Internal and External Pressures

Internal and External Pressures
As Pakistan grapples with two divisive internal issues, it is being compelled to contend with two external pressures that are adding to its destabilization.

The first internally divisive issue relates to civil-military relations. They are not good. The prime minister doesn’t want to grant an extension in the tenure of the army chief; he disagrees with the military high command on how to deal with India and Afghanistan, anti-Kabul Taliban and anti-India Jihadis. And he is reluctant to give more powers to the army and Rangers to tackle corruption amongst politicians under the garb of fighting terrorism.

The second internally divisive issue is the continuing confrontation between the combined opposition and the ruling party. The opposition wants to oust Nawaz Sharif by hook or by crook not just from government but also from politics altogether so that the PMLN is shorn of its popular leader and loses the next election. These two issues have dragged the military, street, media and courts into the fray and hugely destabilized the country.

The two external pressures are coming from India and Afghanistan. Since the rise of an indigenous intifada in Kashmir, India’s ruling BJP has tried to divert attention from its unprecedented repression and human rights violations in the valley by heating up the Line of Control and International Border. Nothing plays to the galleries better than conflict with “arch enemy” Pakistan. First there was the orchestrated farce of “strategic strikes” against Pakistan. This was followed by boastful claims of picking off Pakistani soldiers like flies along the border. Now PM Narendra Modi is facing the wrath of the public over his ill-managed currency demonetization scheme and has shown ever greater keenness to fan the flames of military conflict with Pakistan.

Much the same sort of problem confronts Pakistan in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is not ready to act against Pakistani Taliban groups holed out in the border areas of Afghanistan which are attacking Pakistan because Pakistan is not ready to take action against Afghan Taliban groups like the Haqqani network with sanctuaries in Pakistan. The problem has been accentuated by internal power struggles among the Afghan Taliban in which hard liners continue to spurn efforts to negotiate peace with Kabul and have morphed into IS that is both against Kabul and Islamabad. IS has now joined forces with sectarian terrorist groups from Pakistan and is launching attacks in Balochistan from their southern strongholds in Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban hard liners are angry at Pakistan for abetting the CIA’s assassination of Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor on Pakistani territory and for trying to assemble a pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban leadership amenable to leveraging dialogue with Kabul.

There is one factor that is at the core of all such issues. This is the military establishment that formulates, commands and controls Pakistan’s national security doctrine, that in turn impinges on the military’s relations with elected civilian governments and the country’s foreign policy, especially in relation to the US, China, India and Afghanistan. The perennial core of this doctrine posits India as the existential arch enemy and the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with Pakistan’s desire. In pursuit of this objective, the doctrine has staked asymmetric conflict with India based on Pakistani jihadi non-state assets under a nuclear umbrella. It also posits a friendly Afghanistan that is unfriendly to India, hence the need to create and nurture non-state Taliban assets. This doctrine now faces a blow back on several fronts that is immeasurably destabilizing Pakistan.

First, civil society, media, judiciary and political parties are now united in asserting the supremacy of civilian constitutional rule and the military’s ability to impose martial law is fast deteriorating. The rise of Nawaz Sharif, a popular Punjabi politician determined to challenge the military’s political hegemony, has hastened this process and thereby created tensions in civil-military relations. Second, the military’s failure to stitch up Kabul and Kashmir via non-state Taliban in Afghanistan and Jihadi actors in Pakistan has rebounded with a chilling vengeance. Elements of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s sectarian Jihadis have joined forces and are now attacking Pakistan even as the other pro-military non-state elements inside Pakistan and Afghanistan are straining at the leash to attack Kabul and India in a global environment in which every such attack further isolates Pakistan and puts it on the spot as “a regional sponsor of terrorism”. This backlash puts pressure on the civilian leadership that has to contend diplomatically at the regional and global arena and brings it into conflict with the military leadership that spawns and controls Pakistan’s national security narrative. When this military leadership tries to disarm and weaken the elected civilian leadership by winking at its political opposition, the whole polity is destabilized to the benefit of Pakistan’s external detractors.

Pakistan desperately needs a new social contract in which the military is subservient to the constitutionally elected leadership of the country that is in turn focused on good governance and peoples welfare as the core determinant of national power.


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.