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    South Asia
     Aug 25, '14

Pakistan: Narrative of a counter-revolution
By Daniele Grassi

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The concept of revolution generally implies the overthrow of a political-institutional system and the emergence of a new balance of power. The ongoing anti-government protests in Pakistan do not share a similar goal, despite the proclamations of the two leaders of the popular uprising, Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri. On the contrary, despite the likely genuineness of the feelings of some of the protesters, the so-called "revolutionary march" has as its main

objective to weaken the government led by Nawaz Sharif, allowing the military to reaffirm their undisputed leadership on the national political scene and to resume full control of the most important dossier of domestic and foreign policy.

The relationship between the current head of the government and the armed forces has always been stormy. Sharif's victory in the May 2013 elections was preceded by a pact signed with the military, with which the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) undertook to keep the action of his government within certain limits, particularly as the management of relations with India and the preservation of the role of the armed forces were concerned. However, the strong popular support which sealed the victory for the PML-N chief has prompted the government to question that covenant, in an attempt to gradually weaken the military, relying on their desire not to directly meddle in the political arena.

The participation of Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was greeted by many observers as an event of historic significance, as it had never occurred until then. However, it was an alarming wake-up call for the military, which has always opposed the hypothesis of a real and sincere rapprochement to the historic enemy of India. The failure to grant New Delhi the status of "most favored nation" derives from the opposition of the armed forces, fearful that any normalization of relations with India would deprive them of one of their main raison d'etre.

The current political crisis has also been determined by the effort made by Nawaz Sharif to damage the image of the armed forces. From the point of view of the military, the current process against Pervez Musharraf is an intolerable act of aggression on the part of civilian authorities. Several times the two sides have seemed close to an agreement, broken by last-minute changes of mind on the part of the government that has until now prevented Musharraf to leave Pakistan.

Further tensions were fueled in April by a case relating to the allegations made by the broadcaster GeoTV to Pakistani intelligence (Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI), in the aftermath of the attack suffered by one of its most popular conductor. On that occasion, Nawaz Sharif tried to take advantage of the criticism of the military to create space for his own government. Without any appreciable result. GeoTV, in fact, later retracted, thus avoiding the definitive removal of the channel from the national programming.

The military operations launched in June against the "Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan" (TTP) had already shown that the attempt to Nawaz Sharif to weaken the armed forces had failed. Among the main points of the PML-N electoral campaign, the dialogue with TTP was prominent. On the contrary, the military had never hidden their opposition to peace talks and had repeatedly asked permission to intervene militarily in border areas with Afghanistan. The terrorist attack carried out on June 8 against the International Airport of Karachi provided the armed forces with a pretext for intervention, despite the persistent opposition of the government.

Therefore, the political crisis that is crippling the capital Islamabad goes far beyond the allegations of fraud made by Imran Khan and the revolutionary proclamations of Tahir ul-Qadri, whose real goal is to gain prominence at a political level. The security forces will be the real beneficiary of the current events. The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif looks now politically isolated. The weakness of his government has already resulted in the abrupt halt of the normalization process of relations with India. In recent days, the government in New Delhi has cancelled a meeting scheduled for August 25, accusing the Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, to have previously consulted a Kashmiri separatist leader (a practice tolerated by the previous Indian governments ). In addition to confirming the hard line adopted by Modi towards Pakistan, it is possible that the Indian leader considers it of no use to talk to a government so weak and has therefore decided to take advantage of this opportunity to gain support at home, compensating for the poor results so far obtained in its efforts to reform the economy and the Indian bureaucracy.

The most likely outcomes of the current political crisis are two: 1) the armed forces will mediate between the government and the leaders of popular protests. In this case, Sharif would remain at the helm of government, albeit in the guise of "leader halved", hostage to the dictates of the military; 2) the parliament is dissolved and early elections are called. In this case, a coalition government supported by the armed forces is likely to be formed, with the participation of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of former President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, as well as other minor parties. The possibility of a military coup appears, at present, unlikely, although escalating protests might make it more concrete.

Regardless of the outcome it will produce, the ongoing political crisis is a blow to the democratic maturation process of Pakistan and is likely to have a significant impact on the regional context, removing all hope about possible changes to the policy conducted so far by Pakistan against India and Afghanistan. In view of the imminent withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and in the light of the difficulties of forming a coalition government between the two main candidates in the last elections in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the risk of a rapid advance of the Taliban appears, therefore, more and more concrete. This would be a major failure for the new American foreign policy. A real tombstone for any remaining ambition for the Democrats to win the next election.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Daniele Grassi is a writer based in Rome.

(Copyright 2014 Daniele Grassi)




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