In Pakistan, who is boss?

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been in office for more than one month. During the election campaign he was asked which faction, civilian or military, would occupy the number one position if he won. His reply was that in a democratic structure, the Prime Minister is the boss.

There is little to show that the situation inPakistanhas changed. I imagined too much when one of its commission’s reports was leaked. That the Inter Intelligence Service (ISI) could be ‘a collaborator’ in hiding Osama-bin Laden, the Taliban’s inspiration, was an insinuation which I thought the army would not swallow without demur.  But that is what happened.

I was, however, reading too much into the leak. Within a few days, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif went to the ISI headquarters, along with his Interior Minister, where Army Chief Parvez Kayani was present. It was officially stated that the discussion was onAfghanistanand the conditions obtaining inPakistan.

In fact, the pre-eminence of the Army Chief was emphasized on the first day when his car and his entourage had priority. He and his team left first, followed by Nawaz Sharif and his entourage. This was at the ceremony where Nawaz Sharif took the oath of office for his premiership.

In the long run, the case of treason against former military chief Parvez Musharraf will decide who is the boss. That Musharraf has been given comfortable house-arrest and not kept in jail itself speaks volumes. The police refused to register a case against him, despite a court order.

It sounds credible that Musharraf was assured that no harm would come to him and charges against him would be dropped if he were to leavePakistanon the promise not to return. So far, he has preferred to face trial, whose final outcome could be the death penalty or life imprisonment. My suspicion is that he must have sounded out the army before coming toPakistanand would have got an assurance that he would not be touched.

Therefore, how the army takes the verdict, if there is one and it is a guilty verdict, will signify how deep democracy has taken root inPakistan. I am no expert on Islamic affairs, but I am told by my Muslim friends that Islam does not entertain democracy. Yet if it does not, how does one explain the Arab Spring, a popular resentment against the entrenched rulers? A stable, peaceful democratic polity takes a long time to emerge. The Arab Spring, although dominated by the fundamentalists, has embers of revolt still burning.

Another undemocratic thing in the making is the assertion of identities. Not only Muslims but also Hindus inIndiaand Christians inEuropeare violating democratic norms to pronounce their identity. I am aghast to find hijab-wearing women and men sporting beards at theAligarhMuslimUniversityand the liberal Jamia Millia inDelhi, to the applause of extremist Hindus. The BJP, the mouthpiece of the RSS, is increasingly adopting Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi, who is pushing the thesis of Hindutva. In his interview to a foreign agency, Modi compared the victims ofGujaratriots in 2002 to puppies that were crushed under a car.

I am told that in the atmosphere of globalization, the identity factor comes to the fore to save a community. But it has little to do with any given religion. I do not think that this defence is correct. The identity factor is born out of religious and parochial leanings.Pakistan, no doubt a Muslim state, was secular in its initial years. The country’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah said in his first speech after the formation ofPakistanthat religion would not be mixed with the state or politics. But that is all forgotten. Today, even Shias inPakistanare being declared non-Muslims. Not long ago, the Ahmedias were officially pronounced as non-Muslims. Even their mosques have been attacked.

The only plus point Musharraf has is his belated assault on the extremists. The attack on Lal Masjid, although it proved to be his undoing, was meant to tell the extremists that he would not tolerate fundamentalism within the state. The confrontation of the Taliban by the army inWaziristanwas also Musharraf’s doing. Alas, he trampled upon the democratic institutions, including the judiciary. He also attacked the Bugti tribal chief because of a vendetta. Still, he initiated action against the Taliban although, despite this, they are today stronger than before and can strike at any place inPakistanat any time.

This is a big question for Nawaz Sharif. He has extremists in his ranks and most of them are Taliban in their thinking. Otherwise it is difficult to understand why he has contributed Rs 30 crore to the coffers of Jammiat-e-Dawa. The biggest challenge in the region for him will be when the American and European forces withdraw fromAfghanistannext year.

Indiaalso faces a big danger. All its work inAfghanistan, such as building hospitals and schools, will be destroyed by the Taliban. I wish Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s armed forces had the strength to confront the Taliban. Strangely,New Delhihas never consideredIslamabad’s proposal to fight the Taliban jointly or at least share intelligence on them.Indiahas not given even non-lethal weapons toAfghanistanfor use in its fight against the Taliban.

Karzai is justified in his vehement attack onAmerica, which has begun talks with the Taliban. But thenAmericahas hardly been bothered beyond what it has considered in its own self-interest.New Delhihas to evolve a policy in consultation withPakistanandAfghanistan. This should be the priority in the fight against the Taliban. Unfortunately, the Taliban have penetrated into the Pakistani army and have a strong base. Too bad thatIslamabad’s action will ultimately be decided by the army headquarters.

– Kuldip Nayar