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October 7, 2017

Challenges and reassurances


October 7, 2017

Pakistan is once again going through a period of instability. At home, the removal of the prime minister and the subsequent talk of conspiracies have created political uncertainty.         On the foreign front, the aggression of India,  US threats against Pakistan and the continued war in Afghanistan         have created security challenges.     In this atmosphere, speculation about the state of civil-military relations only adds to the apprehensions. ISPR Director General Asif Ghafoor played down any talk of institutional differences at a press conference    on Thursday   where he said there was no threat of any clash and that the army will always be subordinate to the constitution. Encouragingly, the DG ISPR also dispelled any talk of martial law or of being behind the accountability process. The government, too, has maintained that there are no problems in the working relationship between the civilians and the military.

Welcome though these words of reassurance are, recent events make it difficult to take them at face value. The incident between the Rangers and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal is still unresolved. Ghafoor played it down and explained how the Rangers always work by the book, to the extent that they would even have stopped the army chief from entering the accountability court should his name not be on the list of those allowed on the premises. But if the whole fracas was just a misunderstanding, it would not explain why the Rangers removed their security detail from parliament in a move that is somehow difficult to isolate from the accountability court incident.        The first sign of any problems between the civilian government and the military has everyone nervous because of the long history of differences between the two institutions. The only way to ease the tensions is through open communication and by ensuring that everyone is working within their proscribed limits, without encroaching on the responsibilities of others.

At a time when we are still facing security threats on all fronts, there needs to be across-the-board unity. Even as the DG ISPR        was claiming undeniable successes in thwarting militant groups, a suicide attack at a shrine in the Jhal Magsi district of Balochistan served a chilling reminder that the militant threat is far from extinguished. The problem of fighting militancy has been made harder by US President Donald Trump’s new Afghan war policy. The pressure the US is putting on Pakistan, in concert with India’s repeated violations of the Line of Control, mean we need to be as vigilant as ever in protecting our borders while also fighting the home-grown militant threat. This can only be done if everyone is on the same page. All our institutions need to be operating at their utmost capacities. To do this means staying within their own spheres.        While all sides verbally claim to be doing this, there is a fear that narrow interests take precedence. As much as one would hope that the constitutional lines of authority are being respected and upheld, it is feared we have not reached such a position yet. Just the very fact that institutions feel the need to address questions about the balance of power within the state at this time shows just how pervasive the worry is        that not everything is alright with the state of the state.


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