A question that figures critically in any prognostication about Pakistan’s medium or long-term future is the state of civil-military relations. Since Nawaz Sharif’s coming back to power a little over 100 days ago, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani and the Prime Minister have sought to strike a united front in front of the domestic and international audiences to deal with the challenges confronting Pakistan. They have met on some occasions and echoed each other’s sentiments. That is not guarantee enough however of continued convergence of views between the civilian government and the military establishment.
The differences have come to the fore following an IED attack by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in Upper Dir on September 15 that led to the death of some army officials including Major General Sanullah Niazi.The incident came following the army chief’s acquiescing in to the All-Parties’ Conference (APC) decision to start dialogue with the TTP.
This incident provoked a strong and quick response from the army chief, who went to Swat on September 22 and reportedly approved an operation by the 17th and 19th Infantry Divisions in Maidan, Shaltalo, Barawal and Usherai Darra, where militants have sought refuge after crackdowns in Karachi and Khyber agency1 . While Kayani had earlier indicated his support for peace through dialogue, he has now made his red lines abundantly clear. The Upper Dir attack has brought out into open the first ostensible point of divergence between the military and the political class since the APC on September 92 .
Adding further uncertainty to the civil-military balance is the impending change in the Chief of Army Staff (COAS)3 . A recalcitrant or even reluctant army will limit the options Sharif has at his disposal and prevent him from taking adequate steps on the dialogue front, both with the TTP on the one hand and India on the other.
The new government will have to figure out how to deal with the radical right; the militants are, directly or indirectly, calling the shots economically, politically and in the way Pakistan positions itself in the theatre of foreign policy. Future radicalisation will only exacerbate the fragility of the state. The weakness of the state is thrown into sharper focus when one considers the bold opening gambit of the TTP in the current “talks”; they have called for nothing less the withdrawal of the army from the tribal areas and the release of 400-odd militants. The ideological nature of the insurgency and its insistence on the imposition of Sharia lead us to believe that they will not tone down their demands. On the contrary, the TTP is defiant and clearly taking its campaign to the heart of Pakistan.
In this backdrop, should the canons never cease to thunder in Pakistan, should the fissures of its society be laid further bare, should the fragility of the state lead to collapse, there will be dire consequences for India. The American drawdown in forces in Afghanistan in 2014 will most likely lead to an uptick in cross border infiltration and a war of attrition in the combustible climes of Kashmir. This has already been declared by Syed Salahuddin, the head of the United Jihad Council. Towards the end of August 2013 he had said that “thousands” of jihadists would move across from the western border in 2014 and encounters “between mujahedeen and Indian forces will enhance to an unprecedented level”.4
Given the gradual descent into radicalism and decreasing capacity of the Pakistani state to handle it, one must also factor in what might look improbable at this point of time but might be entirely possible a decade or two down the line; a paralysed Pakistani state coming to a grinding halt. This will lead to a host of problems for India, such as a huge refugee influx from the Indus basin and loose tactical and strategic nuclear warheads, and many other gory scenarios.
The silver line in the gathering cloud is the realisation of the political forces in Pakistan that somehow relationship with India has to improve. However, here again the civil-military differences are bound to put Nawaz Sharif’s efforts on hold. The spoilers in the establishment have already made two attempts— upscaling of attacks along the LoC and terrorist attack on Indian army camp in Jammu— to derail an opening chat between the two prime ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meet. The courageous and bold decision of the Indian government not to cancel the meeting may provoke these elements to conceive something more sinister next time to make a definite negative impact on any forward-looking engagement at the political level. Thus the process of dialogue is not likely to succeed. However, there is a fond hope in India that its efforts to reach out in spite of such acts of terror could create a constituency for peace in Pakistan.
From a policy standpoint, therefore, there can be only one way forward; engage with the newly elected government and keep the option of dialogue open, and at the same time drive the message home to the military that its strategy of using terror against India will have grave consequences. Against this backdrop, it might not be realistic to expect progress in trade to proceed in leaps and bounds just because we see a government looking to set right its economy on the other side of the border. However, political and geographical issues notwithstanding, it is imperative that we engage and acquaint ourselves with the new government. In that light, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to meet with Sharif in New York in the coming days and Sharif’s warm reception of the gesture are encouraging signs. If nothing else, it will communicate to Islamabad and the world India’s broader designs of peace.