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September 5, 2015

The continuing balancing act, but for how long


September 5, 2015

DUBAI: Army Chief General Raheel Sharif again met Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on Friday, which has now become a routine, but so many meetings, for hours almost every other day, do not send the right message about the civil-military ties.
Every time the official press release tells us about the main subject, sometimes CPEC, the Pak-India dialogue, the Pak-US visits or the progress in Zarb-e-Azb or the National Action Plan, but when the meetings continue for hours, everything under the sun can be, and possibly, is discussed.
Then after a few days more such meetings are held, no matter how many times the official spokespersons repeat that the civil and military leaderships are on the same page.
Whose page is that is never disclosed but when the PM repeats what Gen Raheel says, it become obvious. So this means every time there is a new issue, General Raheel has to meet the PM and tell him how the army would like to handle the new development, whether it is action against the MQM, the PPP or any other person or organization related to terrorism or corruption financing the terror outfits.
Serious analysts say this arrangement, an innovation to run affairs the military way, without disturbing the civilian façade, appears very tentative but may be the best thing that is practically possible in the given circumstances.
But the fear is that this delicate balance may be disturbed by any one event or action, either from the civilian side or from the army brass now fighting many battles at many fronts.
The fact is that the civilians are not at all happy with the way the operation against terrorists has turned into an operation against corruption as the level of high-profile persons getting nabbed is rising.
First it was the MQM leadership. The PPP and to some extent the PML-N did not raise much fuss; in fact some enjoyed it. Then it was the PPP’s turn and flags were raised when Dr Asim Hussain got trapped, or was led into the trap by some in

his own party, and arrest warrants for ex-PM Yusuf Raza Gilani and Makhdoom Amin Fahim were issued.
Now Ansar Abbasi has reported in these pages that the PM had stopped the FIA from arresting Mr. Gilani. If that happens, not only the prime minister would be seen as interfering in the judicial process but it would also be a signal that no more of such political arrests may be tolerated.
How this may be seen by the military which is carrying out operation against financiers of terrorism and the corrupt is for all to guess but there may not be an outcry or a public snub yet the operation may continue as it has been going on despite protests.
One such indication was provided by the recent meetings between General Raheel and PM Sharif when it was stated after Asif Zardari’s long and hard hitting written statement against PML-N that no political pressure will be tolerated. So the big question now is if Asif Zardari’s pressure on Nawaz Sharif has not been tolerated, how will Sharif’s pressure to protect the corrupt in the PPP be accepted?
It is obvious that the government can stop agencies and authorities under it from acting against anyone but can the government also stop the Rangers and the army to suspend its operation, if they have to get someone who may be at the high risk of running away from the country or destroy any evidence needed as part of the ongoing operation.
Analysts feel that in view of these developments the tipping point in the civil-military ties may just have been reached or may be very close.
The Sharif government has reluctantly followed the army line regarding Zarb-e-Azb and the Karachi operation (though publicly the government has to own it) but with the political and parliamentary boat being rocked by first the MQM, and now by the PPP, it may be difficult for Nawaz Sharif to allow more room to the establishment.
How that pans out is not yet clear. The hard fact is that the political government has hardly any political capital or moral or administrative authority to stop the operations. The innovative system of Apex Committees has prevented that.
This situation may continue for another few months when Mr. Nawaz Sharif gets closer to nominating a new army chief. But the harder reality is that between now and then a lot of events may happen not to the liking of politicians or the political governments.

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