In spite of all the indications of severe cracks in the civil-military relations, Pakistan may not have a coup simply because the army does not want it in the near future
Grave scenarios are being visualised in the present tumultuous conditions in Pakistan. The catalysing event was the suicide bomb attack on March 26 at a crowded park in Lahore. Reportedly, Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. The blast left 69 people dead and 300 people injured. The Pakistani military and security agencies quickly swung into action by taking over the counter-terror operations even before PM Nawaz Sharif could finish an emergency meeting with his ministers. He had to even cancel a visit to Washington.
The tensions between the army chief General Raheel Sharif and the PM have been see-sawing since Nawaz Sharif got elected in 2013. There were allegations of rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League, PML (N). Coupled with charges of corruption against his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, public sentiments culminated in an Azadi (freedom) march, a series of marches from August to December 2014. A Muslim cleric, Tahirul Qadri also gave active support to Imran Khan, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) organised these protests. Though Imran Khan asked the Pakistan army to stay neutral, the protests could not have taken place without the tacit support of the military-jihadi complex (MJC), which has a finger in every pie. Tahirul Qadri can be considered to be one of the cogs in MJC. Though, Raheel Sharif supported Nawaz Sharif publicly, there were certain undercurrents in their relationship.
The Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb after in June 2014 after an attack on Karachi airport by the jihadist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This operation was aimed at all jihadist elements in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), whether foreign or native. A retaliation to this was the attack on army public school in Peshawar by TTP on December 16, 2014. The importance of this attack on the institutions is gauged from the fact that the army took on itself the task of running the courts dealing with terror operations. In a way, this showed a lack of confidence in the judicial process in Pakistan.
Zarb-e-Azb has been claimed as a great success with over 2500 militants killed in 2014 and had support of political parties and people. As a result, Raheel Sharif is hugely popular army chief. With success of counter terror operations along with control over the judicial process against militants, he is in a very comfortable position. Nawaz Sharif is having the tough task of taking the brickbats for whatever wrong is happening. Based on the current events and lessons from past history, three possible scenarios can be forecast for the next six months or so.
First, sensing the rising discontent against Nawaz Sharif and massive corruption in public life, the army stages a coup. Sharif is jailed/exiled to Saudi Arabia and martial law is established. Raheel Sharif appoints himself as President. Second, the army stages a soft coup by installing Imran Khan as a caretaker PM and continues to hold the levers of power. Third, the army does nothing to upset the present political set up and plays wait-and-watch game. Of all the three, the third scenario seems most plausible due to a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that Raheel Sharif would want to ‘hang his boots’ on a high. He wouldn’t do anything to dilute the goodwill that the army has gained over the last two years. He hinted the same in a recent interview where he categorically stated that he won’t seek another extension on his tenure. Second, the army is in the best position by consolidating its hold over the security and foreign policies of the country. An indication of this was the appointment of General Nasir Khan Janjua as the National Security Advisor (NSA) in October 2015. Therefore, with its stranglehold over crucial levers of security, foreign policy and judicial process for jihadists, the military is firmly ensconced. Raheel Sharif will retire with his reputation intact and pursue golf. Pakistan will meander through remaining 2016. Nawaz Sharif is probably aware of this and he will do everything to reinforce his power before the new army chief is anointed in November this year.
Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.
Featured Image: Lahore Fort Badshahi mosque by Wasif Malik, licensed by creativecommons.org