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Monday Morning Webinar on Political Developments in Pakistan

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  • November 29, 2021

    Dr. Ashok K. Behuria, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the South Asia Centre,   Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) spoke on the topic ‘Political Developments in Pakistan’ at the Monday Morning Webinar on 29th November 2021. The webinar was chaired by Dr. Pushpita Das, Research Fellow and Coordinator of the Internal Security Centre, MP-IDSA.

    Director General (DG), Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy, Dr. Smruti S. Pattanaik, Research Fellow, Vishal Chandra, Research Fellow, Dr. Priyanka Singh, Associate Fellow, Dr.  Gulbin Sultana, Research Analyst, Mr. Nazir Ahmad Mir, Research Analyst and Dr. Zainab Akhter, Research Analyst participated as panelists.

    Executive Summary

    Dr. Ashok K. Behuria analyzed the trajectories of the emerging political landscape, the state of civil-military relations and internal security developments in Pakistan.

    Detailed Report

    The chair Dr. Pushpita Das in her introductory remarks highlighted the emerging fault lines between the ruling government and the Army during the latest appointment of the Director-General (DG) of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Dr. Pushpita noted that the Imran Khan-led regime has been sidelined by the generals while selecting the new DG of ISI. She also noted that the hasty reconciliation between the government and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) indicates the ruling regime’s surrender to the demands of hardline religious groups. With these words, the chair invited the speaker, Dr. Ashok Behuria to elaborate on these issues.

    Dr. Ashok Behuria dwelt on the continuing political tussle between the government and the opposition and highlighted the growing discord between the two on several policy matters. The opposition, he said, targeted the government particularly on its economic and foreign policy choices and its failure to check the rising inflation in the country. He mentioned that the opposition had so far taken out around 23 protest marches against the government. He also pointed out that unflustered by all this, the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) government led by the Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan had passed 33 bills in the joint sitting of parliament on 17 November without holding talks with the opposition to evolve a consensus. The controversial bills which were passed included bills related to use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the coming elections, the Anti-Rape Bill and bills related to the International Court of Justice.

    The speaker noted that behind-the-scene manipulations by the deep state ensured a majority for the government in the joint sitting to pass these bills. The speaker maintained that the government and the opposition may not also necessarily be on the same page even on important national security matters.

    Similarly, the speaker also referred to the latest controversy surrounding the recent leaked-audiotapes of former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar where he was heard telling someone that it was imperative to keep Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz behind bars to bring Imran Khan to power. According to the speaker, the growing nexus between the Judiciary and the Army particularly concerning the recent tapes cannot be ignored, and the controversy that followed furthered widened the gulf between the government and the opposition. The speaker stressed that though the nexus between the Judiciary and Army is not new to Pakistan, however, recently it had become more visible. He noted that in recent years, the opposition had been criticizing the Army like never before. Moreover, the opposition questioned the legitimacy of the ruling dispensation on the ground that the present government is at the helm of power through a “stolen election.”

    In the second part of the talk, Dr. Ashok dealt with civil-military relations and held that there might have been some signs of disruption between them in previous months, however, after Saqib Nisar tapes emerged, the Imran Khan government and the Army seemed to work closely together, which pointed to a civil-military reconciliation at the moment. However, the speaker maintained that the public opinion is shifting away from Khan to the opposition for which the military might be looking for an alternative to Imran Khan in the next elections.

    The third theme pertained to military-militant issues. The speaker held that there was a deep historical relationship between the Army and the militant hardliner religious groups and stressed that it was the Army that brought religious groups like TLP to the mainstream to delegitimize Sharif’s politics and accused him of being un-Islamic. The Army, he said, had used these groups tactically both in the past and in the present, but he cautioned that these groups were not monolithic and some elements within these groups operated beyond the influence of the Army. He dwelt on the backdoor agreements between the Army and the TLP and lately with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and said that TTP wanted to establish Islamic rule in Pakistan like the Taliban in Afghanistan. Therefore, the Army was trying hard to divert their attention towards India and particularly towards Kashmir.

    The speaker noted that whenever Pakistan faced any major internal/domestic crisis, the Army always tried to divert the attention of groups threatening it from within towards India. The recent spike in infiltration bids along the Line of Control (LoC) pointed to this trend, he argued. The speaker emphasized that in the coming days, such developments would increase. He also brought it out in his presentation that the state-controlled media in Pakistan had hardened their position on Kashmir and India and this was on expected lines given the internal political, economic and security challenges that Pakistan was beset with.

    Comments, Observations and Questions from the participants

    The Director General in his comments held that any upheaval in Pakistan would ultimately affect India and cautioned that the vicarious pleasure that Indians tend to derive from the economic and political crises that Pakistan is beset with will not help India strategically. He maintained that the Army had a final say in Pakistan politics as well as its foreign policy choices and reminded the audience that Pakistan Army’s mindset was still rooted in what they called as unfinished business of partition when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir.

    Dr. Smruti S. Pattanaik noted that although Imran Khan had completed his four years in power, his government is mired in scandals related to corruption, rising inflation among other challenges in the domestic sphere and therefore the Army is waiting for the right opportunity to find an alternative to him. She maintained that the opposition parties, particularly Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto, seemed to be willing to work with the Army.

    In the Q&A session, the speaker responding to the queries, held that even if developments in Afghanistan did not have any direct bearing on the civil-military relations in Pakistan, it had emboldened the Jihadi-radical elements which would pose a critical challenge to the Pakistani state in future. He held that the economic crisis may provide fuel to the opposition to take on the government but that may not affect Imran Khan’s political fortunes very much, as help from China, Saudi Arabia and US was likely to come in to help Pakistan tide over the crisis. Dr. Ashok noted that the Army had played a tactical role in striking a deal between the TLP and the ruling government, however, while referring to past deals, he stressed that the present understanding between the TLP and the government might be reversed, depending upon the calculation of the army and the prevailing security scenario in future. He also cautioned that there are varied sorts of elements within these religious groups that can disrupt the army's strategies despite their warming up to the army. 

    Key Takeaways:

    The latest political crisis (leaked tapes, judicial crisis, opposition parties protests, Imran Khan Government’s collusion with the religious hardliners) and economic crisis (rising inflation, Pakistan rupee depreciating to its lowest ever value) have led to massive criticism of Imran Khan's policies, but as per the speaker, the multiple crises will not affect his immediate political and electoral prospects.

    On the political front, Imran Khan continues to enjoy the support of the Army and Judiciary.

    The Opposition parties are rather in disarray and lack the institutional and mass support to challenge Imran Khan on the political domain as a united front.

    On the economic front, there are no imminent chances of a collapse. In addition to the strong institutional incentives in the domestic sphere, China does not want Pakistan to collapse. Even the United States will come to its aid if there is an economic collapse.

    The success of the Taliban in Afghanistan have energized Islamists in Pakistan like never before.

    Any major upheavals in Pakistan have direct and indirect security implications for India, particularly concerning the infiltration and cross border skirmishes in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

    The Report has been prepared by Mohd. Usman Bhatti, Research Assistant, South Asia Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi.