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The making of the Kargil disaster II

The Kashmir Monitor




By Nasim Zehra

The next morning, 12 hours after the top military command had briefed him on Op KP, the prime minister summoned key cabinet members to the PM House. Sharif chaired the meeting, which was attended by Sartaj Aziz, Gen. (r) Majeed Malik, Minister for Religious Affairs Raja Zafarul Haq, Minister for Information Mushahid Hussain and the defense secretary. The defence secretary registered his concerns, warning that escalation would be inevitable and the “Indians would not take it lying down.”


Gen Iftikhar complained that, without consulting anyone or taking any one in confidence, a “few paper tigers” had started the Kargil adventure. The foreign minister also reported that his ministry was getting panic calls from their missions abroad. Aziz complained that his ministry had no clue about this operation. Malik protested that he was Minister for Kashmir Affairs and he was shocked that he had not been taken into confidence. After hearing these outpourings, the prime minister contacted the army chief.


The army chief arrived at the PM House within an hour. There were only three people present at the time of this crucial moment of the Kargil crisis: the PM, the defence secretary, and the army chief. The PM asked Musharraf, “Did you cross the LoC?” Musharraf responded, “Yes, sir, I did.” “And on whose authority?” queried the prime minister. The army chief was quick to respond, “On my own responsibility and if you now order, sir, I will order the troops’ withdrawal.”


Nawaz Sharif turned to his defence secretary and said, “Did you see? He has accepted his responsibility!” Sharif, perhaps visualising himself as the ‘liberator’ of Kashmir, added, “Since the army is part of the government, from today onwards we will support the army.” After this rather brief meeting, the army was to get the complete support of the country’s leadership.


The public message at this stage from all stakeholders, in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and abroad, was identical: the international community must rein in India. The same day, the prime minister said Pakistan was committed to dialogue with India. On May 19, the COAS Gen Pervez Musharraf said Indian violations of the LoC would be taken seriously. On May 20, in Baku, at the Council of Ministers Conference, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Siddiq Kanju, asked the world community to help resolve Kashmir. On May 21, Pakistan’s newly-appointed ambassador to France, Shahryar Khan, assured his hosts that Pakistan was involved in “serious talks” with India.


Meanwhile, on the policy front, the prime minister, aided by his key advisers, made important decisions. After the May 17 meeting, at an informal huddle between the prime minister and his trusted men, Shahbaz Sharif, Gen Iftikhar and Chaudhry Nisar, the decision was taken to support the army. The three said that Nawaz Sharif should institutionalise the issue and bring it to the DCC. Several formal meetings were subsequently held. The informal consultations with his trusted men also continued. On May 23, a highlevel meeting was held between the prime minister, the COAS and the CGS to discuss Kargil.


In fact, once the cover blew from Op KP, the government sought regular military updates from the Kargil clique. The Kargil planners, too, were keen for a political buying to Op KP. The GHQ organised briefings for the president, senators and parliamentarians, which included special prayer sessions for the success of the operation. At one of the prayer sessions at the ISI headquarters, led by the CGS Gen. Aziz, the Minister for the Interior Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain was also present.


Stunned at Hotel Scheherazade

The prime minister sought an assessment of the situation from his senior diplomatic team before the Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) meeting scheduled for the end of May. Accordingly, Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz convened a high-level meeting at the Foreign Office, formerly the grand hotel Scheherazade, to discuss the military and diplomatic developments. The participants of the May 23 meeting included senior Pakistan Muslim League leader Raja Zafarul Haq, Minister for Petroleum Chaudhry Nisar, Secretary Defence Lt. Gen. Iftikhar Ali Khan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Siddiq Kanju, Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad Khan, Additional Secretary Prime Minister’s Secretariat Tariq Fatemi, Additional Secretary UN Riaz Mohammad Khan, COAS Gen Pervez Musharraf, CGS Lt. Gen Aziz, DirectorGeneral ISI Lt. Gen Ziauddin, Commander 10 Corps Lt. Gen Mahmud, deputy Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Aliuddin, and Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Abdul Aziz Mirza.


The briefing was given by Gen Aziz. Aziz said we did this to interdict the Siachen road, thereby forcing India to solve the Kashmir issue. Most of the civilian participants realised the scale of Op KP for the first time. They asked probing questions regarding the objectives of the operation. The army chief was asked about the objectives of Op KP and Pakistan military’s ability to retain the territory occupied across the LoC. The confident army chief’s response was, “We can defend every inch of our own territory and we are firmly entrenched in the positions we are holding in Kargil.”


