Musings

Learning from the past

Updated 27 Nov, 2015 01:04pm
Photo: Syed Ali Shah/File
Photo: Syed Ali Shah/File

The appointment of Lieutenant General (retd) Nasir Janjua as National Security Adviser evoked a response from across the political spectrum that has almost become cliched by now — that the military has come to dominate foreign policy and internal security processes completely. It is quite common to hear that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has completely abdicated his position as the chief executive of the state, and by constitutional privileges, the one who is in charge of internal and external security matters.

The gradual retreat of Nawaz Sharif's government from policymaking has been visible from the start of his third tenure. The man – who in his last days as leader of the opposition against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government, and in the early days of his current tenure as prime minister – was quite vocal in his desire to normalise relations with India, now shows no signs that he understands the implications of genuine rapprochement with India. Although some of his party members do understand that headway made on the path of normalisation would immensely increase the space for civilian leadership to restructure the political arrangements within the country and eclipse the military’s overly dominant role in public policymaking.

There is every reason to believe that army’s leadership, too, clearly understands its decreasing weight in the domestic political arrangements whenever genuine signs of rapprochement appear on the horizon. It is not at all a surprise that during the last 10 years the army has repeatedly shot down the proposal to increase trade and commercial relations with India – the only proposals which could have led to normalised relations.

In the words of several retired diplomats who I interviewed recently, the army, in its post-Pervez Musharraf return-to-civilian-governance era, has wanted to use the dialogue process with India – which continued somewhat intermittently during the PPP government – as a tool for conflict avoidance only. It wants to obstruct the civilian leadership from going beyond this limited objective. So the PPP government during its five-year tenure had to walk a diplomatic tight rope.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, however, found an easy way out of the complexities of these power politics. He completely withdrew from his position towards India after coming under pressure from a crisis that threatened the stability of his government, and which was generally believed to be masterminded by the army's intelligence agencies. Hard-hitting speeches and statements against India, marking incidents of exchange of fire on the international boundary, have increasingly brought him back into the kind of nationalistic fold the security establishment is comfortable with. Going to multilateral forums to complain against India has also become a defining position of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government towards India.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif meet to discuss Karachi's security situation | APP/File
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif meet to discuss Karachi's security situation | APP/File

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s statement on September 6, 2015, is described by most military experts as clearly positing deterrence measures in the face of India’s recent aggressiveness, “If the enemy ever resorts to any misadventure, regardless of its size and scale – short or long – it will have to pay an unbearable cost,” he said in his address at a special event organised by the army at the GHQ. No matter how much nationalistic egos such statements may satisfy, such statements will always reduce the space of civilian government to pursue a normalisation process with India and, as a corollary, to pursue a restructuring of political arrangements within the country.

Looking at the official profile of Junjua, it is fairly obvious that he has no experience of dealing with political complexities. He is purely a military man and has served only in the military before this appointment. While he can militarily brief the prime minister about the exchange of fire on the Line of Control, or counter-insurgency operations in this or that part of the country, he can't proffer any policymaking advice that would take into account political ramifications, and the insecurity and instability caused by ferocious comments about war, in a charged nuclear environment, with the world's eyes as ever on Pakistan's ability to maintain internal and external peace.

Janjua won't have a nuanced understanding of Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s problematic treatment of the Muslim community of India, making an argument that not to deal with Modi on inter-state relations will serve no foreign policy or security interests. On the contrary, it will prove counter-productive to the stated aims of de-radicalizing Pakistani society. True, having a retired military man by his side (who will be having daily conversations with generals in GHQ), will make the prime minister politically more secure. However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has to realize that national security is a totally different ballgame.

National security is a much wider problem than managing border skirmishes. Every time the anti-India flames are fanned, we also incur internal security costs in the form of right-wing militancy, we incur regional security costs as places like Afghanistan become ideological battlegrounds and Kashmir becomes a killing field. The internal stability of Pakistan right now very much depends on prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's ability to learn from the past, and make sure that civilian interests come first in policymaking, over martial interests — even if it weakens his own political position.