WASHINGTON: The anti-government protest in Pakistan has reversed the country’s struggle to establish a sustainable democratic system, says a report prepared for the US Congress.

The report — “Pakistan Political Unrest” — warns that “any overt military ouster” of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “could trigger another round of democracy-related US sanctions on foreign assistance to Pakistan”.

This could put “an indefinite halt to what has been one of the highest-priority American aid programmes since 9/11”.

The report also warns that the unrest could impact Pakistan’s relations with India by increasing the army’s influence in foreign policies.

‘Protest has reversed efforts for sustainable democracy’

“The Pakistan Army’s more openly direct control of Pakistan’s foreign and security policies may, over time, shift Pakistan’s approach towards Afghanistan further into a policy framework that seeks to counter Indian influence there,” warns the report prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

The report notes that while the Sharif government does not face an imminent ouster, “many observers see the current unrest weakening Mr Sharif”. It also represents “a setback to democratisation in a country that has suffered three outright military coups in its 67 years of independence”.

The report informs US lawmakers that despite the protest, Pakistan is unlikely to change its foreign or security policies that are of interest to the United States.

But the US government has sought to help in fostering Pakistan’s democratic system, and that effort has been disrupted by the current unrest.

The unrest could “also present new challenges to the goal of improving India-Pakistan relations, and put a damper on hopes for effective regional cooperation and commerce in South Asia,” says the author, Alan Kronstadt, CRS specialist in South Asian affairs.

“Whether Mr Sharif sought out or merely acceded to the army’s late August intervention as a facilitator between the government and the protesters, most analysts contend that because he has not demonstrated civilian control over domestic security he will be left in a weakened state,” the report adds.

CRS warns that the army’s involvement could have negative implications for US efforts to strengthen Pakistan’s democratic governance institutions as well.

“Observers doubt, however, that the army would seek to take direct control of the government, not least as it is embroiled in offensive operations against Islamist militants in western tribal areas,” the report adds.

The army, however, might welcome “a soft coup in which popular support for the civilian government is reduced such that the army can take full control of foreign and security policies”.

Reviewing the situation that led to the PTI-PAT protest, CRS points out the PML-N government has been criticised for its perceived fecklessness.

“Beyond an annual budget, parliament has failed to pass a single new law under Sharif. Important posts — including that of foreign minister — remain unfilled, and regulatory agencies have no chiefs.”

CRS notes that the party is “too centred around one family” while Nawaz Sharif “maintains an autocratic and detached ruling style” and has “neglected to reform Pakistan’s sclerotic governance system”.

Mr Sharif’s rule has continued to be “dynastic”, with a “kitchen cabinet” of unofficial advisers and a lack of responsiveness to public sentiment.

The report points out that relations between the Sharif government and the army began to deteriorate further in 2014, when Mr Sharif allowed the launch of a legal effort to prosecute Pervez Musharraf for treason.

“Mr Sharif later stood by and defended Geo News, when Geo accused the military of attempting to assassinate one of its leading journalists. He also pursued a policy of negotiations with TTP, even as that terrorist group continued to launch deadly attacks.”

The army, however, “was intent on launching offensive operations” and the army leadership also was reported to be unhappy with Sharif’s commercial overtures to India”.

CRS notes that “Mr Sharif’s perceived air of detachment from the country’s woes and his increasingly poor relations with the generals appear to have combined to embolden some of his political detractors to take to the streets, by many accounts with covert or implicit prodding from the army”.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2014



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