Sharif vs Sharif

Sharif vs Sharif
General Raheel Sharif remains the focus of attention. He has had an important meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top team members, where various dimensions and failings of the civilian input into NAP were discussed. He followed up by chairing a Corps Commanders meeting after which ISPR issued a statement highlighting civilian “governance” problems relating to proper NAP implementation. Gen Sharif is now going to Washington to discuss crucial issues regarding Afghanistan and India in the context of US-Pak national security concerns in the region.

Apparently six broad areas were identified in the meeting in which NAP’s implementation by civilian counterpart agencies and administrations is “sluggish”. These are: action against terror financing (primarily obstacles created by the Sindh government in the way of the military), foreign funding of seminaries (lack of will and expertise in the federal Ministries of Interior and Finance), banned non-state actor-groups and sectarian organizations (provincial police reluctance in eliminating these threats), hate speeches (police and judicial lethargy in Punjab and Sindh), madrassah reforms (federal government foot dragging) and a provincial mechanism for civil-military cooperation and coordination (especially in Sindh). Significantly, at least three additional agenda items were highlighted by an ISPR press statement subsequently: FATA reforms (no political will to pursue administratively, the PMLN government having just withdrawn a bill for FATA reforms submitted by FATA parliamentarians because the PM has formed yet another commission to examine the issue again), completion of Joint Investigation Reports (dubious civilian input in Sindh), IDP rehabilitation issues (insufficient funds and poor administrative effort). The ISPR pointedly “acknowledged the full support of the nation” in the army’s pursuit of terrorists but “underlined the need for matching/complimentary governance initiatives for long term gains of the National Action Plan”.

The ISPR statement has triggered a controversy in the media about the significance and legitimacy of the army’s comments. Some people think it to be an ill-advised and unnecessary irritant in the developing civil-military equation. They argue that such issues should be discussed behind “closed doors” rather than in public where they end up embarrassing the elected government of the day. Others say that there is nothing new or novel about the army’s preferred method of sending direct public signals to the government on its issues of concern. Every army chief has used the ISPR to publicly signal his displeasure with the government of the day on various issues. In the current case, however, the ISPR statement has been followed by a PMLN government statement that seemingly objects to the implicit criticism of government in it and points to the “shared responsibility” for success of the government (in cobbling a national consensus for NAP), the army (for its sacrifices in men and materials), the coordinated effort of provincial governments and their organs of administration, the judiciary (for accepting military courts and reduction of their writ jurisdictions in case of terrorism), and above all the people for standing behind the government and state.

But there are sources of tension in both official statements that have disturbed the civil-military balance. The ISPR should not have talked of “governance” issues or tried to take exclusive credit for the success of NAP, regardless of internal pressures to put the government on the spot for failing to do its bit. The opposition parties have exploited the ISPR statement to open their guns on the government for not providing “good governance”. However, despite this misplaced provocation, the government should not have reminded the military of “remaining within the ambit of the constitution” because the military under Gen Sharif has not demonstrated any political ambitions. Both sides should not tread over each other’s sensitivities.

General Sharif’s trip to Washington is critical in many ways. The US and its allies want to do business with him because they perceive him to be the man in charge of Pakistan. At stake are Pakistan’s relations with Kabul, New Delhi and Washington. Terrorism is the one factor that links all together. All three countries accuse Pakistan of sheltering various shades of terrorists who are creating massive problems for them. Pakistan, in turn, accuses India of actively proxy-warring in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan. It accuses Afghanistan of unfairly blaming Pakistan for all its troubles despite mounting evidence of its own failings. And it wants the US to “do more” to shore up the Ghani regime in Kabul, help Pakistan’s anti-terrorism drive with money and materials, as well as restrain the RAW hand in Pakistan.

This is a tall order even for General Sharif. It means getting the PMLN government to shake a leg and shore up NAP, getting the US government to persuade Modi’s India to smoke the peace pipe with Pakistan and stop it from pressurizing Kabul to take an anti-Pakistan stance. More critically, it means bringing the various factions of the Taliban to the negotiating table with Kabul and hammering out an enduring peace process that allows American troops to go back home in 2018 on the basis of constitutional rule in Afghanistan.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.