Decoding the political tussle between Islamabad and Rawalpindi

In this article…

Islamabad is currently facing a political thrust from Rawalpindi, a city form where the center of power is controlled by the army. Opposition parties assisted by the army have been cornering Imran Khan to step down. For this, an attempt was made to move a no-confidence motion in the national assembly of Pakistan. The motion was supported by the notion of ‘mismanagement of the nation’s economy‘. Amid this political crisis, Imran Khan held a massive rally in Islamabad to convey that the wrong game is being played against Mr. Khan. In short, the viscosity between Islamabad and Rawalpindi has decreased considerably.

With the surge of the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi, analysts started comparing with PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) of Imran Khan and the Syriza party of Greece as the emergence of a new left in the study of comparative politics. To some extent, behavioral similarities are witnessed between Mr. Khan and Mr. Kejriwal – (1) Both believe themselves as “ONLY honest” and the rest are “corrupt”. (2) Both are extra ambitious for political prestige and try to convey that they have left their luxurious life just for common people. (3) Both of them believe in the philosophy of “exposing” by putting things in the public domain very quickly.

PTI: An alternative politics in Pakistan

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was created by Imran Khan in 1996. It was a time of terrorism and violence in South Asia. Till 2012, it remained a fringe player with the tag of “biggest start”. Sharif and Bhutto’s families occupied the democratic landscape. PTI got an opportunity to emerge and became a dominant player in the political sphere with the end of Musharraf’s tenure. It was because General Musharraf brought National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) to provide immunity to the Bhutto and Sharif families from the charges of corruption. Musharraf reached out to Sharif and Bhutto so that he could be protected when he would lose power.

It made young people in Pakistan furious. In the age of social media, people understood this process as ‘hand in gloves’. The appearance of the term “NRO” on Pakistan’s political horizon created a space for alternative politics. Nearly two months after this ordinance, in December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by mystery killers who remained unidentified till date. It failed to trigger the emotional side in favor of Bhutto’s party and the subsequent political order of Pakistan was shaped by Mr. Sharif. Mr. Khan occupied the dominant space when he launched the “Naya Pakistan” campaign in 2013 which ultimately led to Mr. Khan’s seat in Islamabad.

Three options for Mr. Khan by Army

Even though officially Pakistan is a democratic republic but more than half of the 74 years of Pakistan’s history have been ruled by Pakistan’s army. To end the cycle of the Army’s attempt to topple the government, Pakistan’s national government brought the 18th amendment in 2010. This amendment ended the power of the president to dissolve the parliament unilaterally in Pakistan. In spite of such attempts, it still continues to decide the course of Pakistan’s politics. Thus, Pakistan has once again repeated the trend where no civilian government has completed its full tenure till date.

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Recently, Imran Khan revealed that Pakistan’s army has offered three options before him – (1) Face a non-confidence motion in parliament in the hand of the opposition party “or” (2) Go for a fresh election “or” (3) Step down from the post of PM. Earlier, Imran Khan resisted accepting these options. But later, Mr. Khan chose the second option to go ahead with the fresh election. The basic notion behind all these options was to remove Imran Khan. However, the supreme court of Pakistan guided by Pakistan’s army ordered the no-trust vote which really upset Mr. Khan.

Is the political crisis in Pakistan foreign imported?

Mr. Khan claims that there is a “foreign conspiracy” that was started in August 2021 to topple his government.  To a great extent, his claims could be accepted because the behavioral approach of the US government has been regime change and setting up the puppet leader in the concerned country. The US never likes a government that doesn’t adhere to the dictates of Washington. The US has less to do with the form of government and is more obsessed to meet its national interests. In this context, the US is even comfortable with dictatorship or with the theocratic government. Paradoxically the US often goes to weaponize ‘economic interdependence’ in the face of ‘economic sanctions’.

In such a case, only two types of countries can exist, one that is free from the clutches of Washington and emerging power like China and India, and the other could be the country that has no directly/indirect implications on American foreign policy. Satellite states like Pakistan are at the receiving end of US behavior. Imran Khan has been a long critique of the American government and Pakistan’s role in the war on terror. He is deemed very close to the China-Russia camp. Speaking at a public rally Mr, Khan says – “EU ambassadors wrote a letter to Pakistan, asking us to issue an anti-Russia statement. I ask EU ambassadors “did you write that letter to India as well?”

