Is some sort of “political change” in the air?
Despite growing differences within the ruling Muslim League, there are no “democratic” channels left for an “in-house” change. Nor is the 19-party Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) in a position to dislodge the government quickly. It will require much more than a few impressive strikes or shrill rallies to achieve that end. Therefore if “change” is to come, good or bad, it must originate from the direction of GHQ or the PM’s House.
The Niaz Naik episode has exploded the myth of “all is well” between the prime minister and the army chief. Denials notwithstanding, the fact is that Mr Naik made an explosive statement aimed at undermining the army high command. How a timid, highly circumspect retired bureaucrat like him could have done so is inexplicable, unless he did so at the behest of the prime minister at whose bidding Mr Naik has been secretly to-ing and fro-ing in recent times.
Now Washington has warned that it would strongly oppose a political intervention by the Pakistan army to oust the Sharif government. The cat is out of the bag. Clearly, MR Shahbaz Sharif was rushed to Washington with instructions to extract precisely such a statement because the contradiction between the civil and military authorities in Pakistan had assumed precipitous proportions.
How did Mr Sharif persuade Washington to come out so openly against an army intervention? What significance should be attached to this “warning”? What did Mr Sharif offer Washington “in exchange” for such critical support?
Too much ingenuity was not required to persuade Washington to back the Sharif cause. Step one was the “Naik brief”: that the army high command was exclusively responsible for the Kargil “adventure”. Step two: that the GDA was an alliance of “conservative or Islamic anti-American, anti-India elements” who were being egged on by similarly inclined “rogue officer” in the army to overthrow a “pro-West, moderate, democratically elected regime”. Step three: that in the event of the ouster of the Sharif regime at the hand so this “unholy” alliance, many new Kargils and Osama bin Ladens would erupt in this nuclear tipped region, with far-reaching consequences. Step four: that since Islamabad had ordered the “withdrawal” from Kargil at the behest of Washington, it now deserved to be bailed out of a situation created by an angry public perception of its “surrender” in Washington. Step five: that Islamabad was now ready to append a conditional signature on the CTBT immediately provided some anti-sanction concessions could be made available through a quick passage of the Brown-back amendment.
The significance of the Washington statement is also clear. The Clinton administration will support any government in Pakistan so long as it fulfils certain basic conditions: sign the CTBT; reign in the country’s nuclear and missile programme; start talking stabilisation policies with India; and stop the manufacture and export of Islamic fundamentalist jehads. Washington is disposed favourably towards the Sharif regime despite its undemocratic nature because it believes that the other “options” (GDA or army) are bigger non-starters in that direction. IN other word, it is policies rather than leaders which attract Washington’s favour or ire. Therefore an “opportunist” like Mr Sharif with whom one can do business is preferable to a principled “hawk” like Imran Khan or an anti-India, pro-jihad, pro-bomb conglomerate like the GDA. Indeed, Mr Sharif’s “acceptability” in the US exists in direct proportion to the unacceptable global views and policies of his detractors, whether in the political opposition or in the military.
the likelihood of a quick, conditional Pakistani signature on the CTBT is therefore quite high. MR Sharif will also continue to make all the right noises about restarting “talks” with the new government in India. Finally, he may be expected to purge the army high command in pursuit of this opportunist agenda. Despite all this, his survival is not assured.
Washington’s support is ephemeral. It is here today, gone tomorrow. If some other Pakistani civil or military leadership demonstrates a better and more credible ability and willingness to do business with American while turning Pakistan around, the soul of democracy may be allowed to take a back seat to the form of it. Likewise, once the CTBT is behind Mr Sharif, his usefulness may be severely curtailed, especially if he seems to be sowing the long-term seeds of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism by moving inexorably towards the enforcement of a “shariah” designed to make himself all-powerful. He cannot tame the fundamentalists by playing games with them. Nor can he change the ethos of the military overnight merely by making whimsical changes in its high command. Both will catch up with him sooner or later.
At this very critical juncture, Pakistan doesn’t need unthinking political change for the sake of it. Indeed, if change is to be welcome at home and abroad, it must be for the right reasons. Indeed, it must reverse the order of economic and political development in a transparently wise and equitable manner. Anything less than that is doomed to failure on a grand scale.