Which Sharif runs Pakistan?
Except for few years of its history of 68 years, there are only two ways Pakistan Army (and not Pakistan Air Force or Pakistan Navy but just Pakistan Army) ruled the country. One when Pak Chief of Army Staff is on the front seat holding the wheel and second, when he is sitting on the back seat but pulling the strings of the democratically elected Prime Minister who is allowed to sit on the front seat.
History repeats itself when men repeat their mistakes. Perhaps PM Nawaz Sharif expected Gen Sharif to be more compliant. No one knows this fact better than current PM of Pakistan – Nawaz Sharif. It is his third term as the Prime Minister. During 1980s, he was supported by ‘Internal Wing’1 of the infamous ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) that gave rise to his political career. He became PM on 1st Nov 1990 but developed some differences with President Ghulam Ishaq khan, who attempted to dismiss him (Nawaz Sharif) on corruption charges. When the situation worsened, the then Pakistan Army Chief Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar persuaded both gentlemen to step down.
During his second term as PM, he dared to assert more civilian control and on 6th Oct 1998, he asked for resignation of the then Pakistan Army Chief Gen Jahagir Karamat because the General was making public statements advocating giving greater role to Pakistan Army in policy making. After Karamat’s resignation, PM Sharif appointed Gen Parvez Musharraf as COAS over heads of two senior general officers. Perhaps PM Sharif hoped to have more compliant COAS but it did not happen. Gen Karamat’s resignation and appointment of his chosen candidate gave a false sense of confidence and security to PM Sharif. He dared to initiate peace process with India and invited PM Vajpayee to Lahore. This did not go well with Pakistan Army and what followed was the Kargil war.
Later in Oct 1999, while Gen Musharraf was in Sri Lanka on an official visit, PM Sharif again dared and decided to replace Gen Musharraf with Gen Zia-ud-din Bhatt but the whole process ended with coup and Gen Parvez Musharraf assumed control of Pakistan. First major sign came when Nawaz Sharif govt decided to begin trial of Gen (R) Parvez Musharraf.
Fast forwarding to 2013, Sharif became PM for the third time on 7th June 2013 after getting a heavy mandate in General Elections. Soon came the tough time when he had to appoint a new Army Chief. In an interview given to Karan Thapar, Sharif said that he will go by the book while appointing the next chief. But again on 27th Nov 2013, over two senior general officers, he appointed Gen Raheel Sharif the new Army Chief.
History repeats itself when men repeat their mistakes. Perhaps PM Nawaz Sharif expected Gen Sharif to be more compliant. Partially because PM overlooked two senior officers while appointing Gen Shreef as CAOS and partially because of Gen Sharif’s balanced political views and his background. Gen Sharif never commanded any Pakistan Army Corp. After commanding 11th Infantry Division, he became commandant of Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), Kakul
and then Inspector General of Training and Evaluation as Lt. General. But within a year, it started becoming clear where the centre
of power exists in Pakistan.
First major sign came when Nawaz Sharif govt decided to begin trial of Gen (R) Parvez Musharraf. Gen Musharraf was charged with treason for his decision of suspending the constitution and imposing emergency in Nov 2007 (Interestingly, Musharraf was not charged for toppling elected government in 1999!). Pakistan Army in general, including Gen Sharif, were against the trial. Gen Sharif has close relationship with Gen Musharraf because the later was course mate of Gen Sharif’s brother – late Maj Shabeer Sharif (Nishan-e-Haider). Today Gen Musharraf lives peacefully in Karachi in a compound of 20 houses which heavily guarded by men in uniform. No one can meet him without Army’s permission!
As per law, it was necessary to get Gen Musharraf appear in the court room to read charges against him. But it is not an easy task in Pakistan to get a serving or retired General in court room. In Dec 2013, after months of notices and pressure, when Gen Musharraf started from his home toward the court, he developed a `heart problem` on the way. Instead of going to near-by hospital, his caravan drove for about 45 minutes to reach Army Hospital where he stayed for next 6 weeks under Army’s protection. During these 6 weeks, civil government and judiciary virtually had no access to Gen Musharraf and Pakistan Army did whatever it could to persuade civil government to back off and drop the charges.
Today Gen Musharraf lives peacefully in Karachi in a compound of 20 houses which heavily guarded by men in uniform. No one can meet him without Army’s permission!