There were many critics of the operation. For example, many questions came from Majeed Malik, who had himself commanded this area as a corps commander and, earlier on, as division commander. He said that, if Pakistan had to interdict this road, it could have been done from lower heights instead of taking our troops to the Kargil peaks, where the weather would be their worst enemy. Malik pointed especially to the difficulty of maintaining supply lines for the troops. The worried elderly Raja Zafarul Haq nearly reprimanded the Kargil planners for not taking others in the government into confidence if their objective were to highlight the Kashmir issue. All future action must now follow proper consultation, he emphasised.


The consensus among senior navy and air force officers was that opening of new fronts by India could not be ruled out. They asked why they had not been consulted earlier since any defence plan in case of Indian retaliation had to be an integrated armed forces defense plan. Criticism kept piling up. The deputy air chief also wondered, “After all, what will we achieve from all this?” CGS Aziz’s response was that, by applying pressure on the main supply artery NH1, India would be forced to the negotiating table on Kashmir.


Senior Foreign Office officials in the meeting warned that this operation would be indefensible on global forums. Additional Secretary UN Riaz Mohammad Khan categorically stated, “If it comes to the UNSC [UN Security Council], our position will be undercut.” The Chinese along with other UNSC members would simply ask Pakistan to respect the LoC and vacate the areas occupied across the LoC in Indian Occupied Kashmir, he told those gathered. Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad expressed concern regarding the possible expansion of the conflict and told the participants, “I cannot guarantee that India will not attack on the international borders.” The foreign secretary cautioned the army against repeating the miscalculation made prior to the 1965 Operation Gibraltar, when the key military and civilian officials had guaranteed that India would not retaliate across the international border. The confident army chief dispelled these concerns and maintained, “We can defend every inch of our territory.” Discussions bordered on being polemical rather than strategic. One of the generals asserted, “Whatever we may say here, our animosity with India is eternal.”


Those diplomats with an institutional memory of Kashmir questioned if the Op KP-related discussion could actually help to highlight Kashmir at the UN. Seasoned diplomat Riaz Mohammad Khan pointedly said, “If it is brought to the UN, our position will be undermined.” There had already been discussion within the international community about undermining the sanctity of the LoC. In 1965 and in 1971, when the Kashmir case was taken to the UNSC for discussion, the decision on both occasions was on the ceasefire and not on the Kashmir issue. In the case of Kargil too, had the matter been taken to the UNSC, it would have called for withdrawal and led to the further strengthening of the LoC. The army insisted that the line was fuzzy and in some places the Mujahideen were also involved in the fighting. When asked by one of the foreign office officials how the Mujahideen could fight so valiantly against the wellequipped Indian army, the army spokesperson Rashid Qureshi said, “Because the Indians from the plains are not acclimatised and they die!”


At the conclusion of the meeting, the three ministers — Sartaj Aziz, Majeed Malik and Raja Zafarul Haq — held a postmortem of the DCC meeting in Sartaj Aziz’s office. There prevailed a feeling among these experienced men that the operation was likely to cause serious military and diplomatic problems. Yet, sudden withdrawal, leading to high casualties, was not an option. Indeed, with the army already claiming it a success, who would bell the cat of asking the Kargil clique to withdraw? Nevertheless, Zafarul Haq believed the deficiencies in Op KP had to be addressed. The planners would interpret recommendations regarding the operation as a signal to continue. The civilian government may be held responsible in case Op KP failed. What followed could also be an army takeover.


The three senior ministers then shared their concerns and conclusions with the prime minister, who agreed with them on the need to take the navy and air force on board in all future discussions on Op KP.


Whose war is it anyway?

Around this time, Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (MI) also got active. Its Director-General, Major Gen Ehsanul Haq, invited the military attachés of Western countries to GHQ for a briefing on Op KP. The DG MI and the DGMO conducted the briefing followed by a question-and-answer session. The defence attachés left the briefing with the understanding that these senior Pakistani military officials had acknowledged that Pakistani troops were involved and it was not a Mujahideen operation. The Western military attachés, including the American and the British, reported back to their embassies and subsequently to their headquarters that fighting was actually taking place on the Indian side of the LoC. Publicly, however, Islamabad still maintained that only the Mujahideen were involved. The media, based on Western embassy backgrounders, reported that the DG MI had acknowledged that there were Pakistani troops across in the Indian side of the LoC. Interestingly at this time, Islamabad’s own diplomats, stationed even at the headquarters, were groping in the dark for information about the reported flareup along the LoC.


