Nawaz Sharif & Pakistan’s National Security
When, in the wake of Taliban attack on Malala Yusufzai, the child right activist, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had expressed his inability to take any action and listed three reasons—lack of consensus among Pakistani political parties about the implication of the attack, Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters being too widespread and too big in numbers to risk any attack on North Waziristan and a prevailing situation which is different from the one in 2009 when the Pakistan army had attacked the Taliban-controlled Swat valley—he had in fact rightly portrayed the picture which Nawaz Sharif, the newly elected Prime Minister would have to face. Sharif has expressed his desire to fight terrorism. But he does not inspire confidence. His closeness with various fundamentalist terrorist organisations is well known. Secondly, he wishes to modernise the police for fighting the religious insurgents. This is simply ludicrous. Taliban and other terrorist organisations are too strong for even the Pakistani army.
A series of developments before the recent election indicated that the national security of Pakistan is on an edge and this may destabilise the strategic balance in South Asia affecting India most. None knows it better than the Pakistan army which has now effected a change in its military doctrine, somewhat away from its Kashmir centric policy, by including a new chapter titled Sub Conventional Warfare which is nothing but an admission of internal fundamentalist threat. It was significant that a little before the last election General Kayani, the Pakistan army chief, had
met President Asif Ali Zardari, complained against the deteriorating law and order situation and accused the civilian law enforcing agencies of not doing what is needed.
Kayani has, in fact, made an understatement. It is no longer just a law and order problem. The religious fundamentalists have been tearing asunder the Pakistan state. According to K.P.S. Gill headed South Asia Intelligence Review, in 2013 alone, more than 1,537 people have been killed in terrorism related attacks in the first sixty nine days which included 200 Hazara Shias. Sectarian violence has reached such a pitch that in 2012 four hundred Shia doctors and naval officers were gunned down and Karachi, the most cosmopolitan city of Pakistan, experienced killings of 2,284 persons. In the year 2011 there occurred 6,303 terrorism related fatalities in the country as a whole. In 2012 the figure was 6,211. Most important, the Taliban has destroyed more than 100 schools since 2011.
Behind Kayani’s protestations there lies a dangerous game. Over the years the army has allowed radical Islamists to effectively sap its will and commitment to take on the terrorist groups. This has been helped by the Islamic and near ‘shariatised’ character of the Pakistani state where large layers of the army are now swayed by beliefs in Deobandi/Salafi school of thought, a sentiment shared by the radical elements also. This was first reflected more than a decade back when under the US prodding the Pak army targeted Al-Qaeda loyalists leaving aside the indigenous terrorist elements. Then it pushed forward the Shia soldiers of Balti origin belonging to the Northern Light Infantry. This was the period when the Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) had its base among the Pashtuns mainly. It was only when the TTP spread its wings in southern Punjab that the army got alarmed. The army’s predicament grew as more and more Pashtun troops were surrendering to the Pashtun dominated Taliban and the Sunni Punjabi soldiers could no more be kept back. This further facilitated understanding between the army and the radical Islamists. The death of an army Major General named Ameer Faisal Alvi provided the shocking example. Alvi had officially complained to General Kayani against some of his superiors who had struck an understanding with various radical Islamic organisations and refrained from taking any action against them. He was murdered in open daylight. Kayani refused to take any action and just swept the matter under the carpet.
Given Nawaz Sharif’s background and the nature of polity in Pakistan, it is almost certain that in a post-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan scenario the geographical expanse of radical Islamists’ influence will further grow as it will engulf more and more areas of Pakistan. Skeptics are of the opinion that even the election commission of Pakistan had come under the fundamentalists’ influence as it had put into operation, before the last election, articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution which demand that a candidate who has stood for election to either the National Assembly or the provincial assemblies must be a good Muslim of integrity and honesty. He must practice Islam and must be knowledgeable about the Koran. Using these two provisions the election commission had disqualified large numbers of candidates. One prominent example was the journalist Ayaz Amir who was disqualified on the charge of consumption of alcohol.
