A bubble called Pakistan

Another elected government is sought to be destabilised. Beneath the noisy political chaos is a country in denial about its loss of direction

Written by Husain Haqqani | Published:August 8, 2014 1:55 am
the military wants Sharif to curb his enthusiasm about normalising ties with India and turn away from Pakistan’s past policy of meddling in Afghanistan’s politics. the military wants Sharif to curb his enthusiasm about normalising ties with India and turn away from Pakistan’s past policy of meddling in Afghanistan’s politics.

Barely 14 months after convincingly winning a general election, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government is being asked to resign amid threats of street protests. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canada-based Sunni cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri plan separate marches on Islamabad on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day. Several politicians and parties known for their close ties to Pakistan’s deep state, the ISI, have announced support for the anti-Sharif protests

Sharif will most likely ride out this first wave of attack. He retains an absolute majority in parliament and, by most accounts, there is no appetite in the country for a military coup. But the protests will weaken Sharif and sap the elected government’s energies, diminishing its effectiveness. That is exactly how the wings of the previous civilian government led by Asif Zardari and Yusuf Raza Gilani were clipped. Then, the judiciary played a critical role in tying up elected leaders in knots though, this time, the judges have yet to get involved.

The military has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half its existence as an independent country. When it can’t govern directly, the military and its intelligence services still want to exert influence, especially over foreign and national security policies. At any given time, there are enough civilian politicians, media personalities or judges willing to do the military’s bidding for this manipulation to persist.

Currently, the military wants Sharif to curb his enthusiasm about normalising ties with India and turn away from Pakistan’s past policy of meddling in Afghanistan’s politics. It also wants an end to the treason trial of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

In the Pakistani military’s worldview, coup-making should not result in a trial for treason. The armed forces represent patriotism, even if their errors result in the loss of half the country’s territory, as happened in 1971 with the loss of Bangladesh. Civilians, on the other hand, can be judged traitors merely for advocating a different path forward for the country.

Ironically, the latest effort to destabilise an elected civilian government is taking place at a time when the Pakistan army is ostensibly waging war against jihadi terrorists in North Waziristan. The chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, has promised that the war will continue until all terrorist groups are eliminated. Usually, war unites political rivals, but there has been no effort by the military and its civilian political allies, or for that matter by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to overcome polarisation.

The current political chaos reminds me of a conversation I had with the then US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, soon after the covert American operation that resulted in discovering and killing Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.

Grossman, who was in Islamabad at the time of the May 1, 2011 operation, described the atmosphere in the Pakistani capital as “surreal”. He told me that he felt Pakistani officials and the rest of the world seemed to exist in “parallel universes”.

The veteran American diplomat noted that instead of realising the need to be apologetic about the world’s most wanted terrorist being found in their country, Pakistanis angrily protested America’s decision to kill bin Laden on Pakistani soil without informing Pakistani authorities.

As Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time, I could not tell Grossman that I agreed with him. But like many Pakistanis who worry about their country’s future, I have often noted my compatriots’ tendency to live in a world all our own.

The rest of the world is clearly concerned about the inadequacy of Pakistan’s efforts in eliminating the jihadis. The spectre of terrorism impacts Pakistan’s economy adversely and makes it difficult for Pakistanis to find jobs or travel abroad. Sri Lanka recently withdrew visa-on-arrival facility from Pakistani citizens, further reducing the number of countries where Pakistanis might travel without a visa.

But these adverse reports barely find mention in Pakistan’s media, which remains preoccupied with the shenanigans of people like Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri. Such is the media noise that Pakistanis are often kept ignorant of how the rest of the world looks at their country and remain confused about considering jihadist terrorism the principal threat to the country’s survival.

Pakistani leaders seem to prefer hyper-nationalist rhetoric and allegations of corruption against their rivals to an honest debate about the country’s loss of direction. Thus, Imran Khan and Qadri are not behaving differently from the way Nawaz Sharif and the lawyers’ movement acted against Zardari in the preceding five years.

Calls for a change of government, even if it is only a few months after its election, serve as a substitute for serious debate about how Pakistan may have lost its direction as a nation. There is virtual denial about real problems like rising extremism, increasing intolerance, widespread violence and the prospect of global isolation.

Denial leads to self-deception. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey recently found that even in Pakistan’s closest ally, China, only 30 per cent of those polled had a positive view of Pakistan. But the poll and its implications were barely discussed in the Pakistani media, which has been focused on the verbal duels between Sharif’s supporters and opponents. Parallel universes indeed!

