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Another bumpy road ahead

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, Dec 30,2011

2011 leaves behind a sad and bitter legacy; it practically began with the murder of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis on January 27. The ensuing spat until his release on March 17held the US-Pakistan relationship hostage, injecting more despair and mistrust. On May 2, Pakistan suffered the worst humiliation since the 1971 break-upwhen US Special Forces eliminated Al Qaeda supremeleader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in a covert operation. As if the following weeks of acrimony with Washington were not enough, former US army chief Admiral Mike Mullen came down hard on the ISI on September 22 by branding Haqqani network as the “veritable arm of ISI.” 

It took few weeks and a personal visit to Islamabad by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to diffuse tension and set the relationship back on track. Then came the Nov 26 NATO attack on the Pakistani security check post Volcano in MohmandAgency. As if taken as a slap, it brought the Pak-US relations to a standstill, disrupting the NATO-US supplies to Afghanistan via Pakistan. The US was told out of Shamsiairbase (though by default the army and the government themselves denied the claims they had made until then).

As a whole, the government and the army embarked on a confrontationist path with the United States, and any return to pre-Salala apparently hinges on what the Parliamentary Committee on National Security would recommend. And in Washington the talk of “scaling down” relations with Pakistan is getting louder.With the Memogate scandal still roaring and serving as a wedge between the civilians and the military, with the armed forces and Nawaz Sharif adamant on instituting an investigation into the matter on the one hand, and the ever-expanding cavalcade of Imran Khan on the other, several questions loom large as the country moves into 2012. 

Looked at in the larger context, despite the worst politico-economic crisis, international condemnation, aggravated by the relentless power and gas outages, and widespread public displeasure with the ruling elites — both military and the civilians- the country took a big leap forward in 2011; it fended off the threats of yet another direct military intervention. 

And none other than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry himself delivered a clear ‘No’ to any extra-constitutional measure against the democratic system on Friday (Dec 23rd). “There is no question of a (military) takeover and, rest assured, the (amended) code of conduct demands the judges to preserve and protect the Constitution at all cost,” Chaudhry observed during the hearing of the high-profile petitions against the Memogate. 

The system will run according to what the Constitution commands,” the chief reassured justice underlined. Coincidentally, as Chaudhry made these observations to the relief of an unnerved government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, Army Chief General AshfaqKayani, issued more or less similar assurance to quell speculation.

“Pakistan Army has and will continue to support democratic process in the country,” General Kayani said while addressing troops stationed in the forward posts in the border regions of Mohmand and Kurram bordering Afghanistan. 

An ISPR statement quoted Kayani as saying that “the army is fully cognizant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities, “and dispelled the speculations of any military takeover as “misleading and a bogey to divert the focus from the real issues.”Kayani, however, stuck to what he already submitted to the Supreme Court with regards to the Memogate: 

“Irrespective of all other considerations, there can be no compromise on national security,” a direct reference to his insistence in the affidavit that since the scandal compromised national security, it needed to be investigated by a body appointed by the court. 

Based on what has happened sofar, the future of the government and its relations with the armed forces clearly depend on what course the Memogate takes. It is pressingly crucial because the Supreme Court, Nawaz Sharif and even Imran Khan think alike on the issue.

“The court has to determine the issue of Memogate in the background that (ambassador) Haqqani was asked to resign after meetings between the president, prime minister, army chief and ISI DG. There must be something that led to the resignation of Haqqani,” the chief justice said during the Friday hearing. 

This clearly suggests that battle lines are drawn between the Zardari camp and its opponents - the military, Nawaz Sharif and the Supreme Court. All detractors insist Haqqani would have moved with the backing of Zardari, currently holed up at the Presidential Palace, and reportedly not in the best of health. 

But does it mean a direct military intervention to get rid of people considered as a “threat to the national security?” Two major factors rule out such a move; the Supreme Court in its July 31, 2009 verdict, which annulled the proclamation of emergency by former President Pervez Musharraf in November 2007, had pronounced that “days of validating military take-overs are over and such an act would never be sanctioned in future.” 

“Look at the people, civil society, students and even the sitting prime minister who was on the streets and went to jail,” Justice IftikharChaudhry said while recalling the movement for the restoration of 60 judges Musharraf had dismissed in March 2007. Secondly, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League also has ruled out supporting the derailment of democracy through a military coup. Neither does the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party favor any intervention. That way, the army – despite its over-arching influence and predominance of politics in the country – faces a grand political consensus on rejection of illegal removal of a political government. 

But the major question that still hovers around is the mood within the armed forces – as to whether they would settle for a deal with the military to fend off tensions and ensure a smooth Senate election in March? Will Nawaz Sharif dash the PPP hopes for a majority in the Senate by walking out of the National Assembly and advising the dissolution of the Punjab government to enforce early elections, or will Sharif enter into an alliance with the PPP to blunt the threat coming from an ascendant Imran Khan – scorned by most detractors as the establishment’s new horse? 

While self-interest and survival instincts might force politicians into realignments, the mother of all challenges will be to tackle a stagnating economy? With Pakistan out of favour with the United States, and thus short of requisite US pleasure at IFIs , resource mobilization and preventing a default – as the energy and gas crisis becomes ever more pressing – will be the major headache for any government. Lofty rhetoric apart, none of the parties apparently is clear as to how they would deal with the vicious spiral of circular debt, dwindling investment, and sinking productivity due to power shortages. Another bumpy year ahead!

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk