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Back in the Driver’s Seat

Pakistan’s military retakes pivotal control, and the public does not seem to mind.


Pakistan’s military is back in the driving seat. This time, not through a conventional coup d’etat, but through an amended constitution that enables military tribunals to try civilians accused of terrorism.

On Jan. 6, in a joint session, the Parliament amended the country’s constitution to establish military courts. The Islamist parties, opposed to the inclusion of the term “religious terrorism,” backed out at the last minute. But the major secular political parties, ostensibly committed to democratic rule, passed on the judicial powers to special military courts for a period of two years. This is a significant blow to the democratic transition that occurred after Gen. Musharraf’s ouster in 2008, when the country returned to civilian rule.

The unenviable history of democratic evolution in Pakistan is well known. The military directly governed for more than three decades, and in the periods of so-called civilian rule (such as the present one), the military retains control over security and foreign policy. Pakistan’s military is also synonymous with the nationalist identity and therefore shapes the political discourse as well.

The current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, assumed office in June 2013. In November, he appointed a new Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, thinking that he was consolidating civilian power. Sharif also pushed for the trial of former President Musharraf (who ousted Sharif in 1999) for violating the constitution by imposing emergency rule in November 2007.


January 16th, 2015|History, Pakistan, Published in Foreign Policy, terrorism|0 Comments

Pakistan silently watches the rise of Narendra Modi

My analysis – Pakistan: Cautiously pessimistic about Modi’s expected rise to power – first published here:

A decade of UPA-Congress rule in India ends with limited progress on the Indo-Pak relations.The fact that outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite his good intentions, could not visit the country of his birth even once sums up the structural constraints of this troubled relationship.

The first few years of Congress rule witnessed major developments in back-channel diplomacy and, if Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khursheed Mahmud Kasuri is to believed, a major breakthrough on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir was on the anvil before domestic political crisis led to the weakening and eventual ouster of General Musharraf in 2007-2008. In the later phases of bilateral diplomacy, modest achievements on trade and visa liberalization were realized. But the legacy of the 2008 Mumbai attack continued to haunt the trajectory of the bilateral relations for the past six years. Terrorism and rise of non-state actors in Pakistan shaped the public opinion and it seemed that political initiative of the Singh administration was almost always hostage to the power of corporate media that did not allow the evolution of a well-calibrated Pakistan policy in India.

This is a tough legacy for the incoming government in India. And even more so for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is expected to emerge as the single largest party in the Indian lower house of parliament. Though it is far from clear whether the BJP will form the next government, pundits in New Delhi and the doyens of Indian media have already garlanded Narendra Modi a few times over.

Narendra Modi – a controversial figure

In Pakistan the reputation of Mr Narendra Modi precedes him. He is viewed as a controversial figure specifically as a right-wing hardliner who espouses the Hindutva ideology and someone who advanced his political career on the rhetoric of hating the Muslims and their place in India’s past and present. Seen as an architect of the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots of 2002, his persona justifies the creation of Pakistan. Modi is an archetype that informs the Pakistani mind about the evil design of Hindus. Many Pakistanis believe his current political standing on the other side of the border is a reward for his anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan ‘ideology’. […]

May 12th, 2014|India, Indo Pak peace|3 Comments

Looking back at General Kayani’s Tenure

Raza Rumi

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani retired after leading Pakistan’s most powerful institution for six years. As a close confidante and successor of former president General Musharraf, General Kayani ensured policy continuity and facilitated the return of the army into the barracks. Histenures were eventful yet, turbulent and thus, he leaves behind a chequered legacy. Before his extension in 2010, Kayani led successful operations in Swat and the tribal areas against extremists, and save a few instances, did support the democratic transition. In 2008, he ordered all serving military officials in civil departments to relinquish charge. Despite these commendable measures, the military firmly set and managed foreign and security policies, and faced little or no challenge from the civilian rulers. In fact, following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, former president Asif Ali Zardari and his prime minister(s) gave up the management of the security policy, which had serious ramifications for Pakistan’s governance and economy.

During 2008-2013, a weak democracy beset by civil-military schisms defined Pakistan’s governance. The military strongly resisted attempts by the civilian government to reform the country’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI. A campaign was orchestrated, which moulded public opinion against the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) bill in 2009. The KLB bill was projected as an assault on Pakistan’s ‘national interest’). An unprecedented reaction through an ISPR press release (bypassing the ministry of defence) was given to the civilian authorities when the military aired its reservations about the KLB bill. The latter marked a significant shift in Pakistan-US relations: for the first time, an attempt was made by the Obama Administration to engage with the civilian government. Earlier, US relations with Pakistan were mediated through military cooperation, which bred domestic perceptions that the US always backed military dictators in the country. The establishment identified the orchestrator of the KLB bill as Husain Haqqani, our then ambassador in Washington. […]

December 2nd, 2013|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune|0 Comments

Redefining national interest

There is simply no alternative to information flow and dismantling the iron curtain. Let the disputes remain, but allow media access across the borders. Let the legislators take the lead and ask the Foreign Office mandarins to take a backseat. Trade and political compacts shall take care of the peace process. History teaches us that the pursuit of rational self interest is the key to progress. Annihilation is the fate of irrational states.

Pakistan’s rich dissident literary tradition

Himal Magazine had published this article on the resistance poetry in Pakistan. I had uploaded it on the Pak Tea House some time back. However, I just realised that it should be published here as well..

The long spells of authoritarian rule in Pakistan have nurtured a rich dissident literary tradition. This tradition has its roots in the Progressive Writers’ Movement, which originated in colonial India with major Urdu poets and writers as its vanguards. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was, of course, the best-known torchbearer of this tradition, while other luminaries included Sajjad Zaheer, M D Taseer, Rashid Jahan, Kaifi Azmi, Ismat Chughtai, Sahir Ludhianvi and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, to name only a few.

With the post-Independence Pakistani state continuing the old-style approach to ruling over the masses, the progressive movement too carried on its dissent long after 1947. Those who had migrated to Pakistan faced a new reality, which, in the words of Faiz, was far from the dawn for which they had hoped. “This blemished light, this dawn by night half-devoured,” Faiz wrote ruefully. “surely not the dawn for which we were waiting.” […]