After the MI briefing, the US military attaché in the embassy informed his ambassador William Milam that fighting was going on on the Indian side of LoC. The American information until then was that it was a group of Mujahideen. The military attaché had attended the briefing at the GHQ given by the DG MI and the DGMO. Following the briefing, the attaches snooped around for more information. The military attaché met his counterpart while the political attaché met with retired military officers. With confirmation that Pakistani troops had crossed the LoC, the “really excited US diplomats” told Washington about it. The US State Department responded by issuing its first statement, calling upon Pakistan to withdraw its troops.


This statement prompted the Additional Secretary of the Foreign Office Tariq Altaf to call in Ambassador Milam and ask why Washington had accused Pakistan of fighting across the LoC. The US ambassador informed him that it was the Pakistan Army itself who had given them this information. Upon hearing Milam’s response, it seemed that “Altaf had been kicked and his face fell”, according to US ambassador Milam himself.


Following the AltafMilam exchange, Foreign Minister Aziz called the DG MI and complained about the faux pas he had committed. The MI chief said he had been misquoted. Nevertheless, the stories of the defense attaché regarding Pakistani troop presence remained in circulation.


Clueless cabinet

Towards the end of May, the prime minister decided to take his cabinet into confidence on Op Kp. He convened a cabinet meeting at which the DirectorGeneral ISI Lt. General Ziauddin Butt was to present a briefing. Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad and Defence Secretary Iftikhar were also present. Although in his private meetings with the prime minister the DG ISI was critical about Op KP, at this cabinet meeting he presented broad details of the operation. He talked of the freedom fighters and held that the operation was progressing satisfactorily. The intelligence chief, however, opted to not share his own assessment of the operation. Similarly, the foreign secretary, who had expressed some reservations about Op KP at earlier meetings, at this cabinet meeting opted to pick no holes. He gave no hint of the operation being a potential source of any diplomatic disadvantage for Pakistan, and, instead, indicated that some benefit could be derived from it.


A barrage of hard questions followed Butt’s briefing. The majority present, however, was pleased with the progress reported on Op KP. The Minister for Water and Power Gohar Ayub praised the army for doing a “great job” and advocated support for the operation. Minister of Culture, Sports, Tourism and Youth Affairs Sheikh Rashid Ahmad also praised the army, while the minister for religious affairs said, “The time is now ripe for jihad.” There were also critics of Op KP. These included Minister for Communications Raja Nadir Pervez and Minister for Health Makhdoom Javed Hashmi.


The most vocal critic, however, was the secretary of defence. The retired general spoke for about 20 minutes, warning that Op KP would either end in all-out war or a total military disaster for Pakistan. … Implying that the army command had launched Op KP without clearance from the government, the defence secretary emphasised that the army was not an independent body and had to take orders from the government. He was also critical of placing jihad as the central element in Pakistan’s defence structure. He wondered, “Why have we after 52 years realised the importance of jihad?” The defence secretary’s brother, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, also raised hard questions. The thrust of Nisar’s remarks was that based on his information, Pakistan was heading for a military disaster in Kargil-Drass. “Who had ordered the operation?” the minister rhetorically asked the military presenters. Nevertheless, Nisar’s caution was against an operation already underway.


Some altercation among powerful men ensued. Reacting to the defence secretary’s presentation, the visibly distraught Gohar Ayub asked why the defence secretary was opposing the plan of the army chief. Sheikh Rashid also queried why the defence secretary was revealing “secrets.” … The prime minister called the meeting to an end. He was now facing a divided house within and mounting pressures from the outside. The Kargil planners, meanwhile, saw no reason to pay heed to any concerns expressed in the cabinet meeting.




