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Pakistan’s Ongoing Existential Crisis

Paper No. 5862                                Dated 23-Jan-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan’s existential crises generated by Pakistan Army’s repetitive onslaughts on Pakistan’s democratic fabric are widely recognised. Constitutional abdication once again stands forced by the Pakistan Army on PM Nawaz.

In wake of TTP suicide attack on Peshawar Army Public School, the Pakistan Army instead of shouldering responsibility for its institutional inadequacies deflected Pakistani public reaction and outcry by demanding a Constitutional Amendment for setting-up Special Military Courts for trial of terrorists.

Pakistan Army’s not so subtle manoeuvre in this direction is nothing but a “Back-Door Coup” in which Constitutional organs of the Pakistan nation-state like the Prime Minister, the Government and the Pakistan Supreme Court stand short-circuited and by-passed. Implicitly and effectively, the Pakistan Army Chief and his generals have taken over the administration of Pakistan.

Regular readers would recall that at the height of Imran Khan and Qadri’s protest movement besieging the government of incumbent PM Nawaz Sharif I had pointed out that this prolonged besieging of Pakistan Parliament and government offices in Islamabad was a Pakistan Army facilitation as a prelude to a possible coup or a soft coup. What has occurred in the wake of Peshawar suicide bombings was a subtle operation by the Pakistan Army without sending soldiers on the streets forcing PM Nawaz Sharif to virtually hand over effective reins of government to Pakistan Army Chief.

To give respectability to this insidious manoeuvre Pakistan’s polity was scared by the Pakistan Army General into passing the 21st Constitutional Amendment approving the setting-up of Special Military Courts for trial of all terrorism-related crimes. The Pakistan Army Act was also suitably modified.

Preposterous is the reality that with PM Nawaz Sharif having been returned to power on a solid majority and with the Pakistan Supreme Court in recent times asserting with judicial activism, the Pakistan Army had no faith in these Constitutional organs of the Pakistan State and goaded the political establishment for setting-up Special Military Courts. The Pakistan Army Sharif has done-in the Political Sharif.

The Pakistan Army would have gone in for a regular military coup and declaration of Martial Law except for the fear of international backlash and withholding of billions of dollars of US and Western aid.

The Pakistan Army Generals were smarting under the perceived insult of General Musharraf’s trials in civil courts and PM Nawaz Sharif’s conciliatory gestures towards India and hence all these contrivations. Further, the solid image of the Pakistan Army was being dented in public perceptions beginning with US liquidation of Osama bin Laden deep in the midst of Pakistan’s major military garrison and thereafter continuing  terrorism attacks.

The question that arises is as to why the Pakistan Army never made demands for Constitutional Amendment and setting-up of Special Military Courts earlier when right from Karachi to Lahore similar suicide bombings had taken place?

The second question is more major and profound. Is Pakistan condemned to alternate currents of Pakistan Army’s political interventions and control and aborting democracy taking roots in Pakistan which recently showed promise when governance passed from one political regime to another through the ballot box rather than bullets?

Does this plague of Pakistan Army military interventions and short-circuiting of democratic transformation not represent that the Pakistan nation-state is in an existential crisis? Would then not the question be ceaselessly asked regionally and globally that how long Pakistan can survive as a nation state with such debilities?

Pakistan’s existential crisis has been the subject of incessant debates in the strategic community and strategic analyses. Moreso, concerns arise because Pakistan is a rogue nuclear weapons state with the nuclear triggers in the hands of an adventurist Pakistan Army. They can be expected to act impulsively and brashly without caring for the consequences.

Reflective of the above was an interesting scenario of “Pakistan 2018” included in an article in the British newspaper ‘The Telegraph ‘of September2010 which spelt out that in 2018 as Pakistan returned to civilian rule after five years of military dictatorship, the Pakistan Army refused to hand over the codes and keys for the nuclear arsenal. The ousted Pakistan Army also seized missiles silos with the Pakistan Army splintering into those supporting the civilian regime and those unwilling to take orders from the civilian Government.  The latter join the Taliban in Afghanistan and resort to cutting off of supply routes to US Forces remaining in Afghanistan

In response a UN Coalition led by US Task Forces with support from Chinese Task Force attack Pakistani missile silos. But the Pakistani Army rebels manage to launch two nuclear warheads towards Mumbai which are intercepted and destroyed by US Forces. The UN Coalition Forces eventually defang Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal

The above is not a far-fetched alarmist scenario and requires serious consideration by United States, Russia and China as major powers as to how Pakistan Army’s nuclear arsenal is de-fanged to prevent doomsday scenarios. How can China guarantee that a 9/11is not repeated on China by Pakistan based radicals supporting their co-religionists in Xinjiang?

Even ardent supporters of Pakistan within the US strategic community now express doubts over the survival of the Pakistan nation-state. Their logic is that if Pakistan stood partitioned by emergence of Bangladesh within 24 years of the first partition what guarantee is there that with the uninterrupted crumbling of Pakistani governing institutions currently underway that Pakistan could survive as a nation-state in the coming 36 years.

 It needs to be highlighted that Pakistan’s existential crisis underway is m not the handiwork of any Indian diabolical plot but the havoc wreaked by the Pakistan Army on the survival of democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan. This author has been propagating that ‘Pakistan’s Democracy is a National Security Imperative for India” in his SAAG Papers so entitled.

Concluding it needs to be stressed that Pakistan’s long entrenched strategic patrons like the United States, UK and China would have to re-write their strategic narratives on the Pakistan Army if Pakistan has to be retrieved from its ongoing existential crisis before it irretrievably stumbles into an abyss with dangerous implications for the region.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at