By Afrasiab Khattak-The deepening contradictions of the post Zia “republic” do not seem to be manageable anymore. The de facto isn’t ready to live with even the semblance of the de jure. The deep state is ready to attack the leadership of every institution that comes in the way of its total control of the state system and it includes even people in uniform. After neglecting and side-lining the elected assemblies for four years, the present government doesn’t have the strength that emanates from the democratic system to resist the onslaught of the deep state. Even the approaching general election has failed to keep a lid over the power struggle among various factions of the ruling elites. Going by the historical experience of the state system in Pakistan, the 8 to 10-year cycle of the civilian dispensation seems to have been completed. But strengthening of Article 6 of the Constitution in the 18th Amendment has created some complications for the adventurist types in the ruling establishment. The option of suspending the Constitution used by General Zia and General Musharraf isn’t available anymore. Any future direct military intervention wouldn’t be possible without total abrogation of the 1973 Constitution. This situation has enhanced the role of the higher judiciary in the process of “regime change”. The mischief of Articles 62 and 63 in their post Zia form is coming into play.
There have been some important transitions started by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that couldn’t be completed. One of the most important was shifting from the Cold War’s geo-strategic to the 21st century’s geo-economic. Hence the talk about Pakistan becoming an Asian tiger. It obviously involved normalisation of relations with India. Nawaz Sharif has been pretty consistent about this policy. But any major breakthrough on this front hasn’t been possible so far due to tough resistance of the security establishment internally and the changing political landscape in India. Moreover elements in the security establishment are restless for joining the new Cold War between Russia and the west that could create new complications for Pakistan in a situation where the country has yet to overcome the fallout of the old Cold War.
The growing incidents of extremist violence in the ever expanding sphere of vigilantism epitomises the challenge of radicalisation, which in Pakistan’s case has been a by-product of militarisation of the state. It is a radicalised state that has led to the radicalisation of society. Efforts at de-radicalisation of society are doomed to fail without addressing the problem in the state that is the root cause. By weaponising blasphemy, the deep state is just dancing to the tunes of violent extremism. Despite their best intentions, can the present political and military leadership bring the so called jihadist project of the yesteryears to an end? So far, the said project has survived Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” and the National Action Plan (NAP) of December 2014. Even the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Rad-ul-Fasad have failed to root it out. Talibanisation of Afghanistan still remains the security state’s agenda. Interestingly, the security establishment has been trying to cover up its footprint on the militancy front by resorting to smokescreens. Efforts for creating new narratives are launched by “discovering” the nexus between corruption and terrorism and the patronage of bad Taliban by hostile intelligence agencies. No one is suggesting that the hostile intelligence agencies don’t use bad Taliban. They surely do that. But the original designers of project Taliban want to hide behind it. Taliban-based Afghan policy can create new security challenges at a time when the US army is gaining a greater say in policy making for conflict zones under the Donald Trump administration. Re-emergence of drones on Pakistan’s western borders is a pointer to the future escalation.
Even those who gloat over the Russian contacts with Taliban take a very myopic view of the situation. Unlike the far away US, Russia and China are seriously threatened by extremist and violent Islamic movements. Central Asia and Muslim parts of the Russian Federation remain the soft underbelly of Russia. Same is the case with Xinjiang in China. At the moment, the so called IS is the declared threat. But IS is just a part of the terror syndicate and is capable of getting refurbished by large scale recruitment from the ranks of Taliban, LeT, JeM and other jihadist networks. This is happening in plain sight. It’s just a question of rebranding. It explains the potential for expansion of IS in our region at a time when it is under squeeze in the Middle East. Lest we forget, the last battle against religious extremist violence in this region will be fought by China and Russia as it constitutes an existentialist threat to them. As if this wasn’t enough by militarily teaming up with Saudi monarchy in violation of Parliament’s resolution the Nawaz Sharif government is putting oil on the sectarian fire. Tension on borders with Iran is visibly growing.
The scenario appears this bleak because the political leadership is in total disarray and there is a disconnect between the state and society. Political leadership has no agenda for reforming itself and the state system. The poet Iqbal says, “Nature may look the other way when it comes to individual’s deviation but it never forgives sins of the millat (nation).”
Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs