Faced with multiple challenges and crises, the state of Pakistan is passing through the most critical phase of its history since 1970-71.
The performance record of the present government is abysmally poor. But it is also difficult to be optimistic about the future.
Will the law and order situation allow the general elections to take place by or in the spring of 2013?
Will the political leadership and/or military establishment consider it appropriate to proceed with the holding of free and fair general elections regardless of what are the poll-results?
Will the outcome of the general elections, if they are held, strengthen the federation or prove ominous for the country?
What option is likely to be availed if the general elections are postponed indefinitely?
These are some of the questions that agitate the mind. There are so many aspects and dimensions of the current situation and so many perspectives to look at it from that one finds it quite difficult to speculate about what is in the store. At times state institutions and government functionaries are seen working at cross purposes. Nevertheless an attempt to understand some of the complex issues is worth making:
The year 2008 seemed a watershed in Pakistan’s history. A fresh beginning was made after the general elections and exit of General Pervez Musharraf from the corridors of power. Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani pledged not to interfere in the politics of the country and let the politicians perform their job. The civil society appeared assertive and strong. On the restoration of pre-November 2007 Supreme Court, it appeared that at last a new era of the supremacy of constitution and the rule of law might dawn in Pakistan.
However, slowly and gradually it became clear that Kayani had failed to fulfill his solemn promise. Be that the issue of Raymond David or Memogate, meteoric rise of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) or alleged formation of the Defa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC), disruption of NATO supplies after the Salala incident or resumption of these supplies in disregard of the conditions framed by the Parliament, behind the scene maneuvering of the military establishment was visible. It proved that the military’s national security paradigm had not changed.
Whether one likes it or not, though in somewhat diluted form, the reality of the army’s omnipresence is very much there. Bribing the politicians or threatening them with dire consequences is a small thing. It seems the military establishment defines certain objectives in ‘national interest’ and in order to achieve them adopts all means at its disposal, including extra-judicial killings. One is bound to suspect the security agencies’ hands in some of the ‘terror’ incidents that are attributed to particular groups or elements to bring bad name to them. In the age of electronic media it has become easier to mold or give a particular direction to public opinion. The military establishment has sufficient funds and some implanted personnel in media groups to fulfill its agenda. But then there are also people in the media groups who seem to receive funds from foreign powers and are vocal in.
What hurts the military establishment is that the United States wants to rein in the ISI that is the architect of the policy of hunting with the hound and running with the hare. It seems there are also people in the media groups who receive funds from foreign powers to paint the security agencies in extremely bad color.
One of the most serious challenges faced by the Pakistani federation is how to deal with the insurgency in Balochistan province, a region which has become the hotbed of foreign powers’ rivalry because of its geopolitical and strategic significance.
Balochistan has the potentials to serve as a transit trade route and energy corridor to and from the Central Asian Republics via Afghanistan. The development of the Gwadar Port and the prospect of Chinese presence on the Arabian Sea near the mouth of the Gulf is a source of much discomfort to the United States. As long as the NATO/ISAF forces are stationed in Afghanistan, Balochistan offers one of the important supply routes to cater to their needs. Obviously India and the United States dislike involvement of China in Balochistan, particularly in Gwadar Port. Perhaps there is sufficient evidence with Pakistan’s security agencies to suggest that India and the United States are fomenting trouble in Balochistan to hinder progress on mega projects underway with Chinese cooperation.
The Baloch people have a long list of grievances which are mostly just and well-known and need not be repeated here. Lately the issue has started getting internationalized. A few months ago some US Congressmen raised it and condemned Pakistan government and law enforcement/security agencies for their high-handedness in dealing with the Baloch people.
Recently a UN working group was here on a fact-finding mission. It visited several Pakistani cities and held meetings with politicians, government functionaries and the family members of the missing persons who have allegedly been picked up by the military-controlled security agencies. There are also cases of the persons who were allegedly taken into custody by these agencies and whose death bodies were later found under mysterious circumstances. The UN working group is to submit its report to the UN Human Rights Council.
To political observers’ utter surprise, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal returned to Pakistan in September from self-imposed exile to depose before the Supreme Court in the law and order and human rights violation case. His Six-Point Charter which he presented on the occasion is virtually an indictment of the military establishment and representative of Baloch people’s perception. Mengal’s Six-Point Charter says:
1. All covert and overt military operations against Baloch people should be ended immediately.
2. All missing persons should be produced before the court of law.
3. All proxy death squads operating in a manner like Al Shams and Al Badar operated (in Bangladesh) allegedly under the supervision of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) should be disbanded.
4. Baloch political parties should be allowed to function and resume their political activities without any interference from intelligence agencies.
