16 January 2013, 16:00

Is Pakistan in for an Arab Spring?

Is Pakistan in for an Arab Spring?
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Dr. Ashok Behuria, a New Delhi defense analyst, shares his take on the mass protests that have been rocking the capital of Pakistan.

I wouldn’t say that it is an Arab Spring, that it can be compared with the Arab Spring because the Arab Spring, the way it happened in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya – things were different, like they were working against the regimes, the people stood up against the regimes. But here things are a little different. Here I think you are basically referring to the long march that was orchestrated by one politician yesterday. I would say that this is not comparable to the Arab Spring because there was about 5-10 thousand people and there was a lot of human cry raised about this particular march.

But I don’t think it has raised the concerns of the political establishment in Islamabad too much. I would rather say that in Pakistan democracy is taking formal routes and this is the first time in history that an elected government will complete its term and gradually I think the Western countries are enabling these democratic forces in Pakistan. The long march can be looked at as a democratic expression of defend rather than looking at it as another Tahrir Square or another Arab Spring.

I think Pakistanis viewed that as this, because as you see Pakistan has a healthy democratic environment culture which is being challenged by the militants and the radicalization of Pakistan is a threat which the democracy has to contend with. And only a military of Pakistan can create a context where the radical forces will have lesser say in the democratic polity of Pakistan.

And if that happens, if the military snaps its relationship with the militants, if the military contains the militants and especially the radical elements, then I think Pakistan is posed for a better future. The democratic forces would like Pakistan to turn over to a new live, to be stable and they would like democracy to take roots. But the military, it is almost an existential necessity for them to create a situation where democratic forces will not have a large say in the affairs of the state, and the military will continue to determine the security and the foreign policy of the country.

So, in that sense the military wants a fragmented political environment where no political party will be able to have a majority in the Parliament so that they can dominate the political discourse in Pakistan. So, in that sense the military has been acting in a manner which goes against the spirit of democracy. That is why the militant elements have nothing with radical elements but should better try to bring in democratic culture in Pakistan and that will turn Pakistan in a good state in the future.

Sir, but how strong are the military in Pakistan now? They have been challenged first by the democratic forces inside the country, they have been challenged by the former American allies. So, does that somehow tell on their political potential?

I think there have been challenges but they have withstood the challenges quite comfortably and quite well. The Americans which virtually after the Salalah checkpost incident, they have understood that without taking the help of the military they cannot stabilize Afghanistan. So, they are playing roles with the military. And the democratic forces in their quiet way try to contain and control the military, but that has not taken place yet. So, the military remains the most powerful institution in Pakistan till today.

Of course they have been challenged by the militants but as I look at it, as the 2014 draws nearer, as the date of withdrawal draws nearer things will fall in place because the militants who were targeting the Pakistani military will not target the Pakistani military anymore and they will focus their attention on Afghanistan after the withdrawal either, or they will focus on India. And the recent ceasefire violations along the LoC and Kashmir point to the fact that already there are efforts by the Pakistani military to sneak in infiltrators into Kashmir to give the insurgency a fresh leaf of life.

So, in that sense the Pakistani military can deal with the militant forces after 2014, at least they think they can deal with them. From the conversations with the Pakistani analysts I’m led to believe that Pakistani military is convinced that once the foreign forces leave Afghanistan, they will find it immensely better to deal with the Pakistani militants. And that will quiet the internal security situation in Pakistan in future.

So, in that sense the Pakistani military remains a force to contend with and they will continue to have an impact on Pakistan’s foreign policy and Pakistan’s security policy.

If we are talking about the nationalists in Pakistan, there are ways to interpret it. One set of nationalists identify themselves with the Islamic values. The other set of nationalists identify themselves with the liberal democratic values. If you look at the Pakistani military’s relationship with the former, about the Islamic groups, I think it has always been good, like they have tried to work right with the central radical elements, whereas they have found it difficult to deal with the liberal nationalists.

So, the situation today remains the same. Like the Mullah that we saw yesterday marching onto Islamabad, it is being rumored that he also has the blessings of the military. Like we also already saw Imran Khan, then we saw Defy Pakistan – all these elements are being raised by the military basically to unsure that in the next elections neither the PPP nor the PMLN assume majority. So, they would like the political forces to stay divided, they would like none of them come with the majority in the Parliament so that they will find it easy to deal with the weak political force.

Sir, and what is your forecast? How do you see the situation is going to develop in Pakistan in the coming months?

I think these Sunni sectarian elements that are there, I would imagine that after this incident in Quetta the Sunni sectarian elements will be controlled by the Pakistani military establishment. And if the military establishment shows a desire, I think these sectarian elements will be firmly under their control. They have been let loose by the military at the moment because they find it easy to turn them towards Afghanistan and they have found in that a diversion, otherwise these people will get in and create problems inside Pakistan.

So, in that sense, if the military takes this issue up, then this problem will no longer be there. But yes, there is a larger threat of radicalism sweeping Pakistan. There is a larger threat of Taliban penetrating into different areas of Pakistan. That will create a challenge for the Pakistan Army. But as I told your earlier Pakistan Army hopes that in the days to come they will be able to settle this issue because the American forces will leave Afghanistan and the negative sentiments that are there in the minds of these Jihadi elements will no longer be there.

Today they accuse the Pakistani military of hobnobbing with the Americans, but if the Americans will leave Afghanistan tomorrow they will not be able to identify Pakistani military with American anymore. So, that will create a situation where Pakistani military will be able to bargain with these elements and bring peace to Pakistan. Only a couple of days back the Taliban spokesperson has come out openly and stated that they no longer intend to target Pakistani security establishment. What does it signify? It signifies that there is also a desire on the part of the militants in Pakistan to play a ball with military in Pakistan.

So, that shows that in the coming days you will find the military and the militants coming together in a way and that will create a situation where the Pakistani internal situation will be much less difficult for them to handle.

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