Categorized | South Asian Politics


Posted on 25 February 2016 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

 Pakistan’s politics is entering a difficult and uncertain phase. Two important developments last week can have far reaching implications on the nature and direction of Pakistani politics, including civil-military relations.

First, the prime minister’s angry reaction to the National Accountability Bureau’s management of corruption and misuse of state resources issues could not be viewed as a routine comment. He was quite upset about the role of the NAB as an autonomous accountability institution.

 Second, the registration of the First Information Report (FIR) in Gujranwala regarding the terrorist attack on the Pathankot Air Base in India is another unusual development that will have implications not only for Pakistan-India relations but also for Pakistan’s internal politics.

 The timing of the Prime Minister’s statement is politically motivated. When the NAB pursued accountability in Sindh, the PMLN leadership did not complain about any deficiency in its procedures. There was no complaint about its rough treatment to those accused of corruption or misuse of state resources. Several PMLN leaders supported the NAB’s accountability in Sindh.

 Now, it was the Prime Minister’s turn to criticize the NAB because the available media reported suggested that the NAB was looking into the affairs of the PMLN big guns at the federal level and in the Punjab. It was reported that some of the major power generation and transport projects as well as the LNG projects were under scrutiny. Some of the “blue eyed” bureaucrats of the federal and the Punjab governments were also said to be under investigation. All this perturbed the Prime Minister because if these actions are allowed to go unchallenged, the PMLN’s monopoly of power and resources in Punjab will be undermined.

 The Punjab Law Minister defended the Prime Minister’s criticism of the NAB and blamed the NAB for scaring the big businessmen and investors like Mian Mansha from launching new business and industrial projects. He also claimed that this would also undermine the efforts for privatization of state enterprises running in losses.

 The track record of the NAB and its predecessor institutions for accountability shows that the rulers are not held accountable for their misdeeds. They may face accountability when they are knocked out of power. Even in such cases if the ousted rulers agree to work smoothly with the new rulers, they can save them from accountability. Keeping in view this tradition, there is not much hope of the NAB holding the Sharif brothers, their senior advisors and beneficiaries responsible for any corruption or partisan use of state resources.

 The Prime Minister or the Punjab Law Minister need not worry about the NAB pushing the complaints of corruption against the PMLN leaders to their logical end. This is quite evident from the NAB response to the Prime Minister’s criticism that reflected its timid traditions.

 What worries the Prime Minister and the PMLN top leaders is that if Pakistan’s security establishment extends its blessings to the NAB, its Chairman can adopt a tougher posture towards the PMLN ministers and other big guns on corruption and misuse of state resources. Therefore, the Prime Minister’s comments were also a message to those who were, in his estimation, pushing the NAB for action.

 It is in the context of who is “fueling” the NAB, the second development becomes significant. It is surprising that the FIR has been launched in Gujranwala for something that has taken place in another country, that too, India. Though no person or group has been named in the FIR, the phone number given by India are expected to be pursued. The registration of this FIR amounts to partly acknowledging that the incident originated from Pakistan. Since the FIR has been launched by civilian authorities, it raises the question if they think that the military dominated intelligence agency has some role in it.

 India is not going to be satisfied with the launching of the FIR. While giving credit to the Nawaz Sharif government for this, the Indian government will use this FIR to engage in propaganda against the military and the Army-led intelligence agency. India’s game would be to cause a breach between the civilian government and the Army because it already argues that Nawaz Sharif wants to improve relations with India and especially promote trade. However, the Army top command opposes this policy.

 The timing of filing the FIR is significant. The press reported two weeks ago about a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Army Chief at the ISI headquarters. Then came the Prime Minister’s statement on the “misdeeds” of the NAB. Within a day of this statement was a surprise decision by the federal government to file FIR in Gujranwala. There is no evidence available to suggest if the Army authorities were taken into confidence for adopting this course of action.

 These developments have created new difficulties in civil-military relations. It is important that the two sides handle the situation with restraint and caution. If Nawaz Sharif has embarked on these two measures to assert his electoral strength and he hopes that the PPP will stand by it as it did in the course of 2014 PTI Sit-in, he is likely to be disappointed unless Nawaz Sharif agrees to protect the PPP interests in Sindh.

 Nawaz Sharif should not overestimate his political clout. It could prove to be as misleading as was the case in October1999, when his attempt to assert his command over the Army top command failed miserably. Given the on-going challenge of terrorism and extremism, the civilian authorities and the Army top command need to work in harmony. However, the civilian government needs to pay more attention to improving governance, controlling corruption and highly partisan use of state resources. Further, the civilian government should be willing to get an independent scrutiny of the major projects in power generation, metro bus in Lahore and Islamabad and other construction projects. Any increased tension in civil-military relations can make the future of Pakistani democracy problematic and uncertain.

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