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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 26, June 15, 2013

Pakistan: Nawaz May Use Carrot and Stick Policy

Saturday 15 June 2013, by Mahendra Ved

The beauty of Pakistan’s fledgling democracy, reinforced by last month’s election, is that no Army General who seized power has returned to it after quitting.

Pervez Musharraf’s attempt is now part of the ‘if’ and ‘buts’ of politics since it ended in his detention and a likely return to exile.

But a politician has repeatedly done so. Benazir Bhutto did two terms and Mian Mohammed Nawaz Sharif started his third this week, a good decade-plus after he was removed by Musharraf.

Saying this is not belittling the military that has come to be part of the power structure and is likely to remain the ultimate decider and arbiter on every crucial issue.

Nor can one pass a verdict on the strength, buoyancy, or even longevity of civilian rule. Past records warn against any generalisation, any prediction.

But it needs recording that people voted in large numbers—an unprecedented 60 per cent —braving threats and violence organised by the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to keep them from voting.

This is an important development that has been welcomed by the democratic world. Nawaz leads a major Islamic nation with nuclear weapons.

Although there is a tilt to the political Right, the election has shown that Pakistanis are a moderate people who desire peace and want to live in a modern environment.

However, the spectre of militancy is not going away any time soon. Pakistan is perceived as a failing state where extremist forces are gaining strength.

They are attacking government establishments, including military installations with impunity. Its territory is being used to train, arm and export militants to its immediate neighbourhood and beyond, with suspected complicity of state agencies. Besides threatening its own socio-economic fabric, militancy impacts the secular polities in South and Central Asia. China, Pakistan’s strategic partner, is also concerned about extremist activity in Xinjiang from Pakistan’s safe havens.

Nawaz has to work hard to remove that perception.

However, the political platforms of both Nawaz and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, although they are rivals, are identical, catering to the conservative classes.

The disquieting aspect about Nawaz’s PML (N) is its long-standing links with radical groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipah-e-Sihaba. The TTP did not, tellingly, target electioneering by Nawaz’s party and that of Imran Khan.

Nawaz’s victory at the federal level and that of Imran in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) give a big boost to both the TTP and their allies, the Afghan Taliban, who are operating from safe havens in Quetta, Balo-chistan.

Both Nawaz and Imran are for a dialogue with the Taliban at home and the new Prime Minister has already reached out to a key Islamic leader close to them, Maulana Samiul Haq.

This has been seen as appeasement, with long term consequences, by some Pakistani analysts who point out that none of the dozen-odd deals has worked in the past. The Army, that is the TTP’s principal target, too, would have reservations.

Indeed, Nawaz has to work out his equation with the Army. Otherwise, his mutually suspicious relations with the military will limit his capacity to do what he wants in the security and foreign policy domains.

The pro-Taliban flavour in the incoming dispensation is also anti-US.

And although Pakistan needs Western economic aid to keep its fledgling economy afloat, the US and its NATO allies need Pakistan even more to work out a settlement of sorts and withdraw their forces from neighbouring Afghanistan.

Given the geo-political factors operating in the region, Pakistan’s internal political develop-ments directly impact the future of Afghanistan, particularly after the NATO forces withdraw from the country at the end of next year.

Both sides are making their moves. As if rejecting Nawaz’s demand that the US “review” its policy of deploying drones on Pakistan’s tribal areas where many innocents are killed, the US resumed the attack, reportedly killing Waliur Rahman, TTP’s number two and chief military operative.

The real opposition to the US’ plans comes, not so much from the home-grown Nawaz, but from the Oxford-educated Imran.

He garnered the anti-American sentiment, heightened with each drone attack, and turned it into popular vote.

He is unlikely to jettison his support base and will oppose any move of Nawaz that appears conciliatory to the US.

Militancy is the single biggest threat and Nawaz knows it. A pragmatic, he is likely to employ the classical carrot-and-stick policy. The “carrot” would keep the Taliban engaged and Imran happy, while the “stick” would keep the Army and Americans happy.

Whether that will work remains to be seen.

This being the likely scenario, the question is: would the US deal with a democrat Nawaz or strike a deal with the Generals in Rawalpindi? It has preferred the Generals many a time in the past.

This is as much a challenge to President Obama as to Sharif.

Pakistan is perceived as a failing state where extremist forces are gaining strength. The new Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has to work hard to remove this perception.

The author, a close observer of the Afghan scenario, is a senior journalist who worked first in the UNI news agency and then in several publications including The Times of India. He was also posted in Dhaka as a correspondent of UNI soon after Bangladesh’s liberation in December 1971.

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