The writer, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, Washington DC, served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. He is the author, most recently, of ‘Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an epic history of misunderstanding’

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  1. I
    IndianWellWisher
    Aug 8, 2014 at 8:35 pm
    Excellent analysis. Rich stani citizens in army or living in mansions or abroad can afford to live in their romantic world of Islamic republic. What about the vast majority who live in poverty?? Sympathies for the innocent civilians who unnecessarily suffer the most ultimately.
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      A S
      Aug 8, 2014 at 6:34 am
      It may be useful to analyse present situation in stan vs a vs turmoil in most of Muslim world. Does the situation in all most all Muslim countries point out the need for a true secular approach where everybody can practice what they believe in at home but ensure the rights for all. Reforming education system should be the starting point for the reforms.
      Reply
      1. S
        Subhash Bennur
        Aug 20, 2014 at 11:11 pm
        The author also needs o explain as to why stan has not still fallen apart?
        Reply
        1. S
          Subhash Bennur
          Aug 8, 2014 at 10:55 am
          The author also needs to en why stan has still fallen apart?
          Reply
          1. S
            subhash bennur
            Aug 20, 2014 at 12:52 pm
            It is about time that stanis residing in other countries reflect in the columns they write about the unsustainability of stan as a nation , whether at all it is sustainable ever since the parion. Parion politics and its irrelavance in 21st century should be opened up thread bare including its claim on kashmir. When stan cannot look after itself what is the use of asking for kashmir?
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            1. D
              dhiraj kumar
              Aug 8, 2014 at 7:12 pm
              Spade is a spade. He has correctly articulated the problems of stan politics
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                Kirpal
                Aug 20, 2014 at 11:22 pm
                stan appears to be a very desperate nation. At the time of creation of Bangladesh it did not have nuclear option. Now they have. India should be very very careful as stan can do any misadventure if stan bubble bursts. This is a question of safety and security of more than one billion potion.
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                1. T
                  Tellitasitis
                  Aug 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm
                  It is refreshing to see a frank admission from a stani how the country is losing its way. Wish there more like Mr Haqqani in stan and in power to din some sense that its present ways will lead them nowhere.
                  Reply
                  1. J
                    jey emm
                    Aug 8, 2014 at 5:35 am
                    Good article indeed. People from stan need to grow up from their religious obsession and work towards building the nation. Sane voices like this will certainly help.
                    Reply
                    1. M
                      Malladi
                      Aug 20, 2014 at 11:27 am
                      A typical mind that sees conspiracy in everything. Instead, as suggested by Haqqani, please debate about the loss of direction of the country brother. That will do the country a world of good. As regards your query why OBL could not be found all these years - the answer is simple: because of the complicity of stan Army and ISI.
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                      1. Z
                        Zahoor Motiwala
                        Aug 12, 2014 at 6:39 am
                        As regard Grossman's comments: DID the CIA apologize to the American citizens that despite being the premier spy agency that snoops the world with their hightech gadgetry, why could they not locate OBL in all these years?OBL, Al Qaeda, 9/11, OBL's capture and than the dumping of his body in the ocean are all part of a huge conspiracy that will only unfold with time -if ever!
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                        1. Z
                          Zahoor Motiwala
                          Aug 12, 2014 at 6:34 am
                          How many ex-Ambadors live abroad and speak ill of their own country? Even when he was Ambador, he was considered unpatriotic by the majority. He is blamed to have issued visa to the XE's and Blackwaters of the world -including the likes of the CIA operative Raymond Davis- who murdered two people in the streets of La.There are many patriotic stanis who still live here despite threats to their lives. Many stanis love to hate him.
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                            Neha Poddar
                            Aug 20, 2014 at 9:02 pm
                            stan is in a self destruct mode and it will surely implode in the coming years. It's just a matter of time. There is a complete disconnect of democratic norms and the role of ISI and stani military. The snakes that they grew to hurt others are now hurting them internally. It's unfortunate that the good people of stan cannot get good governance. It's similar to having a grown up brother who has become a loser in life and the rest of the family has to deal with his problems.
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                              Ravi Ponappa
                              Aug 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm
                              If the US & stan Army want Sharif to hang-on, then so will it be; but does Sharif want himself to be seen that way or do stanis want Sharif to complete his term and compete again. Meanwhile the Opposition should prepare itself for it's place in the next elections by winning the hearts of the electorate in all consuencies.
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                                Ravi Ranjan
                                Aug 21, 2014 at 3:42 am
                                Any civilian government in stan will be on sticky ground unless it shares popwer with the army.Shari has to be subservient to t eh generals.
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                                1. R
                                  roger
                                  Aug 20, 2014 at 11:34 pm
                                  a flashpoint called stan
                                  Reply
                                  1. C
                                    Chris Savage
                                    Aug 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm
                                    Badly written article. Such a waste of time !
                                    Reply
                                    1. H
                                      harry
                                      Aug 8, 2014 at 8:46 am
                                      ''He told me that he felt stani officials and the rest of the world seemed to exist in “parallel universes”. Not unusual. Some stanis who comment on these pages, seem to live on another planet.
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                                        NLS
                                        Aug 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm
                                        Bold commentary. I wonder if this author can travel freely to stan if he ever wished to!
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                                          NLS
                                          Aug 8, 2014 at 7:54 pm
                                          There you go. If he is someone who is boldly criticizing the military and media in stan, he would be proclaimed an offender, wouldn't he? Good for him that he escaped to America from a living called stan.
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                                            Zaheer
                                            Aug 8, 2014 at 9:19 am
                                            Ha ha. Indian Express could not find anyone else to write about stan other than someone who is a proclaimed offender and wanted in stan.
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