran’s track record of lashing out at the judges when they decide against him, how can the Commission expect to fare in this charged situation if it holds in favour of Nawaz?

This is only another round in the ongoing political battle of the heavyweights. The pied piper hasn’t yet disappeared over the horizon.