For years, especially ever since General Pervez Musharraf, threw out Nawaz Sharif in October 1999, and became the martial administrator of the state of Pakistan, and subsequently its President, the army has been toying with the idea of ruling the country without actually taking over the reins and held accountable for all acts of commission and omission. The Generals did not want their starched tunics to be muddied like what happened to General Musharraf. They were not political leaders to be dragged into court for corruption or other misdemeanours. They were above all these menial actions of civilians and therefore wanted to create an environment in which they could rule, unfettered, but without being responsible for anything that concerned either the country or its people.
This plan was actually put in place during General Ashraf Kayani’s time. Kayani, realised from his predecessor’s experience, that people, and the world in general, did not have any great regard for military dictators. Musharraf became a figure of derision for the people, who even spat on his portraits, circulated derogatory jokes about him and even challenged him with street protests. Kayani was then in the seat of power, in Rawalpindi, and had ample opportunity to take over the country but he did not. This was what his successor, Raheel Sharif, emulated, refusing to be tempted by the spoils of political power; he instead chose to run the government, if not the country, by arm-twisting the elected Prime Minister of the country, without even once getting a spot of dust settling on his tunic. He of course spared no opportunity to tell the people, and the world, who was the real `sheriff` in town`. He too retired, despite a section of the people clamouring for him to take over the reins from Nawaz Sharif. But the `Sharif in uniform` decided to keep his honour intact but not before sowing the final seeds of the overall plan which is unfolding now.
Although the Army had become a powerful political institution early in the life of Pakistan, two political parties, Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan People’s Party, remained, on and off, major thorns in their grand plan to run the country. After failing to persuade PPP leadership, the military dictator, Zia-ulHaq, decided to take the extreme means to break the party by hanging its leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was a premeditated and extra-judicial murder. It shook the party and saw the rise of PML and the Sharif family. Both Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, were protégé of Pakistan Army and their political career flourished with the army’s blessings till the elder Sharif fell foul with General Musharraf and had to flee.
In the meantime, PPP had begun to rise from the ashes, with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir taking the reins; although her meteoric rise was helped in large measure by the Generals, she began to assert herself. This was becoming a problem for the Army. So when she returned from the US to Pakistan, General Musharraf was highly uncomfortable and realised that his days would be numbered unless Benazir was stopped in her tracks. He tried every trick in the book but with the dauntless lady refusing to bow, he took the extreme route, much like Zia, to eliminate her. Benazir was killed in a terrorist bombing shortly after she landed in Pakistan. That would have meant the end of PPP but the assassination of the Prime Minister had created a groundswell of animosity against the army and the Generals decided to do a strategic retreat, allowing the widower, Asif Ali Zardari, to contest the elections and win. The Generals had lost this round. They had other plans.
The first part of the plan was to finish what Musharraf had started—to dismember PPP. It took them five years to do it with Zardari and his party rejected by the people in the elections which saw the return of Nawaz Sharif and his party. So crestfallen was PPP after the electoral defeat that it quickly became a non-entity with Zardari mostly staying in Dubai or London and his son Bilawal showing hardly any signs of taking on the reins of the party. The demise of PPP, as a political force, has since been fait accompli.
For the Generals, this meant, one down, one to go---PMLN was the next target. They were not in a hurry though. If Sharif towed their line, he could stay. Sharif played the game as long as it helped him but when he began to exert his power—he had to some day, the Generals were not pleased. Sharif had to answer to the people, especially on the question of terrorism. As hundreds of innocent people fell to terrorist attacks across the country, Prime Minister Sharif could not hide behind any excuse and the tension broke out into open when it became known, through a select media leak, that the politicians had challenged the army on the question of terrorism in a close-door meeting at the National Assembly. This was an unpardonable act. The dice could have been set long before that incident but it acted as a trigger for the Generals to get the game over. The Panama Papers came in handy.
Nawaz Sharif was not only tried but also found guilty and punished by the highest court of land---a series of events that surprisingly took such a short time that it raises doubts about judicial actions. With the Supreme Court aiding the process, either accidentally or knowingly, the Army quickly cleared the ground by forcing Sharif to quit, barring his brother from taking over the mantle and bringing in a non-Sharif to the centre of the picture. The stage is now set for the 2018 elections.
As things stand today, the two political parties that have challenged the army’s omnipresence in the past are no longer in a position to reclaim their past positions, that is without the army’s support. The PPP leaders is clueless and is in disarray. The PMLN is in no better position today. Both the parties in all likelihood would face increasing dissent and desertions as the elections come near. For the Generals, the next election has already been won.
Here is the importance of Hafiz Saeed’s political party. It is going to play the role of a spoiler, a red herring. The Generals cannot take the risk of supporting an extremist political party, especially when their two patrons, the US and China, are not enamoured of these groups. Besides, the Generals don’t want to let men like Hafiz Saeed even dream about becoming the rulers of Pakistan. The Generals don’t trust them to be operating independently—terrorist and extremist groups are tolerated, and patronised, as long as they work on the orders of Rawalpindi.
By allowing Saeed to float a political party, the Generals are killing two birds with one stone—keep the terrorist groups humoured but in check, and use them to influence the outcome in case things began to go out of their hand. The Generals want a clear and complete title deed to Pakistan.