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Pushing the Envelope

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Prakash Singh—AFP

The Army is at odds with the Government. Again.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government are in trouble with the Pakistan Army. Everyone knows this and has reverted to the well-trod instinct of uniting against a democratically elected government. Repetition has made the impulse predictable: the political parties and the media are both in on it. The Army senses this and appears ready to ramp up the pressure through street power, a sensitized judiciary, and statements from lawyers readying themselves for another bout of violence.

The Dawn leak crisis was climaxing when Sharif pushed the envelope and met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s messenger, Sajjan Jindal, despite knowing that the media would assault him and the Army would use the opportunity to pull him down a peg. It is cliché to say that Pakistan is a “national security” state but the world uses the term to indicate that the Army rules in Pakistan through its control of security and foreign policy. The thinking of the Army is backed by Pakistan’s textbook nationalism and ideology. This makes for a formidable obstacle for any party mouthing nationalist shibboleths—contained in the Constitution—to break the mold of policies that stopped paying off long ago.

At some level, the Army high command is aware of its pattern of destabilizing elected governments when they drift into foreign policy and start acting “strange.” Some of its hesitation no doubt comes from the isolation Pakistan’s military-dictated posture inspires in the world. (The Dawn leak addressed this problem.) But the military high command has reached another crossroads of sorts since Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf was attacked “from within.” It is likely aware that it, too, is no longer capable of innovation in policies worn out by predictability and failure. The rest is Pavlovian, as Pakistan lurches along.

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