The expectation of Mr. Khan is equal treatment with Pakistan as per India. But Mr. Khan failed to understand the power asymmetricity vis-a-vis India and the political dynamics of the 21st century. “Principle of exposing” may work in domestic politics but the room of foreign policy should be read in a different way. No pragmatic leader of Pakistan who has an understanding of its own capability and power dynamics would afford to alienate the US currently. In this case, Mr. Khan and Army are not on the same page. In ‘Islamabad Security Dialogue‘, Mr. Bajwa tried to repair ties with America.

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Apart from these, there is an India angle too. The US has tried its best to polarize India for geopolitical favor. But it has failed miserably. That’s why Washington sometimes tried to threaten India, put psychological pressure by saying “India is an exception among US Allies”, create fear psychosis of China’s bullying, send officials of Indian origin, etc. But overall, the US is not able to alter India’s position. Thus, the US wants to revive its cold war allies, Pakistan in South Asia. It is so because the US foreign policy would be incomplete without a reliable partner in South Asia due to the surge of the communist camp i.e., the Russia-China axis.

It would also not be fair to say that only external power is responsible for political instability in Pakistan. Opposition leaders have been trying for a long time to get down. A valid question is raised – In spite of having a floodplain of the Indus river, why wheat flour inflation is so high? The answer to this question lies in domestic politics. Flour mills are largely owned by the politicians who are currently in opposition. They have deliberately hoarded and hiked its price so that the government of Imran Khan can face thrust from the people. Thus, bad political culture is still persisting in Pakistan which was once notified by Atal B Vajpayee in parliament.

The structural-functional issue in Pakistan

Since the inception of Pakistan as a nation, structurally it is stronger than we perceive. First, In the field of science and technology, Pakistan established the space and upper atmosphere research commission (SUPARCO) in 1961 which is much earlier than India’s ISRO which was founded in 1969. Second, Even though Kautilya’s Arthashastra recommended a spy system but India ignored it till 1968 when R&AW was created under the leadership of Ramnath Kao. But Pakistan established Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) much earlier than India in 1948.

Third, a similar trend is seen in politics too. India’s 108th constitutional amendment has still been pending since 2010 which promised to reserve 1/3rd of all seats in the Lok Sabha (Lower house). But Pakistan has constitutionally reserved 60 seats for women in the National Assembly (Lower house) under Article 60 of Pakistan’s constitution and 17 seats in the Senate of Pakistan (Upper house) under Article 59. Fourth, To make the election commission of Pakistan independent, unlike in India, the chief is elected by the collegium system through a consultative process between the government and opposition and approved by the President.

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In spite of structural strength, a democratic deficit is found in Pakistan because of the gap between structural strength and functional expression. In the words of Ajit Doval, at Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture says “If you are not able to exercise power, it is as good as not having it. There is no point in having Rs 50,000 in your pocket if you starve to death.” Thus, the civilian government in Pakistan is so weak that it always punches below its weight. Whenever one leader starts punching proportionately, the army will try to get him/her down from the power similar to Imran Khan.

In conclusion

Thus, the people of Pakistan should wake up to smell the coffee. Once they understand the underlying massive corruption done by the Pakistan army, it may bring positive changes in the society of Pakistan. The Pakistan army has created an imprint of anti-India feelings in the heart and mind of politics. Hussain Haqqani, a former ambassador of Pakistan in his book “India Vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?” claims that the ‘Army perpetuates anti-India narrative”. It helps them to cover corruption as well as failure in governance. This anti-India rhetoric plays as an instrument to maintain the hegemony of the Pakistan army.

A similar sketch has been drawn by Christine Fair in her book “Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War“. While studying ‘Green Book’, published by the Pakistan Army, she found that the Indian Army has been exclusively shown as the “Hindu Army”. But the reality is different where soldiers from almost all faith serve their nation. In binary discourse, the Pakistan army, ISI, and religious leaders are by and large in one camp and the civilian government in another camp. Unfortunately, the civilian camp is much weaker than the camp led by the Army.

Until and unless civilians assert their democratic space there is no end to the predicament. It should be understood by the people of Pakistan that India is not their enemy. They should give thought to the valid question made by Hussain Haqqani – “How and Why merely 70 years of partition is dominating over the shared history of 5000 years?”.

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