5. Persons responsible for inhuman torture, killing and dumping of bodies of Baloch political leaders and activists should be brought to justice.
6. Measures should be initiated for rehabilitation of thousands of displaced Baloch living in appalling condition.
Although Sardar Mengal compared his Six-Point Charter with Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman’s Six Points on the basis of which the Awami League had contested the general elections of December 1970, this comparison is not valid because Sheikh Mujib’s Six Points had provided for a constitutional scheme that would have safeguarded the political and economic interests of erstwhile East Pakistan whereas Sardar Mengal’s Six points lack any such content.
According to Sardar Mengal, “general amnesty, development packages and apologies” would not work and Pakistan Government should negotiate with true representatives and not “manufactured” representatives of the Baloch people.
Although in the eyes of neutral observers Mengal’s indictment has much substance, Pakistan Government and the military establishment have rejected them in totality, implying that non-state actors and/or foreign agents are responsible for killings and forced disappearances in Balochistan or that some of the missing persons have actually left their homes to join various anti-state outfits like Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
It is clear from Sardar Mengal’s statement that the devolution of power under the Eighteenth Amendment, the Seventh National Finance Commission Award and the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan Programme are not sufficient steps to settle the Balochistan issue. Some bold initiative needs to be taken.
The ISPR quoted Chief of the Army Staff as having said: “Army fully supports any political process as long as it is within the Constitution.” It is said that the ISPR wanted to dispel the impression that the army was an impediment in a political solution of the Balochistan issue. Thanks to the Army Chief. One could have asked: Is it the business of the Army Chief to comment on a political issue? Is patriotism the exclusive monopoly of the armed forces? Is it not that the Army Chief had to clarify his position because the army is very much involved in the matter? But then, as stated above, the army’s role is a hard reality of Pakistani politics which one has to admit perforce. By making this unguarded comment the Army Chief has also accepted by implication that Pakistan’s territorial integrity is at stake.
The security agencies’ misdeeds in Balochistan have been thoroughly exposed during hearing of the law and order and human rights violation case in the Supreme Court. The Interim Order of the Supreme Court issued on October 12, 2012 admits that the situation in Balochistan is extremely grim. It says that the provincial government has failed to establish the writ of law and has lost the authority to govern the province in accordance with the Constitution.
The Order adds that except for deploying the Frontier Corps troops, the Federal Government has not taken any effective measures to protect the province from internal disturbances. The Supreme Court has referred to Federal Government’s responsibility under Article 148 (3) of the Constitution. This article says: “It shall be the duty of the Federation to protect every Province against external aggression and internal disturbances and to ensure that the Government of every Province is carried on in accordance with the provision of the Constitution.”
Apparently the Supreme Court is exhorting the Federal Government for some type of direct intervention in Balochistan.
Now if free and fair elections are held in Balochistan, allowing the Baloch nationalists/separatists or their nominees/proxies to participate in them as demanded by Mengal, it is very likely that they would secure majority in the provincial assembly and acquire the status of legitimate representatives of the Baloch people. What if after winning the elections they become reluctant to arrive at a settlement within the framework of the Constitution and announce to part ways. (Remember Awami League’s mandate of1970-71) This is not an unlikely scenario considering the fact that the United States and India are opposed to China’s role in Balochistan and may seek its secession by encouraging the separatists.
In view of the seriousness of the situation, it is necessary that some viable understanding is arrived at with the separatists/nationalists before they are allowed to contest the elections. Sardar Mengal is relatively moderate and may serve as a mediator between Pakistan Government/military establishment and the separatists/nationalists or his party may be facilitated during the elections.
It is also important that the limits of tolerance of the United States and India should be taken into consideration while giving any foothold to China in Balochistan. When elephants fight grass is crushed.
If no steps are taken, the Balochistan issue would continue to haunt the country. Pakistan Armed Forces would continue to confront insurgency. The Baloch nationalists would continue to target armed forces personnel and Punjabi settlers. The mega projects would remain unimplemented. The foreign powers would have a fertile ground to interfere and Pakistan’s territorial integrity would remain at stake.
Another serious problem in Balochistan is that of sectarianism. It is the fault of Pakistan government that it did not take proper and timely cognizance of the turf war between Saudi Arabia and Iran on its soil. Soon after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the conservative Arab Kingdoms and Sheikhdoms had made it incumbent upon themselves to contain the impact of revolutionary and populist ideas from spreading to neighboring countries and to prevent emergence of any Shia bloc under the leadership of Iran in the Middle East.
Since early 1980s, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have been funding Sunni militant outfits to counter and suppress Shia community in Pakistan. The Hazara of Balochistan, who profess Shia version of Islam, have become regular victims of target killing. The sectarian conflict has virtually divided the areas of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, between Sunni Pakhtuns and Shia Hazaras.
