Road to nowhere


 ‘One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results’ Milton Friedman  

The world has been shaken up by two major events: US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Russia-Ukraine War. The effects of both are aggravated by a growing Chinese international influence. The effects are defined in the recognition of a diminishing US influence and its desperate attempts to restore its status as a world leader in a unipolar world that the US has got so used to. The United States is cobbling together a political realignment to contain Chinese growth and at the same time stunt Russian influence. The world will never be the same again. India becomes a natural choice to challenge China while Israel remains an all-weather ally. Europe can be depended upon to an extent having been suitably cajoled or bullied – as would be their respective preferences. This would make a US alignment designed to challenge the Eastern Juggernaut – a natural coalition. The Middle East still must decide what it should do – depending on Saudi Arabia’s position, which at present is ambiguous and noncommittal. In response to such an alignment China would seek an alliance of sorts with Russia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and with the possibility of Malaysia thrown in for good measure. The global connectivity that China is attempting to achieve through the BRI is greatly enhanced by CPEC. The Pakistani Port at Gwader is an alternative to the Chinese trade routes through the Strait of Malacca which are being contested by the United States: sometimes through AQUS and at other times through the QUAD, both focused on the South China Sea. Now there is the new possibility of NATO focusing towards the East – an out-of-region undertaking. Thus CPEC takes on an ominous role for the US, challenging its capacity and capability to thwart Chinese international connectivity, because of which, it remains a source of great contention internationally. 

There are a total of 72 such instances to date since the Second World War where the US has successfully engineered a regime change and brought in a friendly government

This brings Pakistan into the limelight of a potential conflict in the making. However, hostile India is readily available to put pressure on Pakistan as a US Proxy; killing two birds with one stone – denying Pakistan the development it desperately needs and at the same time contributing towards containing Chinese growth that India sees as a challenge to itself. India can apply pressure in Pakistan through low-intensity conflict which is currently in progress and is manifested in separatist movements in Balochistan threatening CPEC routes but is slowly picking up in KP with odd terrorist activity in Sindh. Violence and terrorism is being supplemented by creating political chaos and instability through politicians who are inclined to be easily bought out or are then convinced that they have a genuine cause. In this whole saga, the center of gravity by default and not design are the armed forces and so they too are a target as one of the objectives of an indirect war. The method in destroying the influence of a strong cohesive military is two phased: first, to separate the leadership from the rank and file through a dubious character assassination campaign against the leadership; and second to break the confidence of the people in the military through maneuver of disinformation and defamation against the military. 

One measure to avoid the conflict momentarily, all Pakistan needs to do is to go slow on CPEC and ensure that its Gwadar Port does not become operational. However, considering Pakistan’s economy and the need to kick start it, CPEC is somewhat of a game changer for Pakistan itself. It is the mainstay in infrastructural development badly needed to put Pakistan on a positive economic trajectory in the near future. With Thar-Parker Coal and Rikodik gold/copper reserves at Pakistan’s disposal there is now a parallel need for Pakistan to up its energy production, encourage manufacturing and attract international investment. Thus no autonomous government in Pakistan can agree to disrupting the CPEC Project but by continuing with the project, Pakistan’s interests come directly in conflict with US national interests. Thus the US, true to a tried and tested modus operandi, may have affected a regime change in Pakistan, to protect those interests. The US does practice regime change where it can in the pursuance of its own interests. There are a total of 72 such instances to date since the Second World War where the US has successfully engineered a regime change and brought in a friendly government. There are 48 aborted attempts where such an endeavor failed. The US cannot be faulted for this because in most case where it succeeded in a regime change it happened in connivance and cooperation with the people and leadership of that country, yet, where, it failed, it was because the people resisted such a change. In Pakistan’s case it is a common belief and a wide-spread perception that the coalition, sitting in government today is a product of connivance with the US and who are in power not because the people wanted them but that the US wanted them more than the people. A recent event in Ukraine caused a US inspired regime change where a friendly government was then convinced to do away with its nuclear weapons and that it would be protected by NATO and the US. We all know how that turned out.

