Anadi Naik

There might be some changes in the air. Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister, has reportedly asked his military leaders not to stir up things against India. As proof of obedience General Asfaq Kiyani in his Independence Day address did not do any India bashing. Whatever may be lurking in the background, this is a new development and such a development should be cherished and nurtured. Mr. Sharif’s predecessor Ashif Ali Zardari had once opined “Democracies do not fight. They try to negotiate”. One sees the sign of such a feeling in the newly emerging democratic Pakistan. A conflict between the two countries is catastrophic for both. Any effort to avoid a conflict brings long term dividends.

Pakistan has plenty of problems of its own without a conflict with India. Baluchistan is one. Its economy is in disarray. Inflation in the country is running high. Unemployment is soaring everywhere. Without any significant reserve of foreign exchange the country cannot import the goods it needs. It faces stagnation. Aids and grants from Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic countries along with the two billion dollars of aids and grants it gets from the United States keep the country afloat. Having stayed under military dictatorships for decades it lacks infrastructure that keeps a democracy going. For the functioning of a healthy democracy, public scrutiny of those in power is a necessity. But no dictator could tolerate criticism. Right now Pakistan lacks a free press with robust democratic organizations.

Added to this predicament t is the role of the military. Since Ayub Khan’s time, in the name of national security, the military has been enjoying the lion’s share of privileges the country can generate or afford. It even dictates terms to civilian, elected officials. The generals over the years have enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Jihadis. It was General Zia ul Haq who helped Islamize the schools and the army. During his rule Madrasas mushroomed throughout the country. Years later, the Taliban found fertile ground among the Madrasas from where they kept recruiting young men to cause trouble in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Pervez Musharraf, first as the military ruler and later as the civilian president of the country, could not change the mindset. The country remained fixated on Jihad and the destruction of India. Successive governments of Pakistan t found in Jihadis an obedient ally. However, by the time they realized that the Jihadis had become like a cobra and could strike at will it was too late. On the one hand Pakistan is not ready to wash its hands off the Jihadis. At the same time it is uncomfortable to call them its own.

While the Americans are getting ready to leave Afghanistan, they are looking for a strong partner who could help nurture the country’s fledgling democracy. Naturally, they look toward India. From the beginning India has been supportive of Afghanistan and its democracy. Such a gesture does not sit well with Pakistan. It feels encircled and vulnerable. Pakistan’s military, the real power in the country, see India as a permanent enemy and act accordingly. Many in the military cannot change their old ideas. Almost seven decades later the civilian leaders of Pakistan have come to realize that a warlike situation with India is not to their advantage. There is much to gain through trade and commerce between the two countries. In spite of everything both countries have kept the lines of communication open and have facilitated travels and the transportation of goods and services. This is a positive development that needs encouragement. A democracy cannot survive without a democratic political culture. And such a culture cannot be generated if the final decision always rests with the military. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was a victim of a military rule and was thrown away by force. He knows the Generals love to involve the country in a war because that way they can prove the preponderance of their existence. That is not what a civilian government wants. It wants its military personnel to stay in the barracks. That is why it wants to have a good working relationship with India. He knows that he can probably trust India more than he can trust his country’s military. Either way, trust is a good sign, no doubt.

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