It is the responsibility of Pakistan Government de jure and of the military establishment de facto to address the issue of sectarianism with heavy hand and simultaneously communicate to the governments of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iran that interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs is unacceptable.
KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA AND FATA
Before the Musharraf government took U-turn in Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy in September 2001, the situation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA was stable. Despite the presence of a large number of local Taliban and foreign militants, including Al-Qaeda elements, the tribal belt was peaceful. The Taliban were supposed to play an important role in Pakistan’s push for strategic depth and one could recognize the friends and foes.
By the end of 2003, Pakistan Armed Forces were at war with Al-Qaeda and some Taliban groups based in the tribal region. Since then there have been no respites – barring the intervals when peace agreements were in place in FATA – for Pakistan Armed Forces whose personnel and installations have become coveted targets of the militants. These militants view Pakistan Armed Forces as an ally of the infidel power – the United States – and therefore a legitimate target of attacks.
The people of Pakistan were vehemently opposed to the post 9/11 occupation of Afghanistan by the US-led coalition forces. To be in the camp of the United States was against their ideological moorings. In order to turn them against the Taliban, it was necessary that the image of the Taliban be distorted and the Taliban should be made to adopt policies that alienated the people of Pakistan. The Taliban who had been shocked by the treachery of Pakistan Government and faced the fire-power of the Pakistan Armed Forces, whom hitherto they had considered a reliable friend, became an easy prey. They failed to maintain their unity and the CIA and RAW agents within their ranks were able to create staunchly anti-Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The anti-Pakistan factions of Taliban have undergone a change of character. The Deobandi influence has subsided and the TTP is infested with Khwarij and Takfiri elements. They attack Pakistan Armed Forces personnel, Barelvi and Shias. They target mazars and imam bargahs without qualms. They consider those who oppose their brand of Islam as kafirs, muhsriks and murtads. They are responsible for suicide attacks and bomb explosions at public places. They are the ‘bad’ Taliban, nay terrorists. But it was the U-turn in Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy that led to the stage where Pakistan faces what is a ‘fitna’ in religious parlance
But then otherwise ‘moderate’ Muslims are also getting radicalized due to regular US drone attacks inside Pakistani territory that kill a lot of innocent people including women and children. The US policy in the Middle East, inhuman treatment meted out to the inmates of Guantanamo Bay and erstwhile Abu Gharaib and Bagram prisons, publication of blasphemous caricatures, disrespect shown to Holy Quran by US soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, production of blasphemous film “Innocence of Muslims” and the like events that recur to infuriate common Muslims. Some of them are influenced by international Islamic movements and consider it their religious obligation to cooperate with the anti-US militants. No surprise that militants who attacked the GHQ, the Mehran base and the Karma base had their supporters within these installations.
The Taliban are not a monolithic body. The Afghan Taliban still demonstrate admirable restraint and want to be on friendly terms with Pakistan. The Haqqani group is unmistakably pro-Pakistan. But the end to militancy by the TTP is not in sight. Pakistan needs to open negotiations with them. They may be assured that Pakistan Armed Forces would cause no harm to them. Peace agreements should be concluded afresh with solemnity. Otherwise the blunder committed in September 2001 will take indefinite toll. Military operations will further radicalize them and swell their ranks. They may declare establishment of an independent Islamic Emirate in the region. The Pakistan Armed Forces would be sucked into a protracted and unwinnable war.
If general elections are held in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, the Awami National Party (ANP) is likely to be routed because of its pro-military establishment posturing and due to rampant corruption that has marred its government. The PTI may emerge as the largest party because of its anti-Americanism and consistent opposition of drone attacks, provided it is able to properly organize itself before the polls.
In Sindh, it is essentially the nature of relationship between various ethnic groups, in particular the Sindhis and Mohajirs that deserves special attention.
One very sensible thing that the Musharraf government had done was the formation of Karachi City District Government (KCDG) which was a compromise between outright subordination of Karachi’s administrative set up to Sindhi-dominated provincial government and creation of a separate province likely to be dominated by the Mohajirs.
Although under an arrangement the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had remained on the side lines when first elections for the KCDG were held, it showed restraint and Karachi became a peaceful city. After the induction of MQM-led KCDG, a lot of development work was done and it seemed that the good old days of Karachi might return back.
In the aftermath of the general elections of 2008, the MQM became a coalition partner of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) at the federal and provincial levels but could not save the KCDG. Karachi as the hub of country’s commercial activities has a unique charm. Its prime and costly land attracts those who have opportunity to grab it by fair or foul means. The PPP was not prepared to leave Karachi in the hands of the MQM. It planned to have a strong foothold in down town Karachi.