CPEC edited | Stratagem from Narratives Magazine

Here the US wants a friendly government so that Pakistan would be more forthcoming in Ukraine’s cause, slow down a Pak-China Cooperation, be more understanding towards US needs to project influence into Afghanistan, be more accommodating towards India, lower the Kashmir criticism, bring down anti-US rhetoric and reconsider the nuclear equation. The current coalition is more than willing to serve its benefactors with enthusiasm and misplaced loyalty in most such matters; they have found a commonality of interests between themselves and the US – each serving the other’s purpose but at the cost of Pakistan.

The coalition comprises of experienced politicians who could have easily analyzed the situation for what it really was. It is no secret that the PTI government, till its ouster, was on a decline and its popularity graph was on a downward trend. Fresh elections were only a year and a few months away but nothing positive was visible on the horizon where PTI could reverse the negative image it was suffering from and one that was fast deteriorating. A lot of this negative perception was created by its own rigid and uncompromising behavior within its own party which did not conform to the political convention here in Pakistan where people were not accustomed to working under such inflexible terms. Also matters were aggravated due to the effect of the coronavirus on the economy, over all international inflation, and the rising cost of oil and wheat due to the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Knowing these facts, yet in spite of them, PML(N), PPP and the Fazloo Group along with another motley crowd of other smaller political parties, conspired to have the sitting government removed through technicalities, judicial activism and misuse of constitutional rules and procedures. The question is, why this indecent haste, when the coalition could have exploited the situation and used it to politicize their movement against PTI thus facilitating their own success in the next elections. 

So the coalition, led by the PML(N) and the PPP, using non-consequential Fazloo as a figure head, had well defined objectives that related to finding a role for themselves in the selection of the new chief of the army in November this year. They also wanted to vacate the cases of corruption against themselves – being a rare case of a cabinet comprising 75 per cent members out on dubious bail bonds for crimes related to financial misconduct, money laundering, corruption, misappropriation and other irregularities. They hope to set aside judgments against Nawaz Sharif to allow him to return to Pakistan after being exonerated of corruption charges by a kangaroo court in a managed trial. PPP, meanwhile, equally corrupt, is also looking additionally, for some seat adjustments in Punjab at the cost of PML(N) and is hoping to develop a presence in Punjab. Fazloo had the illusion of seeing himself as the president. Immediately on coming to power, the coalition did what was expected of it – delayed the indictments against Shabaz Sharif and Hamza Sharif, made the NAB dysfunctional, commandeered the FIA, posted out prosecuting officers from their posts and provided a security detail to Maryam Nawaz, a convict who is out on special bail. In a defiant display of indifference to the people and the country, the coalition, then proceeded to London on the summons of the convict Nawaz Sharif who presided over a cabinet meeting there. 

It is commonly believed that this situation has come about because of judicial activism. It is public knowledge that the courts were opened at midnight on a suo-moto notice. Then the setting aside of the proceedings of the speaker is a gross and blatant violation of article 69 of the Constitution – and surprisingly everyone is silent on this. Specially so when seen in light of the selective judgments made in the matter of floor crossings and the Presidential Reference that was unceremoniously sent back. Matters are aggravated by unconstitutional steps being taken to remove the Punjab governor and the prevailing stalemate created by judicial misconduct. It’s a matter of public wonder and a broad question, whether the judiciary is being compelled to do these things or are these decisions a consequence of a judicial initiative – suo-moto? 

However, there are unintended consequences to this alleged conspiracy, which have gradually picked up momentum and may be game changers. The first is the unprecedented popular support the PTI has managed to garner which is now grown to proportions of which stuff revolutions are made of. The second is the pressure mounted by veterans and the rank and file who want the army to step in and address this aberration now sitting in government. The national response mounted by these two events are stunning and unprecedented and appear to have overwhelmed everyone who matters. The response demands correction and it is this demand that drives the call for a general uprising which is gathering momentum and the capitol may well be under siege after the May 20. 