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Reconsidering democracy

The Kashmir Monitor



By Tahir Kamran

Critics of democracy in the Muslim South Asian ethos often invoke Allama Iqbal’s famous verses as an example of how it is a Western system imposed on the East (read Muslim society) by Western colonisers. The lines in rough translation are: “democracy is a system of government in which the subjects are counted, not weighed.”
I am not sure about how much scholars of political theory have investigated the role that regional context plays in the nurturing of democracy in general. Such questions of extraordinary import fall within the purview of political theory, which hardly fascinates Pakistani academics, particularly those dealing in Social Sciences. Thus, profound queries like mal-adjustment of democracy with our (read Asian in general) socio-cultural milieu should be addressed in a systematic manner with scholarly intent and rigour.
Democracy’s widely pervasive connotation designates it as a Western phenomenon, having been imposed on the countries and terrains of the Afro-Asian hemisphere by former colonisers. Many analysts, particularly the ones on the liberal side of the academic spectrum, tend to rubbish such a perception as clichéd, and contend that democracy as a Western construct was an argument propagated by dictators like Ayub Khan and ZiaulHaq to legitimise their rule. Both these military rulers contended that democracy is a Western system of governance which, as Ayub Khan once put it, is not consistent with the “genius of Pakistani people”.
To my understanding, pleading the universality of the Western version of democracy is a perception that is far too simplistic. Such Eurocentric notions skirt around the fundamental issue of the impact that socio-cultural imperatives cast on political realities. Underlining the fact that democracy was conceived, nurtured and evolved in the West and introduced in much of Asia and Africa through colonial regimes — and therefore is not congruent with the political traditions of the indigenous polities — may ring true but not entirely. The political elite engineered during the modern era, and unleashed by colonial rulers, was well-conversant with Western democratic norms and ideals. Leaders like M.A. Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru did not subscribe to the political tradition that had a monarch as the fountainhead of government.
Thus, the indigenous leadership was confronted by a duality: these leaders represented modernity in a socio-cultural milieu that had its roots in centuries-old indigeneity.
Most of the nation-states in Asia won their independence because of political action orchestrated and steered by such leaders, anchored in modernity, but with a very strong cultural reference. Nehru’s Discovery of India is a case in point. Similarly, Jinnah invoked a tradition steeped in religious episteme to achieve his goal, the nation-state of Pakistan, which was obviously a modernist project.
Both of these leaders reposed a firm belief in democratic order. But so far as its functioning was concerned, democracy in these countries reconfigured itself. It was markedly different from the Western prototype. The personal charisma of a leader, dynastic politics, and political patronage are the cardinal features of democratic politics in Asia.
Because of these reasons, democratic institutions have not evolved in the region. Institutional development is inimical to the sort of perpetuation that leaders tend to seek in Asian countries. Be it India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, the pattern is almost the same. Political parties, their agenda and objectives revolve around the whims of the parties’ charismatic leaders. With a strong leader at the head, political parties fail to practice democracy among their own ranks. Thus, the political parties in Asian polities are devoid of evolutionary dynamism. It is primarily the reason for the phenomenon which, according to Saeed Shafqat, is represented in economic development coupled with political underdevelopment. China, Singapore, and even Malaysia and Vietnam are living examples of that pattern.
More so, in Asian polities, development — whether social or physical — is not contingent on the democratic system per se. Even if democracy is practised in these countries, social and cultural development hardly corresponds with the democratic system. Generally, arbitrary and autocratic decision-making determines the direction of the social movement there. Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore or even Jawaharlal Nehru in India exerted their personal will to galvanise the social collective self of their respective countries in the direction they had determined to follow.
One may argue here with a measure of certainty that all the feats of development advocated by those countries could not have been achieved had Lee Kuan and Nehru opted for democratic means for the realisation of social advancement. It was the personalised rule of Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Mahathir Muhammad that helped their respective polities to enter in the league of developed nations. One may add Tayyip Erdogan from Turkey in this list too. Erdogan is fast moving from democracy to an autocratic order. One must not lose sight of Kemal Ataturk’s autocratic rule disguised in a democratic garb.
Japan, despite having embraced a democratic system for many decades, has not been able to come to terms with its socio-cultural imperatives. Japan’s phenomenal development in the 1970s and ’80s can be attributed to the innovative instinct of the Japanese people, which had been consistently articulated since the days of the Meiji revolution. More importantly, Japan was absolved of its responsibility towards its own defence and was overseen by the United States after the Second World War. Those imperatives allowed Japan to invest all its energy and resources in technological advancement, and its technological progress stunned the world in the 1970s.
This growth did not happen due to democracy. The same holds for India. Despite having a leader of immense stature like Nehru at the helm for no less than 17 years, the democratic experience was slightly more than a cosmetic one. It boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, but supposedly liberal values have failed to unhinge the caste system that ensures Brahman supremacy in Indian society. Now the curse of Hindutva has overtaken the country. How democracy and Hindutva can be reconciled, and how they can allow each other to exist are phenomena yet to be seen.
While it might seem that this article is building a case against democracy as a system incongruent with the political make-up of the Asian people, I vehemently believe in democracy as the best system. What I am pleading here is that we must review the democratic norms being practised in Asian polities, so that we may come up with a new political synthesis whereby the socio-cultural tradition and democratic ethos are conjoined and made into a workable proposition.
I leave it to my readers to ponder over this question, which I think is integral to any future course that democracy in Pakistan must take.

