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The next phase

Updated Dec 04, 2016 02:28pm


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IN a way, a lot of it has been predictable. Nawaz got into trouble because he likes fancy homes and thinks business is politics.

Imran — he hacks away the way he does because he wants power and disdains systems. Insurgents usually need to practise guerrilla politics.

Civ-mil has been rocky because it really is a zero-sum game — the civilians want to get on top, but the boys can’t let them.

India is a familiar flashpoint — the civilians want to open up to trade and normality, the boys don’t. All the better when Kashmir gets activated because it scrambles everything and delays a reckoning internally.

The US — things were going to dip once their troops exited Afghanistan, but the relationship wouldn’t completely fall apart because of security imperatives.

Afghanistan — we can’t abandon the Taliban because they are the pre-eminent Pakhtun players in a country where we have no other allies.

Internally, we’ve settled into the pattern of a long war: eliminating some, coddling others, unsteadily working out how to proceed.

In a way, it’s good things have been predictable. Because it can help point to where the next flashpoints may lie in this next phase of the transition.

In a way, it’s good things have been predictable. Because it can help point to where the next flashpoints may lie in this next phase of the transition.

So let’s give it a shot.

Panama isn’t going to go away nor will the London flats. It doesn’t matter what the court says or does, the Panama Papers and the London flats have become part of a political narrative.

The narrative is that Nawaz and his family have grown immensely rich doing politics. The N-League argues the Sharifs have grown rich doing business, but that doesn’t matter because everyone can see the Sharifs are stupendously rich.

And everyone, rich and poor, knows you don’t become stupendously rich in Pakistan without doing at least several illegal things. Especially and particularly if you’re a politician.

Panama and the London flats have become for the Sharifs what the Surrey palace was for Zardari — a proxy for all the other, vast misdeeds everyone suspects, but no one can prove.

Panama and the London flats are here to stay.

The conflict between Imran and Nawaz will intensify. Nawaz has cultivated an aura of a leader above politics, but in a few cases the mask slips and you can see the fury.

It’s long been apparent that Imran was not going to try a different strategy, but what’s becoming apparent is that Nawaz is willing to fight Imran on Imran’s terms.

It appears to be personal as much as political. Some in the N-League sensed it early and tried to steer matters away, but everyone’s fallen in line now — N-League will fight mud with mud, match blow for blow.

Politics will stay at a simmer and occasionally boil over. Twenty eighteen will feel like a long way away.

Civ-mil will stay hot, too. Not because that’s always been the case, but because the way things are set up at the moment. It’s several things.

First, Nawaz & co haven’t changed their minds — they do think there is a possibility of a real drift towards isolation and the Trump win has injected more alarm.

That means the civilian attempts to elbow themselves back into foreign policy and national security debates — on Afghanistan, the US and the like — will continue. That means more friction.

Second, India will be a problem, in that civ and mil here have different ideas about how to proceed.

The Nawaz team has given up on any big breakthrough with India; they sense Modi is neither in the mood nor in a place where he can do something dramatic on the normalisation front.

But the Nawaz team is concerned that conflict, even just political and diplomatic, could derail the N-League’s domestic agenda of focusing on the economy and putting in place what they think is the infrastructure for eventual regional trade.

That means fighting for restraint, but to the boys in a grim mood restraint means weakness. And you can never be weak on India.

Third, the anti-India militant lot are carving out fresh space for themselves. Knowing that the boys aren’t interested in a general conflagration and want to deflect global pressure by keeping them relatively muzzled, the anti-India militant lot may be testing a new operational strategy.

The strategy: focus on hard, military targets in or close to the disputed territories. It is both clever and dangerous.

Clever because it stays below red lines in a way, say, a Mumbai-like attack would not. Dangerous because any operational activity can give the anti-India lot funny ideas about testing red lines.

And then there’s the clash that’s already been coded into the system.

Winding down counter-insurgency means amping up counterterrorism. Agree or disagree with the plan, the boys have moved methodically and arrived determinedly at this moment.

After the pacification of Fata and the disruption of the links between Pakistan proper and tribal or Afghan bases, the war has to be taken to the provinces.