Nawaz Sharif always vehemently denies even any prior knowledge of Pakistan’s botched up Kargil offensive. Knowledgeable circles however think that it was not possible for Pervez Musharraf to launch such a big operation keeping the then political establishment in the dark. The sub continental security scenario had also deteriorated when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister. He had appointed Javed Nasser as the ISI chief who was principally responsible for forging links with and then providing base for Dawood Ibrahim in Pakistan and also engineering the 1993 Mumbai blasts through him. This Javed Nasser was also instrumental behind airlifting of arms to Bosnian Muslims at a time when the European Union was trying to keep Bosnia intact. Finally, in 1998, Nawaz Sharif had nearly succeeded in
shariatising Pakistan through his proposed 15th amendment to the Constitution. He failed only because he could not master sufficient numbers in the Senate. This time he may complete the process.
For the regional security scenario the victory of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [(PML (N)], may not augur well. The last election laid bare its connections with fundamentalists. The statement issued by the TTP during the time of the election is an eye opener. It said, “We are neither in favour of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf), JI (Jamaat-e-Islami), and JUI (F) [(Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman)], and PML (N) nor against them… We are against secular democratic system which is against the ideology of Islam…We are not expecting anything from other parties (the parties mentioned above)…Why they are not being targeted is our own prerogative to decide”. Thus Taliban was unequivocal in declaring their softness to Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan.
The party which had to bear the maximum brunt of Taliban attack before the election was the Awami National Party (ANP) bearing the legacy of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Interestingly, the principal base of the Taliban and the ANP is the same as the Pashtun population which lives on both sides of the Durand line i.e. in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan. One after another election rally of the ANP was attacked by the Taliban in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi. Attempts were even made on the life of Afsandiyer Wali Khan, its supreme leader. Cadres and leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had become inactive to avoid Taliban attacks. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of Altaf Hussain tried to pay back the Taliban in the same coins in selected pockets. It even called a nationwide referendum to decide which of the two ways Pakistan would like to embrace—the path charted by Mohammed Ali Zinnah or the Shariat rule as demanded by the Taliban. But it had to cancel the referendum under threat from the TTP.
Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly expressed his intention to hold peace talks with the Taliban and other fundamentalist bodies. There are various loose ends in this approach. First, the TTP itself is a divided house with three powerful warlords namely Hakimullah Mehsud, Maulana Fazlullah and Omar Khalid leading three different factions. There is another powerful group which was led by Mullah Nazir. Now Nazir was believed to have been killed in a recent drone attack. Although he is no more his group has not disintegrated and commands influence over significant parts of Waziristan of the four the Hakimullah Mehsud faction is the most powerful. But the death of Wali-ur-Rehman, its second most important leader, by US drone attack may lead to severe intercene warfare in future. Waliur was a respected figure among the fundamentalists and he was widely expected to replace Hakimullah. His supporters suspect that the Hakimullah faction may have a hand behind his assassination. Then Mullah Nazir was totally opposed to presence of foreign fighters on Pakistani soil and he had once driven out foreign mercenaries, mostly Uzbeks, from the Swat valley.
Strategic analysts explain the results of the recently concluded election as a victory of the fundamentalists. In Punjab, the Sharif family has all along maintained good relations with the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Pakistan (SSP), another dreaded terrorist organisation. According to well informed journalists the quid pro quo was that the radicals would guarantee the security of the Sharif family and in return prominent leaders of the SSP would be released and its cadres accommodated in government jobs in the provincial Punjab government which was run by the PML (N) after the 2008 election. Even during this election many SSP personalities along with leaders of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were accommodated as PML (N) candidates.
India has reasons to worry about developments in Pakistan. Taliban and other fundamentalists have succeeded in dealing a crushing blow to democratic forces. PML (N) has gained absolute control over Punjab. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf has established its supremacy with tacit blessings from fundamentalist forces. In Baluchistan, the pro-Islamist PkMAP, JUI (F) and PML (N) have fared extremely well pushing even the Baluch.
Nationalists to a tight corner and wiping out the PPP. Therefore it is not without significance that after the publication of election results Hakimullah Mehsud, besides his refusal to lay down arms, reiterated his three other conditions for any peace talk. They are severance of ties with the United States, making Pakistan a ‘sharia’ state and revenge on India.
In the days to come it is only the army which can save Pakistan from a total take over by the Taliban. However, General Kayani, has already delineated the future role that the army would play. “Pakistan army’s commitment is to the basis of creation of Pakistan… Islam should always remain a unifying force… Pakistan army would keep on doing its best towards the common dream for a truly Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”
By Amitava Mukherjee