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Is Congress pro-Muslim?

The Kashmir Monitor



By Zakia Soman

We are witnessing manoeuvres by different political parties in the run-up to the 2019 general election. Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s recent meeting with eminent Muslims is one such measure. The Congress needs to rethink its politics not for the sake of Muslims but to salvage its own image as a party committed to constitutional principles of pluralism, secularism and social justice. By doing this, it would be reminding all Indians about the original Indian National Congress’s commitment to ideals of justice, equality and democracy. It will have to do a lot more if it is serious about enabling genuine participation of Muslims.
The Congress responded to the BJP’s criticism by clarifying that it is not a pro-Muslim party. Political point-scoring apart, Muslims themselves are under no such illusion. This is made evident by Muslim voters’ increasing preference for regional parties such as the SP, BSP, TMC, RJD and others in different states. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Indian Muslims have consistently become poor and marginalised socially and politically under Congress rule. They were already in a miserable condition when the BJP came to power in 2014. The Hindutva onslaught has aggravated their plight.
The Census figures suggest that Muslims have consistently slided into backwardness and poverty since independence. In recent times, the Sachar Committee (constituted by the UPA government in 2005) found that Muslims live in poverty, with low education levels, without formal jobs, without access to government facilities on credit and without healthcare provisions in ghettos. It found that only four in 100 Muslims are graduates and merely 13 per cent of Muslims hold salaried jobs. The report highlighted that Muslims live with a sense of alienation under a perception of fear and insecurity from communal riots. The Congress was prompt in constituting the Sachar Committee to assess the condition of Muslims soon after forming the government at the Centre in 2004. But it totally reneged on implementing the recommendations for alleviating the condition of Muslims. A number of reports suggest that there were no efforts during the UPA’s 10-year rule towards the inclusion of Muslims in educational, economic, health and housing programmes. It is an irony that the Gopal Singh Committee, constituted in 1983 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had found much the same problems that Sachar panel identified as pulling down the community. There seems to be a pattern here — the focus is on the optics and not genuine inclusion.
It is ironical that some of the Congress actions have given rise to the bogey of Muslim appeasement, whereas in reality Muslims have come to be amongst the poorest and most marginalised socio-religious communities. Besides, India has witnessed communal riots with an alarming consistency. Large sections of Muslims have borne the brunt of communal riots through the 1980s and 1990s — Aligarh, Moradabad, Meerut, Bhagalpur, Nellie, Ahmedabad, Bhiwandi, Surat, Bombay, the list is long. Reports by various inquiry commissions indicate how Muslims suffered huge loss of lives and property during these riots. Besides, there was no legal justice in most cases.
Demonisation of Muslims as terrorists began globally in the wake of the war on terror following the 9/11 attacks. It arrived in India when several Muslims were falsely picked up and incarcerated as terrorists following bomb blasts in Ajmer, Malegaon, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad. Most of them have been acquitted by various high courts and the Supreme Court as they were found innocent. These wrongful arrests happened under the watch of the Congress. This can hardly be called appeasement.
On the one hand, the Congress gave no special attention to the participation of Muslims in various government schemes for the poor. On the other hand, it provided leverage to the BJP by allying with the conservative patriarchal elements during the Shah Bano controversy in 1986. This classical Congress behaviour continues till date over the issue of triple talaq. Nobody knows what its stand on triple talaq is. Like Muslim conservatives, it has failed to see the writing on the wall about the changing aspirations of the community. The Congress has totally overlooked the Muslim women’s movement for gender justice. It is of no consequence to the party that its politics undermines the efforts of those engaged in reform within the community. The Congress doesn’t care that its politics reinforces the regressive patriarchal stranglehold over ordinary Muslims. Several Muslims feel that it suits the Congress to keep Muslims in wretched conditions. But its so-called Muslim faces continue to be persons with no ground-level perspective. Even under its new president, the party has failed to see the tremendous support received by Muslim women from the Indian public. Or perhaps, the party president will begin supporting the Muslim women’s movement after a decade or so, just as it has taken so many years now for him to visit temples. One wonders why the Congress has failed to understand that like all Indians, Muslims too are changing. Why does it fail to understand that like all Indians, Muslims too have aspirations for a better life?
The Congress does not have to be pro-Muslim to regain its lost ground. Nor does it have to be a B-team of the BJP. Its policies towards Muslims or Dalits or the poor should be guided by the democratic principles of inclusion laid down in the Constitution. It needs to adhere to its founding principles with honesty, courage of conviction and consistency.