But Balochistan has long fallen; KP is in the zone of influence because of its proximity to Fata; and Sindh has been prised open. Alone stands Punjab.

If things elsewhere in the civ-mil realm had been more in sync, it would still have been a helluva battle. But with things already so out of whack, the fight over Punjab may turn ugly.

That Nawaz is in the wrong on Punjab and the boys right about the logical progression may make it uglier still.

In a way, it’s good that things have been predictable. Not so good is what they predict next.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn December 4th, 2016


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Comments (42) Closed

Sardar Dec 04, 2016 02:00am

Plots in plot.good analysis, predictably unpredictable issues of no use for these groups.

Sardar Dec 04, 2016 02:03am

Good analysis

Syed F. Hussaini Dec 04, 2016 03:17am

The titans are trying to decide it among themselves trampling the arena into oblivion.

Syed F. Hussaini Dec 04, 2016 04:16am

Thanks for the warning.

The federation is audibly creaking under an overload of domestic, regional and international problems, conflicts and contradictions.

We need more than luck.

Ashfaq11 Dec 04, 2016 05:02am

I share Cyril's pessimism. We need a string vision and leadership to get out of he current morass.

Asra Dec 04, 2016 05:53am

Well analysed Cyril!

Fareed Dec 04, 2016 06:01am

It is normal in other countries to put sharper focus on politicians and their close associates to deter them from pilfering the public purse. It is about time Pakistan caught up with what's been happening elsewhere for a long time. If our politicians could be forced to keep their fingers out of the till, there is a reasonable chance that they will force others to wash their sticky hands too.

Amir Khusro Dec 04, 2016 06:49am

One of the most balanced and nuanced analysis

One thing can be told or forecast about the country is that this story has been repeated every decade since 1947 and it seems shall be innext seventy years. None of the issues have ever been not the same any time

JSR Dec 04, 2016 07:44am

Touching the reality..Many may not like it

aga khan Dec 04, 2016 09:03am

Simply stated -- it is brilliant, Sir.

shahid Dec 04, 2016 11:08am


Wahab Dec 04, 2016 11:41am

Analysis aside, I really like your writing style. Good writing is not excessive verbiage and paltitudes loosely held together by worn out idioms, something which 90% of Dawn writers do. Despite being a pakistani, you write like a native englishman. Actually, it's more american in style, but you get the point.

BNJ Dec 04, 2016 12:11pm

Honest Article Cyril !Stay Safe

salma Dec 04, 2016 12:49pm

What is the point you are trying to make???

Vijay Dec 04, 2016 03:35pm

Cyril-Man you are second to none. Best,


Waqar ul Hassan Dec 04, 2016 03:50pm

A gem of an analysis on our civil military relations. The column shows the in depth knowledge of the writer and a progressive journalism attitude. I solute your insight. Stay blessed.

Waqar ul Hassan Dec 04, 2016 03:53pm

A gem of an analysis on our civil military relations. The column shows the in depth knowledge of the writer and a progressive journalism attitude. I solute your insight. Stay blessed.

shahzeb shunaid Dec 04, 2016 03:54pm

We all may to some degree reject the ideas presented in this article wether we are liberals or not, but the reality of our country to some degree does back up these prediction. Kudos to the writer

Javed khan Dec 04, 2016 04:04pm

NS is doing what he has always done. Plunder the country amass wealth abroad,

Sam Dec 04, 2016 04:39pm

Next phase in civil /mil relationship-Is this a common Pakistani's headache right now? Not at all !! Military is a strong institution of our country . Let it remain that until we find better bunch of politicians, who are true visionary and have great leadership qualities.

An observer Dec 04, 2016 04:40pm

Amazing analysis and so true. Wonder some times that how he can write so freely without any implications. Amazing!

Ashraf Dec 04, 2016 05:33pm

Respect to the courage of dawn journalists

Basit Ali Dec 04, 2016 05:35pm

@Sam We have had mil leaders in the past, u can compare them to the politicians at your own peril.

Sam Dec 04, 2016 05:44pm

@Basit Ali - I said, let the military "as an institution" remain strong till the time we have visionary politicians . I never compared individuals.

