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Democrats unite


In the backdrop of the controversy that has arisen in recent days regarding the government’s frictions with the military, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a significant meeting with PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari to discuss, amongst other things, civil-military relations on Wednesday in Islamabad. The meeting was intended to reiterate the support for each other of the two largest mainstream parties in defence of democracy. Alarms have rung recently about the friction that emerged as a result of the statements of two federal ministers that evoked a response from the COAS General Raheel Sharif during his visit to the SSG headquarters and from the military after the subsequent Corps Commanders’ meeting. The alarm is understandable given the history of military intervention in Pakistan’s past. However, notwithstanding the indiscreet statements by the two federal ministers in the context of the Pervez Musharraf case, interpreted in military circles as humiliating for the army, the government, opposition and all democratic forces appear to be converging on the issue of ensuring the continuation of the democratic system and resisting any ‘adventure’. This was also stated by Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP in the upper house the other day. The fact that the two mainstream parties and all democratic forces are in agreement on defending democracy is a positive when seen in the backdrop of the Charter of Democracy signed between late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in exile in London in 2006, as well as the welcome restraint exercised during the tenure of the previous PPP-led government over five years by Nawaz Sharif, who reiterated many times that he would not destabilise the system irrespective of his differences with the PPP. This positive convergence of the democratic forces is often dismissed by the leader of another newly emerged party, Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf as a ‘muk-muka’ (deal) of the corrupt to shield each other’s misdoings. Imran Khan has not been through the struggle for democracy that has been central to Pakistan’s history since it came into existence. He has a black mark against him of collaboration with General Pervez Musharraf’s regime (he later regretted this and even apologized for it publicly). Those who have been through the struggle and suffered the consequences are therefore in a better place to realise the importance of the democratic forces standing together if Pakistan is to continue its journey along the democratic path.
Perhaps, though, the alarm about ‘adventures’ is exaggerated. The military under former COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and now General Raheel Sharif is only too aware that neither internal nor global circumstances support a return to the military interventions of the past. Differences on policy or its implementation in the struggle against terrorism, and the perceived reservations of the army regarding its former COAS Pervez Musharraf being hauled over the coals in treason and other serious cases notwithstanding, can it be seriously argued that democracy faces any such threat today? Many of the attitudes on either side therefore owe more to history than the present. And what of that present? On Wednesday the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) shura (council) finally announced its unwillingness to extend the ceasefire that expired on April 10, citing the need for clarifications on many issues bedevilling the talks process. The TTP wishes to continue the talks despite its rejection of an extension in the ceasefire. Whether such a posture is acceptable to the government and the military, the latter on the frontline of the struggle and arguably the first to feel the impact of the restart of terrorist attacks by the TTP in the wake of its ceasefire rejection, is something that will only become clear in the following days. However, the prospect of renewed terrorist attacks on the military and citizens points to the critical need for the government and the military to cooperate and pull in the same direction in this struggle. The good news is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called a high level meeting on national security today (Thursday) in which the top brass of the military and government will participate. The hope is that any misunderstandings and unnecessary frictions that have arisen of late between the government and the military will be sorted out in a free and frank manner, informed by the sense of responsibility and harmony required amongst all state institutions to tackle the serious existential threat to state and society from the terrorists.  *

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