ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently beset by the controversy around the Panama Papers leaks and civil-military tensions, figures that his government should continue to assert itself in the footsteps of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Over the past couple of weeks, the prime minister has been holding regular consultations with his advisers, cabinet members, PML-N office-bearers and allies. At more than one point during these discussions, he has referred to how President Erdogan had confronted the once-powerful Turkish military establishment and faced his political opponents, sources privy to these deliberations told Dawn.
Some party leaders, sources said, have advised the prime minister to avoid taking a tough stand against opposition political parties and continue engagement with the military brass as usual. However, with his family in the cross-hairs of a nine-party opposition alliance that is pushing for a judicial probe and the army leadership breathing down the government’s neck with calls for across-the-board accountability, the prime minister and some of his close aides believed that the PML-N should stand its ground.
The ongoing series of public appearances and rallies by the prime minister is the outcome of this latter line of thinking, they said.
Comparisons between Pakistan and Turkey often made in top-level discussions
For a senior PML-N minister, the Sharif brothers’ admiration of the Turkish model of governance, as well as the current Turkish leadership, was no secret.
When asked whether the topic came up regularly at top-level discussions, he said, “Yes, the unelected aides to the prime minister have been making comparisons between Pakistan and Turkey and he does buy their arguments.”
In a recent meeting, the minister recalled, the PM had noted that if President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party could have its way with less than a two-thirds majority, why couldn’t the PML-N, with its absolute majority in the National Assembly, do the same.
Admitting that civil-military tensions were souring the mood in Islamabad, a PML-N lawmaker close to the Prime Minister’s Office said that the Panamagate revelations, coupled with GHQ’s call for accountability, had put the government under a lot of stress.
The strain, he said, was obvious as both the prime minister and the army chief had not even met in recent days — their last meeting having taken place at the National Security Council meeting, held on April 6.
In contrast, the conservative democrat Erdogan had been prime minister from 2003 to 2014 and now is in the process of consolidating power under the presidency. Only last week, his handpicked Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stepped down, reportedly due to differences with the president.
Mr Erdogan, who was re-elected president in 2014, is also facing criticism from across the globe over his crackdown on political opponents, media and civil rights organisations. During his prolonged stay in power, Mr Erdogan has successfully brought the Turkish military under his control through constitutional amendments and court cases.
Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, who heads the International Relations department at Quaid-i-Azam University, told Dawn that the spill-over of political ideologies and strategies from one region to another was not unprecedented. However, he explained, following such transplanted strategies in letter and spirit was a tough call, because every country had different ground realities and local context.
Gen Musharraf also used to look up to Kemal Ataturk, Dr Jaswal quipped, adding that Turkish politics had matured over many years under a blanket of political and economic stability. In Pakistan, unfortunately, repeated military interventions had not allowed for the political processes to mature as they should have.
But a senior security official, when asked about the strained relationship between the government and GHQ, offered a different perspective. The federal government repeatedly takes credit for bringing peace to Karachi, which was made possible by the deployment of Rangers in Sindh, he said. But when the army leadership asks for reciprocity elsewhere, “the government gets offended,” he said.
In April this year, the military had sought the formation of an authority to administer the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a proposal which the federal government appeared reluctant to accept.
Then, following the bomb attack in a Lahore park on Easter, the military called on the government to provide legal cover for Rangers deployment in Punjab, as well as going after militant organisations in the province. This did not sit too well with the government either.
“If the army calls for the trouble-free implementation of CPEC and legal cover for Rangers in Punjab along the lines of the Sindh deployment, what are they doing wrong? At the end of the day, the sitting government will claim these successes,” the security official said.
Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2016