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Pakistan: Is A Military Coup in the Offing?

Paper No. 5751                                       Dated 25-Jul-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan’s polity was shell-shocked by claims by PPP Senior Leader and Deputy Speaker of Sindh Assembly in a TV interview that former President Zardari’s visit to USA was to remind USA of its commitments that no Martial Law would be imposed for the next 15 years.

The PPP senior leader asserted that this was underwritten by the United States, Britain and the UAE when in 2007 President Musharraf was prevailed upon to issue the National Reconciliation Ordinance, later struck down by the Supreme Court.

Intriguingly, at the same time now Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on a visit to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly for religious visit, but also having high-level discussions with Saudi dignitaries. Pakistani media reports suggest that the Pakistani PM wanted the Saudis to intercede to make the ISI relations with the Government better.

President Zardari’s visit to Washington has been accorded top-most protocol both by the American establishment and the Pakistan Embassy. The highlight was discussions with US Vice President Biden at an Iftar party at the residence of former Pakistani Ambassador at large in Washington.

Intriguingly again, reports suggest that besides discussions on Pakistan’s political scene, discussions also focussed on Pakistan Army’s ongoing military operations in North Waziristan. It is hard to speculate as to why the US Vice President accorded importance to President Zardari for discussions on Pakistan Army’s ongoing military operations. Is this because in United States assessments President Zardari has had better relations with the Pakistan Army or that reassessments may be underway in US thinking that the Pakistan Army may attempt easing out PM Nawaz Sharif and that a US-Backed PPP government would be put into place as replacement to mollify the Pakistan Army and yet the United States can live upto its guarantee of 15 years of democracy in Pakistan.

In this wake, questions are being asked within Pakistan whether this amounts to licence to Pakistan Army to resort to military coups in Pakistan after 15 years and has Pakistani self-respect gone so low as that external guarantees are required for sustainable democracy in Pakistan?

The PPP top establishment has reacted to refute the claims of US guarantees of 15 years of democratic rule in Pakistan because it would not like to be perceived in Pakistani political circles as seeking US intervention in Pakistan’s political affairs.

Be as it may, the other strong evidence forthcoming about Zardari’s visit to USA is that while as per original plan he was supposed to return to Pakistan for Eid, Zardari has now extended his visit for more discussions with US leaders.

Watching Pakistan Army for years, one lately has been having a gut feeling that something is amiss in Pakistan between the Pakistan Army and the Nawaz Sharif Government. This basically centres around one of the guarantees in the NRO which implied ‘safe exit’ for General Musharraf which he had but chose to gamble it away by return to Pakistan to contest elections

In its wake the Pakistan Army had chafed at the way the Pakistani Courts have handled his cases and the restrictions placed on him. The Pakistan Army felt that the Pakistani Premier should have intervened administratively to get Musharraf off the hook and resented that a former Pakistan Army Chief should be made a subject of ordinary legal processes.

Prime Minister Sharif had cleverly washed his hands off the Musharraf cases by leaving him to the mercy of Pakistan’s legal processes fully aware that neither the Supreme Court of Pakistan nor the subordinate judiciary was well disposed towards the former Pakistani military dictator.

In response or not, the Pakistan Army Chief sought to sabotage the Pakistani Prime Minister’s outreach to the Pakistani Talban by initiating military operations in North Waziristan. It is not a hidden fact in Pakistan that the Pakistan Army Chief and the Pakistani Prime Minister are not on the same page on the strategy to deal with the Taliban threat.

In Pakistan there is a feeling that Pakistan Army’s operations may push Taliban cadres to reach out to the ISIS in Iraq and reappear in Pakistan’s heartland very much in the manner of the Al Qaeda. In fact the possible Taliban backlash in Punjab’s urban areas held back previous Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani from launching military operations in North Waziristan in 2009.

Reverting back to the main issue of whether a military coup in Pakistan is in the offing, three factors come to the fore in weighing up the likelihood and these would be namely, ‘the government in power, the opposition on the streets and the Pakistan military’ as one astute Pakistani observer has noted. This needs a separate analysis because there is a fourth factor and that is the role of external actors like United States and Saudi Arabia.

The same Pakistani analyst has also noted that “Pakistan is passing through the worst time of instability in bloodshed and political dissent”

With such a state of turmoil in Pakistan can a military coup in Pakistan be far behind. As someone within Pakistan has analysed that while ‘the present government may not be on its way out but something is definitely in the offing.”  

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