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Three Pillars of Power in Pakistan

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Three Pillars of Power in Pakistan
Satish Kumar*

The visit of Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik in the second week of December has added to the frustration about lack of progress in India-Pak relations among the people of India. Instead of assuring India that the militants who planned and committed the 26/11 attack in Mumbai would be tried and punished soon, he absolved Pakistan of any responsibility in this regard by comparing 26/11 with the Babri Masjid demolition of December 1992. This amounts to an official declaration by Pakistan that India should no longer expect any action against the suspects of 26/11 and should stop harping on this demand as a pre-condition for any further movement in Indo-Pak relations.

India needs to understand the nature of Pakistani state in order to solve the puzzle as to why Pakistan is behaving the way it is. The Pakistani State rests on three pillars of power at present. The first pillar is the Army which has traditionally wielded power in Pakistan but has reluctantly ceded some to the civilian government since 2008. It can still be said to wield 40 per cent of power in the governance of Pakistan. The second pillar of power is the Islamist consortium led by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but supported by all other Islamist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and al-Qaida. The Islamist consortium can also be said to wield 40 per cent of power as regards decision making on vital matters. The third pillar of power is the civilian component of government represented by the parties ruling at the centre, not necessarily being supported by the parties outside the ruling coalition. This pillar wields barely 20 per cent of influence in governing the country. The significance of this distribution of power lies in the fact that while the Army supports the civilian government only  cosmetically on a few matters, it has a real convergence of interests with the Islamist consortium on most vital matters.

The phenomenon of Army-Islamist coalition needs some further analysis. The Islamist consortium is often seen to be attacking the State, particularly the military installations, on the pretext that Pakistan’s military is serving US interests the region since 9/11. The Islamist consortium’s ultimate goal is to capture State power in order to establish an Islamic (Sharia based) state in Pakistan. The most recent example of TTP’s attack on a military base was on the Peshawar Air Base on 15 December. Earlier it was the  Mehran Naval Base in Karachi in May 2011, and  Minhas Air Force Base in Kamra  in August 2011. These attacks would not have been possible without the connivance of some radical Islamists within the ranks of the military establishment. While these attacks are a part of the process of capturing power, they are also in the interim, meant to pressurize the Army to yield more ground to the Islamist in matters of domestic and external policy.  And the Army has yielded considerable ground.

One glaring example of this is that the security establishment of the country took no action against the assassins of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab in January and of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minorities Minster, in March 2011. Both of them wanted reform of the Blasphemy law. On the contrary, Sherry Rehman, a PPP member of the National Assembly, was persuaded to withdraw the Bill to amend the Blasphemy law and was given death threats if she did not do so. She was later provided safe haven in Washington as Pakistan’s Ambassador.

Another example is unwillingness of the security establishment to take action against Sunni groups who have been unleashing violence against the Shia population of Pakistan. Shias constitute about 20 per cent of the population of Pakistan. Anti-Shia violence aggravated since the days of Zia-ul-Haq but has been particularly rampant after the higher salience acquired by powerful Sunni militant groups post 9/11. Many of these groups are used as strategic assets by the Army for domestic and foreign policy objectives. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, nearly 400 Shias were killed in 2011 alone.

Pakistan Army’s refusal to take action against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan despite tremendous US pressure is another example of the Army having yielded ground to the Islamists. Haqqani network is closely allied with al Qaeda and various Sunni militant groups because of their common objective of capturing power and establishing a Sharia based state in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This refusal has had serious repercussions on Pakistan’s relations with the US who might one day decide to attack North Waziristan without caring for Pakistan’s sensitivities about the violation of its sovereignty.

The examples quoted above would be enough to show that the Pakistan Army is under the heavy influence of Islamists although it is debatable whether the Army is ready to allow the capture of power by the Islamists led by TTP in course of time. What is clear however is that in matters of foreign policy, particularly relations with the US and India, the Army is carrying out the Islamist agenda and is not allowing the civilian component of the government to deviate too much from it. Action against Hafiz Saeed for his responsibility in planning 26/11 falls in that category.

It should be realized by India that Hafiz Saeed and the entire Islamist consortium have a tremendous street power in Pakistan. That street power is used by the Army to serve their strategic interests whenever necessary. According to various accounts, the security establishment gave to that street power a political form by the name ‘Difa-e-Pakistan Council’ (DPC) –organization for the Defence of Pakistan- at the beginning of 2012. Initially, mass public rallies attended by 20,000 to 30, 0000 people were organized by DPC in major cities of Pakistan. These rallies were addressed by all right-wing stalwarts ranging from LeT chief Hafiz Saeed to former ISI chief turned Taliban supporter Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul. In the early months of 2012, the focus of these rallies was anti-America, to mobilize the country’s anger against the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers at Salala in Mohmand Agency by a NATO attack on 26 November 2011. More recently, on 16 December, the DPC organized a protest march from Lahore to Wagah border to oppose the government’s decision to grant MFN status to India. On this occasion, the DPC also flaunted a new map of ‘Islamic South Asia’, this being the day on which Pakistan Army signed the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ in Dhaka in 1971.

Referring to the havoc created by the TTP led militants in Pakistan, Abdul Sattar, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan and two times former High Commissioner to India told this writer recently in Islamabad that Islamic militancy is the most serious existential threat to Pakistan. In the last five years, 39,000 civilians and 6,000 security personnel have been killed by these militants. It will perhaps not be easy for them to capture power in Pakistan. At the same time, it would not be easy for the government to control them. Next ten years will be crucial to see which way the country goes.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a well known Pakistani strategic affairs analyst, wrote recently that there are three reasons why the legal proceedings against seven suspects in the Mumbai case are taking so much time. First of course is the official Pakistani position that evidence as provided by India is not suitable, although she finds fault with the antiquated law of evidence inherited from the British. The second reason is that there is sympathy within certain State institutions for the LeT as its trained warriors are available to the Pakistan State. The third is that the judges are afraid of their life if they deliver the judgement warranted by law. In two cases pertaining to Lashkar-e-Jhangavi leader Malik Ishaq and Salman Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri, the judges had to leave the country after they announced life sentence for the former and death sentence for the latter.

It would be futile for India to hope that action would be taken against the suspects of 26/11 any time soon. Perhaps never. At the same time it is necessary for us to recognize that progress in Indo-Pak relations will take place only on those issues which are tangibly in Pakistan’s interests, e.g. resumption of trade. As regards other issues, e.g. Kashmir and Siachen, and the newly raised ones like Balochistan and water, it would suit the Pakistan’s security establishment to keep them alive because of their high value for mobilizing opinion against India.

*The writer is Director, Foundation for National Security Research, New Delhi.

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