Second clear sign appeared when in Nov 2014, newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani came to Pakistan. His first visit to Pakistan after assuming office and he drove straight to General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi instead of meeting his counterpart. This was clear indication of what other countries think about who has more control in Pakistan.
And this is why, through an article in Financial times, China has asked Pakistan govt to give lead role to Army in CPEC project. Then came the terror attack on APS school, Peshawar which shifted the centre of power towards Gen Sharif decisively. On 16th Nov 2014, armed terrorists attached APS school Peshawar and mercilessly killed 132 students. A cowardly and inhumane act that shook entire world. On 17th Dec, Gen Sharif and ISI head Gen Rizwan Akhtar flew to Kabul to meet Afghan and US officials. Gen Sharif met Aghan President to inform him that the APS school attackers came from Afghanistan and terrorist organization ‘Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’ (TTP) is using Afghan soil against Pakistan. He sought handover of TTP head Mullah Fazallulah to Pakistan. …Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb which was launched without proper approval from civilian government. On 25th Dec 2014, an All Party Conference (APC) was called on Pakistan Army’s initiative and it was decided to setup Army courts in Pakistan for trial of captured terrorists in entire Pakistan. National Action Plan was formulated and approved. Soon after that, Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb which was launched without proper approval from civilian government. All this, according to Aqil Shah, the author of The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan, “effectively took away the initiative from the civilians and handed it over on a platter to the military.” And this was not the first or only meeting of Gen Sharif with a head of the State, in which he discussed matters of Pakistan’s national security or economic projects. Generally, such discussions are held between Foreign Secretary or Foreign Minister or Head of the states but clearly Pakistan Army is the real Foreign Ministry in Pakistan. Gen Sharif has visited a number of important capitals of the world like Washington DC, London, Riyad, Tehran, Istanbul, Beijing, Kabul, Dubai etc where he met PMs, FMs, Presidents and, of course, his counterpart too.
Recently in May 2016, Torkham border cross on Pak-Afghan border was closed because Pakistan forces were fencing the border post to control the cross border traffic. Aghan forces objected to fencing as Afghanistan does not recognize the Durand Line. Afgan ambassador in Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal met Pakistan government a number of times to get the Torkham border re-open for people but there was no progress. Finally, he went to GHQ and met Gen Sharif and border post was open on the same day!
Same is the case of Angoor Adda check post that Pakistan Army built around 1 year ago to monitor cross border traffic. As Aghanistan has never accepted the Durand line, this post became a bone of contention. In May 2016, Pakistan Army handed over the check post to Afghan Authorities in an attempt to improve mutual trust. But civil government was not even informed, forget about taking their permission. Federal Interior Minister got to know about this handover from tweets of DG of ISPR and from subsequent media reports. His first reaction to media was that he will take up matter with the PM and will get it enquired but again as usual, nothing of that sort happened. A section of media and politicians has been demanding military operation there as well but Civil government has neither power nor guts to ask army to march in there.
A month earlier, in April 2016, Gen Sharif sacked 6 senior Army officers on charges of corruption. This was unprecedented in Pakistan and could be seen as a sign of things moving in right direction. Two days before sacking 6 officers, Gen Sharif had given a stern warning “across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan.”
Analysts see this warning followed by sacking of army officers as a way to bring current Pakistan government, who is struggling with Panama Paper leaks, under pressure. Otherwise, officers could have been sacked following the court martial without making such public statements.
Nowhere in the sane world, one will see an Army chief doing all this. And ironically Pakistani media projects it as a necessary swift action taken by Gen Sharif and criticize elected government for not having done the same. It is well known in the different power corridors of the world that Pakistan’s Foreign policy is not just influenced by GHQ but is governed by GHQ. But GHQ’s quest is not limited to foreign policy. It is not ready to sacrifice its share in power they have enjoying for more than 6 decades. GHQ simply does not trust any political party; they like to have close watch on Government’s policy and pull the strings wherever find necessary. It became very much visible when Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb and then operations in Karachi and Balochistan as well. They are conducting military operations in every state of Pakistan except Punjab, most of the Army men (officers and other ranks) hail from. There are hundreds of sanctuaries of religious extremism in the form of madrassa in southern Punjab. A section of media and politicians has been demanding military operation there as well but Civil government has neither power nor guts to ask army to march in there. Shashi Tharur correctly summarized in a recent debate that ‘in India, the state has an army but in Pakistan Army has a state to run.’ ( IDR)
by Sumit Walia