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Pak army has picked the wrong fight




Nawaz Sharif – dodgy businessman, convicted criminal, and thrice Prime Minister of Pakistan – showed Friday, in his triumphant return to Pakistan, that he remains by far the country’s most popular politician. Infuriatingly, he also represents Pakistan’s best chance at becoming a “normal” country anytime soon. As he fights what looks very much like an attempt by the military to decide the next election, the rest of us should hope he succeeds.
True, neither Sharif nor the army are actually running. The generals don’t need to get directly involved in the vote, to be held in under a fortnight. Their long history of using proxies in Afghanistan and in India seems to have convinced them they can simply do the same in domestic politics – in this case, through ex-cricketer Imran Khan, whose 20-year quest to become prime minister may be within days of being fulfilled.
As for Sharif, he’s not allowed to take part. The military dictator Mohammad Zia Ul-Haq, who ruled Pakistan in the 1980s, had as part of his Islamization process inserted a clause into the constitution demanding that all legislators be “honest and righteous.” In April, five judges of the Supreme Court decided that a three-time prime minister on the brink of reelection was, in fact, the only person in history worth disqualifying for life under the clause.
In addition, a court recently sentenced Sharif – from a family of wealthy industrialists – to 10 years in jail for not convincingly explaining his purchase, decades ago, of some expensive apartments in London. (The Pakistani establishment, when it decides to get rid of someone, doesn’t hold back.) Sharif was, in fact, in London at the time, visiting his ailing wife; many expected that he would stay in exile. Instead, he decided to fly back. He landed in Lahore on Friday as demonstrators loyal to his party were tear-gassed in the city. Sharif and his daughter were sent straight to jail near Rawalpindi, the seat of army headquarters.
Sharif – who served his political apprenticeship under Zia – is an unlikely vehicle for liberals’ aspirations, and not just because his party killed a white tiger during its campaign in 2013. For one, his Pakistan Muslim League has had a history of coddling religious fundamentalists. And not all accusations of corruption against his family are part of the military’s attempt to discredit Sharif, although many are.
Still, we must hope that he wins his battle with the army and the intelligence agencies seeking to control Pakistan. Sharif will never trust a military establishment that has never allowed him to complete a term in office. As for the military, they see Sharif’s attempts to foster a private sector-led economy as a genuine threat to their vast, entrenched interests. The military needs Pakistan to stay poor, stay dependent and stay angry. Sharif threatens that vision.
Many will argue that Sharif’s personal popularity is irrelevant; the rule of law and respect for institutions requires that he be shunted quietly into prison. Frankly, though, that’s a laughable argument in the Pakistani context. If anything, recent Pakistani history shows how easy it is to turn democratic institutions – the media, the courts, anti-corruption agencies – against true liberal democracy.
Elections aren’t free if they aren’t fair. And Pakistan’s election has been anything but fair. Shahbaz Sharif, brother to Nawaz and the chief minister of Pakistan’s largest province, described the military-backed caretaker government’s conduct of elections as “naked rigging.” League workers have been arrested en masse. Twitter is filled with testimony from those who claim to have seen the authorities tear down the party’s campaign material while leaving Khan’s in place. Candidates have been intimidated. Khan’s opponents are denied permission for rallies.
The media environment is also anything but free. Pakistan’s most respected newspaper has had its circulation informally curtailed, leading its owner to write in the Washington Post of an “unprecedented assault” on the freedom of the press. Military officials have openly identified individual journalists as threats to national security; others have been kidnapped and assaulted.
Self-censorship, out of fear, is now the norm. The country’s most watched cable network, Geo, was forced off air after cable operators received calls telling them to cut off the station. When asked by whom, one operator told Reuters: “I can’t say the name, you know, Big Brother, the boots.” Geo stayed off air till it promised to change its political coverage. In a deal with the military, Geo reportedly agreed to be more supportive of the “establishment” and the Supreme Court, and to attack Sharif.
If, after all this, Khan wins the election, it’s hard to imagine his government will be seen as legitimate. Another administration suffering a crisis of credibility is the last thing Pakistan needs. The army may still be Pakistan’s most respected institution. But I suspect that, in years to come, the generals will rue their decision to take on Sharif. – Bloomberg Opinion

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