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Monday, June 17, 2013

The Third Coming of Nawaz Sharif

The Third Coming of Nawaz Sharif

This article was published in Daily Greater Kashmir, Sirinagar, Dated June 16, 2013

It is no exaggeration to say that Nawaz Sharif’s election victory has aroused more expectations within Pakistan and abroad than any government since its creation. An atmosphere of pessimism and gloom prevailed when PPP returned to power in 2008 and its main achievement was to have survived. Pakistani voters want more than just that from Nawaz Sharif. It is not only ordinary Pakistanis that have a stake in the actions of the new government; there are other sorts of expectations to be met and apprehensions to be allayed. First are the organized domestic religious groups devoted to the task of violently eliminating fellow Pakistanis on sectarian ground; then there are the violent NGOs dedicated to pursuit of causes abroad, the non State actors in Pakistani parlance, and finally the violent cadres of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan the TTP, intent on deciding how Pakistan  should be run. All three groups are armed, violent and dangerous are involved with each in a tangled web of relationshipsLooming over these groups and over the civilian government is the largest, most organized, most heavily armed, and the most dangerous group of all, the Pakistan army, according to some their creator. The PA has arguably done more damage to Pakistan, defending its ‘Ideology’ than all the other violent groups put together.Pakistan’s immediate neighbours, Afghanistan and India, naturally top the list of foreign parties anxiously looking out for Mian Nawaz Sharif’s moves, but there is also the US, the super power ensconced in Pakistan’s backyard and enemy of its client Taliban; and then there is Kashmir, where anxiety levels are presumably at the highest level of all. The priority of the ordinary Pakistani voter is an end to inflation, the economic crisis and power cuts. To solve all three NS will have to pull not just one rabbit out of his hat but several. Pakistan had a surplus capacity of 1000 mw when NS was deposed in 1999; today it is short by about 5000 mw. No additions to capacity took place in the last decade. Short term solutions lie in buying power from India or Iran. A transmission line can be stretched very quickly from Jalandhar but Pakistan has declined so far to pursue this option. Inflation and economic growth are more difficult to handle. The IMF has disclosed that Pakistan’s gross financing needs would climb to 33% of GDP this year. Multilateral and bilateral credits to finance the budget deficit have also disappeared. Saudi Arabia recently announced a $15 billion package for energy assistance. Details have not been released.Inflation had touched 12% last year though it has come down this year. Trade with India would probably bring down consumer inflation but the problem of the Most Favoured Nation status holds it up. Hina Rabbani Khar said last week that Pakistani would have approved this status to India in January except for the fuss made over beheading of soldiers in J&K. Pakistan’s fiscal deficit has touched 8.5%, and its forex reserves are down to just $ 6.5 billion of which $ 4 billion are due as repayment to the IMF next year.Whatever NS does he cannot he cannot possibly meet voter expectations over the economy immediately. It will take time and things may get worse before they get better. Besides, power will cost- If Pakistan buys power from India it will have to ensure that consumers pay for it and that will put up tariffs, never a pleasant thing.NS’s most pressing problem is undoubtedly civil military relations. Starting out as the army’s protégé he ended up its victim. Zardari brought peace with a three year extension for General Kayani. What will NS do? As the PM designate prepared to leave for the swearing he was held up so as let the army chief’s convoy through. Nawaz Sharif must assert civilian authority while keeping the army in good humour, because there are multiple and contradictory dualities to be negotiated in the trilateral relationship of the political executive, the armed groups and military authority, not to mention the inherent dualities of external relationships. On the face of it seems a hopeless task.The armed groups devoted to sectarian violence are now grouped, on the Sunni side, into one entity called Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASwJ), but it is fundamentally the old banned groups Sipah e Sahaba and the Lashkar e Jhangvi. Both PPP and the Muslim League (N) had seat adjustments with candidates of the ASwJ . As an allied force NS must turn them round to