This is a wakeup call
The Army chief’s statement asking for “across the board accountability” has been viewed by many as a response to the Panama leaks. While it might appear to be so on the surface, the truth may well be deeper. Those in the know say that planning for the Waziristan offensive started almost as soon as Gen Sharif took command – the Prime Minister’s conciliatory speech aimed at the Taliban notwithstanding, the attack on Karachi airport eighteen months later was merely an excuse to launch the operation. This irony should not be lost on our politicians.
Since taking over command, Gen Sharif has distinguished himself as probably the most clear headed military leader this country has had. Neither is he given to irresolution nor to naïveté. To-date his statements have been thought out, and where a red line was crossed there have been consequences. There is no reason to believe that this case it would be any different. The General – as demonstrated during the Dharna days – is pragmatic and aware of the practical limitations of the military in tackling all issues.
The Prime Minister’s speech of April 22 and the meandering Terms of Reference for the announced Judicial Commission can be construed as an attempt to “kick the ball into the judicial long grass” – where it can lie dormant until 2018. This could potentially be fatal, as events may move sooner rather than later due to the following four drivers
- The impending retirement of the army chief and an expectation by his senior commanders “to clean the barn” before handing over to his successor,
- The fact that the army senior command is now filled with generals with active combat experience who’ve witnessed the horrors of war and do not wish their gains squandered away to debilitating corruption,
- With the scaling down of the operation in North Waziristan, the army now has additional forces at its disposal to carry out an operation against militants in South Punjab and
- With the deliberate policy of purging corruption from within the army and sacking of generals, Gen Raheel is seen to be leading from the front – and this momentum will propel him forward relentlessly.
Unfortunately Pakistan’s ruling party and its opposition rule by what in gaming theory is referred to as the “Nash Equilibrium”. Namely, that in a confrontation one party will not take a step that would harm the other party’s interest and vice versa as together they can continue to reap benefits within their own spheres of influence. With their electoral position secured – shying away from reform and avoiding decentralizing governance, in many ways unfortunately, the political parties’ particularly the PPP and the PML-N have contributed more to the demise of democracy in Pakistan than any prescient Bonapartists.
Let me illustrate my point with a few examples. The $ 17 billion contract for the import of 3.75 mpta of LNG from Qatar for the next fifteen years. The PML-N links to Qatar and the active presence of Mr Saif Ur Rehman a former PML-N stalwart are well known, the major competitor to Qatari gas was Iranian gas that was offered for almost half the price of Qatari LNG, saving an estimated $8 billion. Despite opposition in parliament, the ruling party still went ahead, with the regulatory commission acquiescing to the ruling party. What was poignant was that trade sanctions on Iran were lifted only a week after the Qatari LNG deal had been signed -the Iranians vainly insisting that gas could be available to Pakistan in a matter of months
The government was fully aware of the price difference and had many options including delaying the deal signing, negotiating for a better deal or even committing for a shorter period until a suitable long-term option could be worked out. But there was a rush to sign with this very supplier and at his terms. Maybe there was no corruption but then why the hurry to damage long term interests of the country and that of democracy?
The drought in Tharparker has been well publicized, the images of frail children and old people on television still haunting us. In response the Sindh government had launched solar powered reverse osmosis (RO) plants aimed at improving the water supply in the area. Yet after over two years someone should ask the Sindh Government that despite spending millions of dollars on these RO plants, were these procured on a competitive basis? And how many of these are actually functional today? Despite his prolix press conferences, how come the FIA supremo and Federal Minister of Interior has never asked the Sindh Government to answer these questions? Again the perception of you scratch my back reinforced.
The PTI KPK government has got into an unnecessary fracas over hiring in the Khyber Bank which is owned by the KPK government. The obvious solution would be, to have an independent board of directors empowered and held accountable for all decisions sans any interference from the provincial government.
Instead of providing opportunities and prosperity, by and the large ruling parties and elite in Pakistan have transferred wealth to a global pool, a practice, which if continued unchecked, together with unbridled religious militants, could turn Pakistan into what President Obama views as “a dangerously dysfunctional state”. So like the rest of us, why shouldn’t the army be worried? Especially as its own budget comes from the same pool. Meanwhile the army on its part should ruthlessly and relentlessly rout out the scourge of militancy from Punjab and elsewhere in our lands – unfinished business leftover from previous military eras.
In his recent interview Mr Obama wished that the Middle East had “a few smart autocrats” that’s an oxymoron. No one in his right mind, having lived through the Zia ul Haq period, would wish for a military dictator, unfortunately the politicians aren’t helping themselves. It is clear that General Raheels’ statement was not merely a reaction to the Panama Leaks, but Chinese Whispers aside, it is a clarion call that the clock has started for the politicians to come out clean and to put their own house in order.