This week had a heady start. It began with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government being found wanting in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP), in a high-profile meeting that he had called to review the counterterrorism efforts by the military and the civilian establishment.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif repeated the mantra on a TV show the same evening that “the civilian and military leaderships are on the same page.”
However, events that followed, in quick succession, dented his claim and made it look like a tattered page to most analysts, because the very next day army corps commanders publicly underlined the need for matching or complementary initiatives by the government to consolidate gains made by the military against the militants to establish enduring peace.
What really took the public by surprise was the terse response the Prime Minister’s Office issued Wednesday night. It said that “implementation of the National Action Plan is a shared responsibility and all institutions have to play their role while remaining within the ambit of the Constitution.”
Most people read in it a democratic assertion – delivered, according to some, forcefully.
Since fireworks started in the week preceding General Raheel Sharif’s visit to the United States, conspiracy theorists got busy spinning links of the events over three days to the past and future of the choppy civilian-military relationship in the country.
A PML-N official, however, rejected the perception that Mian Nawaz Sharif is in the same combative mood that cost him power twice and sent him into political exile.
“Our government is trying its best to address the thorny issues,” he told Dawn. “But one must understand that it takes time to achieve desired results.”
One of the issues was madressah reforms, which successive military and democratic governments have tried to introduce over the past 15 years but with little success, he recalled.
Other political and security cited incidents which, they said in background discussions, strained the civil-military relations that the PML-N quarters had been claiming to be ideal until recently.
A senior PML-N lawmaker intoned that the PPP had sought the Sharif brothers’ intervention following the arrest of PPP leaders Dr Asim Hussain and Qasim Zia in Sindh and Punjab. “Our leadership conveyed to the military that arrests were rocking political reconciliations in the country, but to no avail,” he said.
Indeed, more cases are coming up against other senior PPP leaders, including former prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf. And the PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari accuses the PML-N government of “witch-hunting.”
Then PM Nawaz Sharif’s performance in the United Nations in September and his meetings with US President Barack Obama in October didn’t go well with the GHQ, according to an observer of international events.
“Once it was decided (at home) to take up the issue of Indian involvement in Pakistan’s internal affairs, the prime minister was expected to use the forums effectively. But what happened was that those fabled ‘dossiers’ were handed to the office of the UN Secretary General of UN by a low key official.
“Does anyone know about the contents of these dossiers?” the observer asked.
A security official privy to the development told Dawn that the military establishment wasn’t happy with the way the prime minister played down the importance of the dossiers “which had been prepared with lots of [the military’s] input.”
Editorial: Military’s complaint
PM Sharif quashed their expectations in his meeting with President Obama. “So much so that when asked about the dossiers, which were delivered to Washington too, at a follow up press conference US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was unaware of any such development. A senior foreign office official accepted that the handing of dossiers both to the UN SG and the US was downplayed by us, for whatever reasons.”
General Raheel Sharif leaves for US next week on a five-day trip, his second within a year.
A military source contended that the army chief was required to impress upon American policy-makers, especially those at the Pentagon, how India’s involvement was hurting Pakistan’s ongoing war against armed militants on its western boarders.
There are also reports that with the national debt constantly growing and GDP growth stagnant, the military leadership is unhappy with the way the government is handling economic affairs.
“With just half of its term left to complete mega projects before going for the next general elections, all that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar thinks of is taking more loans, by floating Euro Bonds or from foreign donors or local commercial banks,” said Dr Ashfaq Hussain, former advisor to the government on finance.
In fact, according to the international credit rating agency Moody’s, the government’s decision to issue international bonds at higher borrowing cost has undermined Pakistan’s debt affordability.
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2015