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Same Page in the Punjab?

by Newsweek Pakistan
Aamir Qureshi—AFP

File Photo. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Signs of a growing rift between Pakistan’s military, civilian government.

Within hours of the Easter Sunday massacre in Lahore, the Army launched its operations in Punjab province capitalizing on the public’s “do more” reflex following the tragedy. This was apparently done without the federal or provincial government’s consent, reshaping the compact among the ruling Sharifs, civilian and military.

Previously, the Army had “overall control of Pakistan’s foreign and nuclear policy, as well as its counterterrorism strategy in Karachi, in the south, and along the border with Afghanistan,” journalist and bestselling author Ahmed Rashid wrote in The New York Review of Books on March 31, while “the civilian government could run the economy, and, most significantly, keep control of the prime minister’s home province of Punjab.”

The compact came under strain when intelligence reports pointed to the rise in Punjab-directed acts of terrorism. Over the years, the rooted sources of extremism and terrorism in the Punjab not only influenced governance by seriously undermining the judicial system but by also radiating to other provinces, particularly Sindh, which is under the effective control of the Army and its Rangers. Banned organizations, ignored in the Punjab, have widened their control over civil society beyond the province.

For some time there was a deadlock over whether the Army and its Rangers could move into the Punjab too. But after the March 27 horror, the Army, dominant in the civilian-military “apex committees,” decided it could wait no longer. “The Army told the media to emphasize that the orders for the Punjab operation were given directly by [Gen. Raheel] Sharif and not the prime minister,” writes Rashid.

French scholar Christophe Jaffrelot explained the Army’s imperatives in his piece for The Indian Express: “the police lack resources and the judiciary, which has a low conviction rate because of fear among the judges and the witnesses, was not unhappy to let the Army take over from them … and China wants security for its investments in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.”

For now, the people of the Punjab back this development also, and the Punjab government wants to be seen as being on the same page with the Army. The people on the other hand want to see if the Army will finally get rid of the dreaded jihadist organizations that it had allegedly previously cultivated and that continue to rob the state of its writ.

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