peaceful methods of disputation. Though the group can trace its origins to the encouragement Zia ul Haq, it is not regarded at present as an instrument of the army - Unlike the LeT, the organization devoted to Kashmir and in the words of Admiral Mullen a veritable arm of the ISI. The LeJ had worked actively in training and sending volunteers to Kashmir in association with Harkat ul Mujahideen, itself associated with Al Qaeda, and it was only after the army’s attack on Lal Masjid in 2007 that the connection with the army was broken. The Lal Masjid chief Maulvi Abdul Aziz was then taking orders from Al Qaida and its ideologues like Sheikh Essa holed up in South Waziristan. The Maulvi’s father and Zia ul Haq were friends as were Abdul Aziz himself with Ejaz ul Haq, son of the dictator and Musharraf’s Minister for Religious Affairs. The cross linkages between militant groups are formed and broken as alliances shift in response to the changing situation; yesterday’s friends are enemies today. Al Qaida wanted the Afghan Taliban to fight the Pakistan army because it was helping the Americans in Afghanistan. It therefore motivated Behtullah Mehsud to break away from Mullah Nazir of the Taliban and set up the TTP precisely to attack the Pakistani army at its weak points. This is the organization that the Pakistani army had to evict from Swat in the summer of 2009 and which briefly seemed to threaten Islamabad. LeJ’s link with the TTP put it in the enemy camp as far as the army is concerned, its earlier linkage with the Harkat ul Mujahideen (itself an Al Qaeda associate) over Kashmir now forgotten. This contradiction emerges from the LeT as well. It may be focussed against India, and on Kashmir, with the assistance of the ISI but the price it may have to pay is to be pitched against the TTP. On 8th June the Express Tribune of Pakistan reported Ehsanullah Ehsan spokesman of the TTP as saying that the LeT planned to attack it using the cover name of the Afghan Taliban.One can sympathize with Nawaz Sharif’s dilemma. The TTP considers him a friend but the army an enemy- It was willing to accept him as an arbitrator in its conflict with the Pakistani state. The ASwJ is also allied with the TTP. Such links as NS has with these groups are bound to make the army distrust him. In the system of militant alliances that have become state policy in Pakistan the army has the LeT firmly on its side but ASwJ and TTP lean towards the PM. On what terms can Nawaz Sharif possibly broker a deal between TTP and the army? Can he separate the ASwJ from the TTP and is he in a position to make the Punjab Taliban, recruited from South Punjab and allied to the TTP (via the LeJ and ASwJ) stand down and subordinate itself to the army? Can Pakistan recognize armed NGOs and give them de facto acceptance? Where will the Afghan Taliban stand in the internecine conflict of armed groups and Pakistan’s army?And then there is the matter of foreign policy. His voters want Nawaz to get the US to stop the drone attacks (which the army wants continued) and he must manage that while not losing US aid as he encourages it to exit Afghanistan while leaving behind a Pak friendly administration that includes the Taliban; who in turn must be persuaded not to attack remaining American bases. If that doesn’t isn’t enough, factor in his difficulties in befriending India without offending the Kashmir lobby in Pakistan, and the LeT which the Army wants kept happy as well.There are too many elements in Pakistan’s internal situation blocking a coherent domestic policy let alone one that will align comfortably with foreign policy goals even if the economic crisis is ignored. The economic crisis can resolve only if the domestic situation stabilizes, and that requires peace in the neighbourhood, which means of course that the Pakistani army should cease dictating on Pakistan’s foreign relationships. Pakistan’s armed groups were at least partly an instrument of fulfilling foreign policy objectives of the Pakistan army. Nawaz Sharif has done well therefore to take control of Foreign Policy personally. It may put him on the path of direct confrontation with Gen. Kayani but what options does the latter have left, embroiled as the army is not only in armed confrontation with its eastern and western neighbour but also with forces inside Pakistan. Pakistan cannot keep treading its old well worn ways and yet hope things will sort themselves out. As a wise man said ‘it is insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results’. In electing Nawaz Sharif Pakistani voters have taken the best option available. Naturally Pakistan is his priority-everything else comes after. The army has to adjust and so must everyone else.