Uninterested in his own domain, meddling in others
It took three high level meetings between the civil-military leadership, coupled with a scathing critique by the COAS himself on lack of competency on part of the civilian set up with regards to implementation of NAP (national action plan), to overhaul the monitoring team. Nisar was quickly replaced by Nasser Khan Janju, a retired Lt General and our current National Security Advisor (NSA) as head of the newly formed implementation committee.
The high level committee includes the secretary of the interior, Director General NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority), provincial secretaries and additional secretaries of the PM’s office. 29 new wings of civil armed forces are also going to be set up for better border management.
Chaudhry Nisar has been cut down to size and it has been long time coming. It is plenty clear that most of the pressure has come from the military to make the necessary move. Nisar is a rarity in the PML-N ranks. Within the party, he enjoys/enjoyed almost an untouchable persona and at the same time he has historically been close to the military. So a decision by both Sharif’s to clip his wings a bit yells ‘enough is enough’.
The lack of attention to his ministry, his unavailability and unreachability even for the PM, a non-existent relationship with the secretary of the Interior and abysmal relations within the party, especially with certain cabinet ministers – once made public by him when he boasted he did not require the use of the defence minister to arrange meeting with the army- are all factors that have contributed to him being sidelined.
The other aspect of this move is his continuously deteriorating relationship with the opposition. His recent outing, targeting Zardari quite personally was unacceptable to even someone he does get along with within the party. Ishaq Dar had reportedly convinced an otherwise disgruntled Zardari, in a back channel meeting, to take a less confrontational approach when it came to the joint opposition movement in light of the Panama Papers scandal.
Before the change of guard in the NAP implementation team, Nisar, in a press conference that was expected to answer reservations about the Quetta incident and its ongoing inquiry, offered only a suggestive tirade aimed at the PPP co-chairperson. He claimed that the PPP leadership demanded quashing the Ayyan Ali smuggling case and Dr Asim mega corruption scandal in exchange for them to take a backseat in the PTI led movement.
There may be limitations to the Dr Asim demand but the travel ban on Ayyan Ali is purely a consequence of the Interior Minister’s reluctance to simply ‘let it go’. Assuming such demands were made, does it really suit the PML-N that one of its senior leaders, evidently perturbed by questions about his competence as the security czar, publically disclose any such agreement and launch a scathing attack on the leadership of the party it is trying to win over?
Whether this change does or does not result in better implementation of NAP remains to be seen. What is clear though is that this is just another example of the military expanding its territory by picking up the pieces where the civilian set up is either unwilling or simply unable to deliver.
The cabinet is in a shambles with an interior minister who does not get along with the defence minister, a defence minister who keeps to the power sector and a finance minister who takes up multiple roles to keep the boat afloat only for his efforts to be trampled upon by an angry interior minister. Disunity within the cabinet needs to be resolved by the PM himself. Important issues such as terrorism cannot be properly addressed unless all stakeholders are on the same page.
Nisar also rarely shies away from meddling in sensitive foreign policy issues via abrasive statements that irk our neighbors. He did it with Bangladesh when they hanged Abdul Quader Molla of Jamat-e-Islami (JI) for war crimes in 2013 by calling it a ‘judicial murder’. He made a similar comment in 2016 when another JI leader, Motiur Rahman Nizami was hanged calling it ‘inhumane’ and a ‘violation of international laws’.
The result was the immediate expulsion of diplomats from both countries. Statements on such issues require nuanced rebuttals from the foreign office rather than off the cuff responses from an office that frankly should not be making any statements in the first place. Is there any other cabinet minister who feels it necessary to blurt out personal comments/apprehensions on foreign policy?
A more recent example of the strain on our relations with Bangladesh was their lack of representation at the SAARC conference for interior ministers held a few weeks back in Islamabad. Interior ministers from all other major SAARC countries were present, including India; Bangladesh chose only to send senior diplomats and officials.
Things were not dissimilar at the same SAARC conference in terms of tensions with India. Although the Indian home minister Rajnath Singh was present at the conference, hopes of a bilateral dialogue faded from the word go as speeches from both sides quickly digressed to the Kashmir issue where Nisar – being Nisar – called it open terrorism. Later Rajnath refused to attend the luncheon that was hosted by Nisar who himself had also skipped it.
The latest example of deteriorating relations with Bangladesh and India comes on the back of an unfortunate and irresponsible statement made by Indian PM Narendra Modi in his independence speech where he said Pakistan would soon have to answer for its atrocities in Baluchistan. M.J. Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs in India a day later equated the ‘Bangladesh liberation war’ of 1971 to ‘simmering Baluchistan’. The following day Bangladesh’ Information Minister who was in India at the time made the same comparison.
Nisar may be part of the problem to an extent but our foreign policy debacles are the result of systemic problems more than anything else. In the absence of a full time foreign minister, an aged Sartaj Aziz tries to sell unsellable policies to our neighbors. Since 2013, the civilian set up has allowed the military to take ample space at every significant juncture. The result is a military oriented approach whereby diplomacy takes a backseat and the status of ‘enemy’ is given almost immediately to any country we don’t see eye to eye with.
The resultant isolation has economic repercussions as well. While we boast about our 4.7% GDP growth rate, other South Asian countries have grown and continue to do so at a much better rate. One example is Myanmar, which has a GDP growth rate of 8.6%, a direct result of opening up trade. Opening up trade with neighboring countries was a fundamental part Myanmar’s plan. Since 2013 their total trade to GDP ratio grew from 37% to 43% while ours fell from 33% to 28%.
The interior minister simply needs to stick to his own portfolio and meet the tough requirements of the job. In case that is too much to ask there needs to be a more competent person in place. Our PM has to hold strategic meetings with his federal cabinet more frequently than he does with his kitchen cabinet. Such meetings should not take place only when the Supreme Court issues a verdict saying the PM has to do so or when a controversy like Panama Papers is revealed.