Kunal Dec 04, 2016 05:47pm

Well analyzed. The question is who's going to come out of the status quo.

Aafaaq Dec 04, 2016 06:10pm

IK is a man for whom PMLN has no solution as how to deal with him. He is a hard nut to crack for PMLN. Even if N-league gets a clean chit from supreme court on panama leaks , IK is not a man who can be defeated easily. This we have already seen in the past few years and that we already know from his cricketing years and his social work endeavors. He will keep relentless pressure on nawaz shareef and , who knows as every rise has a fall, Ik may precipitate fall of nawaz shareef. who knows................ What a time that will be when shareef bothers will fall...............must be momentous time in Pakistan's political history......................

PAKISTAN FIRST Dec 04, 2016 06:55pm

Very nicely written, one thing is clear and here to stay that is Pakistani citizens needs to decide whether they want to move forward with dignity or continue to be degraded throughout the world. We do need to bring a new breed of young politicians who are not afraid to take on these thugs and dare to challenge the tides. We have the brains and we have everything from land routes to ports and natural resources. All we need a true and patriotic leader who cares about this country and it's citizens.

Sri Dec 04, 2016 08:03pm

Cyril is a genius! Amazing ability to analyse the situation from all angles!

Perhaps he should consider starting to write thrillers...could be difficult to put down his book once picked up.

AB, Us Dec 04, 2016 08:14pm

As usual true to his analssis. Well said Mr. Almeida

W G Sheikh Dec 04, 2016 08:41pm

Overall, I like your style - subtle and probing; still, playing games with sentences may work only in those cases where the issue is in the lime light; really hot. Using the same approach for 'left overs' may lead to more ambiguity.

Khawar Saleem Aslam Dec 04, 2016 09:20pm

It is one consistent view which is put again and again by using whatever logic it suits.

PR MAN Dec 04, 2016 10:22pm

@PAKISTAN FIRST It's the people of Pakistan [including the brainy ones, the wise and the educated ones] who employ their vision of politics at every level of governance; support, campaign, and vote for the guys from their province only. If that province happens to be densely populated one, there you go. You get the same group, no matter what, staying in power.

M.Saeed Dec 04, 2016 10:28pm

It’s long been apparent that Imran was not going to try a different strategy except burning more of his boats.

Rkhan Dec 04, 2016 10:58pm

Finely engineered and articulate form of economic leakage and pilferage That never was bbeneficial to a common Pakistanis. That is what gathered from the article.good article.

Smart Solutions Dec 04, 2016 11:47pm

Is it true that there are two 'unofficial' royal families (untouchables politicians) in Pakistan.

Zubair Ahmad Dec 05, 2016 12:45am

Speculations are different from realities and so the predictions.

The morning star Dec 05, 2016 01:38am

Finally an article about the future of things to come. Even if it lacks specificity. We have seen how experts got it all wrong in case of Donald Trump except for one less well known professor of political science in NY who had his eleven point score to analyse the outcome. I would dare other writers to do the same.

Irfan Dec 05, 2016 03:44pm

Sorry guys and boys but Pakistanis haven't paid the required price in political capital to expect miracles. It's same old for another 20 years ; atleast. And that too if boys do not pull a fast one meanwhile. Tune in after 2036 and maybe there is some change.

Ravinder Dec 05, 2016 09:04pm

The last line says it all, " Not so good is what they predict next." Wonderful analysis. Its always a pleasure to read Cyril's articles. Ravinder - New Delhi

ANSARI Dec 05, 2016 09:17pm

More or less, more of the same.

anwar Dec 06, 2016 03:41am

thumb up

BAXAR Dec 06, 2016 03:14pm

"Civ-mil has been rocky because it really is a zero-sum game — the civilians want to get on top, but the boys can’t let them." Who is on top of government? Who is on top of bureaucracy? Who is on top of judiciary? Who is on top of business? Who is on top of schools & universities & hospitals? Who is on top of agribusiness? Who is on top of diplomacy? Boys did not stop them to be on top of anything, except military positions, of course. So what the civilians want to be on top of, that the boys are not letting them?