Nawaz Shehbaz edited | Stratagem from Narratives Magazine

Yet despite the ground situation developing, if this sad excuse of a government remains in power, if push comes to shove, this government is likely to compromise on all matters that the US are likely to demand of Pakistan. They shall compromise as long as they remain in power and there are no checks and balances which may very well be the case, since the military has pointedly stated it will remain apolitical. Here is where the people will focus on the military and have cause and reason to blame the Establishment for whatever goes on or goes wrong. National Security is closely tied up with the primary objective and constitutional mission given to the armed forces, i.e. ‘To ensure national security and national unity of Pakistan by defending it against any form of external aggression or the threat of war’. Interpretation of this statement correctly will lead to meaningful conclusions related to ‘any form of external aggression’ specially when the country is besieged with threats, violence and terrorism every day.  

The military needs to structure a road map taking it forward through this difficult period. Denial will not work since the perceptions that have been built are too strong to wish away or try and argue out of. If it’s not that the ‘Establishment caused it’, it will then be, ‘why did the establishment not stop it’ – damning both ways. However, regardless of what factors caused this regime change, there is a need to move on. What comes to mind is a national dialogue with some intellectuals and representatives of all parties. The dialogue must not go on longer than 4 or 5 days. The premise to the dialogue should be that some US interference may have taken place and that some people may have conspired to topple the PTI Government but this premise need not be proven or disproven or even discussed since we are where we are and must move forward. All that needs to be stressed upon is national integrity of which we all are a part of and must contribute towards. What needs to be discussed are steps to mutual reconciliation and early elections by October/November and the establishment of a care-taker government.  The military must steer these talks towards these matters and get a consensus on the subject. Those not willing to cooperate must be encouraged to do so through the leverages available in the plethora of the current court cases related to corruption and the possible ruling of the Election Commission of Pakistan related to floor crossing. This is the only way that the crisis can subside immediately.

Having come to a consensus that early elections must take place the modus-operandi to be worked out must include EVM, Expat Voting and administrative measures ensuring free and fair elections. Since EVMs may require time to acquire and train the staff, the system maybe a hybrid one where only urban areas and large population centers are facilitated by EVMs. Other far flung areas can undergo elections through conventional means under strict supervision. Attempts at delaying elections on account of election reforms must be avoided and either the reforms should be speeded up, or only those critical portions, that need immediate attention, be addressed. This should be under a common consensus with everyone on board. If this is not possible then the reforms be forfeited for a later time. The military should not be directly or indirectly involved in the election process and should be kept away from the proceedings. International observers must be encouraged and should have free access to all polling events at every tier. The military must display its apolitical attitude here, where it is needed more than anywhere else, not being concerned with who gets the seat of power and be able to work with any group that does. The only demand that the military must make and ensure is the selection of the next chief which must be out of a panel of 3 or 4 recommended names offered by the army/establishment and must not be from politically approved/preferred choices or a product of a politicized decision. The new government should be in chair in or around mid-November, so it is suggested that the new government be mandated to choose its next chief of the army but if there is a time related issue, ‘acting arrangements’ may be made for that gap. 

It is now, more than ever, very important that all elements of state power, recognize the raw reality on ground and begin taking corrective measures. Failing which – protecting organisations, institutions, government offices, and structures from disaster, may become difficult. This would be inadvertently playing into the hands of our enemies who are looking for anarchy, chaos and disorder within the country. It is strongly suggested, that the time for miscalculations has past. Miscalculations have brought us to the situation that we are in now and where unintended consequences have taken over with a life of their own influencing the obtaining environment that may soon be in no one’s control. That day may not be far off when enquiries and commissions may be set up to determine facts about alleged conspiracies, foreign collusion, betrayal and treachery to appropriate blame. Yet, this is not that day and it is hoped that such reprisals are avoided – time to take corrective measures and set the course right is still there. Reconciliation, early elections and a caretaker government may quell the street protests and bring order to this hapless country which deserves our mercy like never before.

Tariq Khan HI(M)
Tariq Khan HI(M)
The writer is a retired Lt General of the Pakistan Army. He is noted for his services as the Commander of I Strike Corps at Mangla and Inspector General of the Frontier Corps.


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