Cornered by the PPP’s tacit understanding with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) not to wean the MQM, and faced with a continuous influx of Pakhtuns that strengthened the ANP in parts of Karachi, the MQM failed to influence the PPP’s policy with its usual tactics. Under the patronage of the PPP Provincial Minister Zulfiqar Mirza, the People’s Peace Committee began encroaching upon the areas in old city where previously the MQM had its sway. Simultaneously the PPP government ignored the ANP’s growing power in areas where there was substantial Pashtun presence.
During last four years, the MQM’s hold on Karachi has got somewhat diluted. Karachi has become a theatre of target killings in which workers of the MQM, the PPP, the ANP and others lose their lives regularly. Simultaneously, sectarian killings also continue side by side which is particularly disturbing for the MQM because its appeal on the basis of Mohajir identity transcends sectarian divide. Any Sunni-Shia conflict is bound to weaken the MQM more than any other party.
The MQM understands that the population of Pakhtuns and Punjabis is swelling in Karachi to the detriment of the Mohajirs. It realizes that a perpetual Sindhi-Mohajir alliance can help the two communities – they have no other place to go – to protect Sindh’s interests otherwise the continuous influx of the Pakhtuns and Punjabis would become a threat to domination of Sindhis also.
It is only recently that as a part of its electoral strategy the PPP changed its stance and agreed to promulgate Sindh People’s Local Government Ordinance 2012. The new law provides for establishment of metropolitan corporations in urban Sindh: Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkhana and Mirpur Khas. This has provided some solace to the MQM.
However, the Sindhi nationalists – most of them are on the pay roll of Punjab-dominated security agencies – have started a campaign against the SPLGO 2012, representing it as the harbinger of division of Sindh, and vilifying the PPP as a party which is working against the interests of Sindh. The way they incite the Sindhis and appeal to their emotions is a threat to the peace and tranquility of the province.
The PPP public meeting in Khairpur was attacked leaving seven persons dead. There have been threats and grenade/cracker attacks on the houses of the PPP legislators. Who could have been be the master-mind, less said is better. If there is any further breakdown of law and order in the province, it would become difficult to hold fair and free elections in some parts of Sindh.
Although the Sindhi nationalists have considerable nuisance value, the vote bank of the PPP is quite solid. Some erosion in it would be compensated by the support of the Mohajirs if the PPP and the MQM are able to form an electoral alliance.
Allah forbid, if centrifugal forces become strong or at any stage in future the PPP irreclaimably loses support base in Punjab to get restricted to Sindh, the MQM-PPP alliance may pose yet another threat to the territorial integrity of Pakistan. It is in the interest of the country that the parties that have some base and support in all units of the federation survive rather they thrive as connecting link between provinces.
At present, Punjab poses least problem. The PML (N) has governed it in a far better way than any other provincial government. Considerable development work has taken place. Had there been no power outages and gas shortages, Punjab would have flourished remarkably. The PML (N) has foresight to facilitate business with Indian Punjab. Obviously security agencies are on board as if only Punjabis own certificate of patriotism.
The PPP was reluctant to hold general elections in September-October to avoid backlash as a result of energy crisis. The PPP has now concentrated on improving supply of electricity to Punjab on priority basis. Reportedly there has been some improvement in electricity supply.
As an electioneering plank, the PPP has called for creation of a Saraiki or South Punjab Province. Probably it had thought that the PML (N) would be embarrassed. But the PML (N) came up with the idea of making Bahawalpur, which was once a Princely State, a province. Still the PPP is likely to reap benefit for its slogan of Saraiki province.
In the general elections, the PPP and PML (Q) are likely to field joint candidates. The PPP has considerable support in Saraiki region. In other parts the PML (N) is quite strong. But the main challenge to both the PPP and the PML (N) is likely to come from the PTI. Overall the PML (N) seems to have an upper hand. Much depends on Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). If it forms alliance with the PTI, the PML (N) would be in real difficulty. Ultimately, Punjab would decide who wins Islamabad.
Getting cue from the past one feels that the Civil and military establishment would like the general elections to be postponed for at least three years. But presently the army is not in a position to take over the government directly. Leaving aside constitutional niceties, it would prefer a government of technocrats in the saddle in Islamabad that is amenable to its advice and directions.
The politicians, in and out of parliament, would like the general elections to take place by March 2013. But what is expected is a hung parliament with the PML (N), the PTI and the PPP getting major slices of the cake.
May be a better solution is to have general elections on time with, if at all necessary, then formation of a national government with the backing of the Pakistan Armed Forces.