Pakistan has had so many “moments of reckoning” but here is another – By Najam Sethi

Matters are coming to a head in Pakistan. The deadlock in US-Pak relations over resumption of NATO supplies is veering towards confrontation. And the confrontation between parliament-government and supreme court-opposition is edging towards a clash. The net losers are fated to be Pakistan’s fledgling democracy and stumbling economy.

Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee for National Security has failed to forge a consensus on terms and conditions for dealing with America. The PMLN-JUI opposition is in no mood to allow the Zardari government any significant space for negotiation. COAS General Ashfaq Kayani is also reluctant to weigh in unambiguously with his stance. As such, no one wants to take responsibility for any new dishonourable “deal” with the US in an election year overflowing with angry anti-Americanism. The danger is that in any lengthy default mode, the US might get desperate and take unilateral action regardless of Pakistan’ s concern. That would compel Pakistan to resist, plunging the two into certain diplomatic and possible military conflict. This would hurt Pakistan more than the US because Islamabad is friendless, dependent on the West for trade and aid, and already bleeding internally from multiple cuts inflicted by terrorism, sectarianism, separatism, inflation, devaluation, unemployment, etc. Indeed, the worst-case scenario for the US is a disorderly and swift retreat from Afghanistan while the worst-case scenario for Pakistan is an agonizing implosion as a sanctioned and failing state.

A pointer to the direction in which US-Pak relations are headed is provided by the recent US decision to put $10 million “terrorist” head money on Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the UN-banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat ud Dawa. There are two major motives behind this step. First, it reaffirms the US belief that the Defense Council of Pakistan, in particular LeT, is increasingly gearing up to play a significant anti-US role in Afghanistan and is therefore fair game for US policy makers. The US is signaling that if restored NATO pipelines are attacked or violently blocked by the DFC or its adjuncts, the US will consider it an act of terrorism-war by these groups and react accordingly. Second, it endears the US to India which has long demanded some such step and confirms a budding long term strategic relationship between them based on strong defense and economic ties.

A formal clash between the government and the judiciary is also on the cards. If there was any doubt about it, the aggressive speeches of President Asif Zardari and PPP Co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto on April 4th at Garhi Khuda Baksh signal the readiness of the government to go down fighting rather than kneel at the altar of the Supreme Court. President Zardari’s decision to camp in Lahore for a few days is aimed at marshalling his forces to meet the “Punjabi establishment” challenge. A conviction of the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, for contempt will trigger a series of political actions and reactions all round and provoke a military intervention that leaves political devastation and economic ruin in its wake. A house bitterly feuding and divided is hardly equipped to put up a united front against a desperate and overbearing superpower like the US in a volatile and friendless region.

There is a perverse irony in the developing situation. The generals of the Pakistan Army are solely responsible for formulating and implementing policy towards America, India and Afghanistan. Now those policies have come to grief in one way or another and also engendered anti-India and anti-American sentiment in the bargain. So the generals are asking the politicians to take “ownership” of, and responsibility for, these policies in an environment that is not conducive to rational and pragmatic review and reform.

The twist in the scenario is that the Pakistan military, more than any other institution or social group, is likely to be most adversely affected by any precipitous change in the external or internal status quo. If external relations with America deteriorate, the pipeline for weapons and coalition support funds will dry up and Pakistani soldiers and weapons could even be pitted against NATO forces in FATA and Afghanistan. Any diminishing of the status of Pakistan as an American ally in the Afghan war would also enable India to carve out a bigger role for itself in the Afghan end-game, which would be nothing short of a nightmare for the Pakistan army. Equally, if the Pakistani army were to be sucked into the internal political quagmire as a result of the clash between the judiciary-opposition and the executive-parliament, it would find itself battling on two impossible fronts whose “ownership burden” would rest exclusively on its shoulders.

This is a moment of reckoning between the military and civilians, between democracy and autocracy, between civil society and militant extremism, between notions of national interest and national honour, between executive and judiciary, between government and opposition, between Pakistan and America, between Pakistan and India. This is Pakistan’s moment of reckoning for paradigm change.

Courtesy: Friday Times

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