Bottomline | Military Coup by Other Means

With a rubber-stamp government in Pakistan now, India has a lot to worry

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

On the recent national assembly elections in Pakistan, there are two pieces of good news for the Pakistan Army: Imran Khan will be sworn as the Prime Minister on August 11, and terrorists who were hoping for a re-birth as lawmakers have lost. These are bad news for India. While pressure of the Pakistan Army-supported proxy war would likely increase; pressure from China on India to start meaningful bilateral talks with Pakistan for peace (euphemism for the Kashmir resolution) would grow too.

Had terrorists gained respectability by becoming lawmakers, then (a) managing them by the ISI would have been harder, and (b) given their new clout, their access to Pakistan Army-controlled nuclear weapons might have become easier. Their defeat, thus, would compel them to follow the ISI diktat on the proxy war in the hope that the Pakistan Army would continue sheltering them from the international community baying for their blood.

The priority of the Imran Khan government, purportedly beholden to the General Headquarters, would be to ensure speedy implementation of two critical decisions: China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, and making Gilgit-Baltistan, through which the CPEC runs, the fifth province of Pakistan. This is necessary for Rawalpindi to retain China’s trust and strategic friendship.

This would spur China to do its bit: work on India to seek peace with Pakistan and development in the neighbourhood. It was with this in mind that the Chinese ambassador in India, Luo Zhaohui had informally suggested trilateral talks between India, China and Pakistan for peace on the borders as part of the Wuhan understanding reached between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in April. Diplomatically called the re-set of bilateral relations, the Wuhan understanding was a consequence of Chinese successful military coercion in the aftermath of the Doklam crisis which compelled Modi to seek peace with Xi.

For example, if a few Chinese soldiers were to sneak in through the 3,488km long LAC (which is not difficult), India would be in a real fix. It could neither throw them out for fear of an escalation nor could it let them remain on Indian soil violating its territorial integrity for fear of national humiliation. The truth is that Doklam crisis, which was avoidable, should not have happened as this has handed Xi the handle to scare India with. As a matter of fact, India cannot match China’s military, technology and defence-industrial power in a likely crisis escalation.

Once China converts Luo informal suggestion on the trilateral talks into a formal note to India, Modi will find it hard to ward off the Chinese pressure. Given this realistic scenario, it appears that Pakistan’s General Headquarters has, through a well-crafted strategy managed to push India into the corner. So much so, that the Modi government’s likely excuse that General Elections in India are barely eight months away might not lessen the pressure from China to, at least, begin bilateral talks.

On the question of the skewed civil-military relations in Pakistan, India, ironically, is largely responsible for helping the General Headquarters. The 1998 nuclear tests by India was the defining event which provided the Pakistan Army the opportunity to exercise authority without power. Earlier, in order to control Pakistan’s foreign and security policies, Pakistan army chiefs, had to, through a coup, take over the governance of the nation, which they neither wanted nor were adept at undertaking.

Pakistan’s civil-military relations changed in favour of the Pakistan Army in 1998. After India’s blasts, the US, fearing an arms race, sent a high-powered delegation led by Strobe Talbott to persuade Pakistan with allurements to desist from doing its own tests. Interestingly, it was the Pakistan Army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, and not the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who told the US that Pakistan would follow India’s nuclear tests with blasts of its own to maintain ‘strategic balance.’ This was followed by the Pakistan Army’s focus in four areas: nuclear diplomacy, nuclear doctrine, nuclear command and control, and, since Pakistan was now a nuclear weapon state, the army started sending briefs on the country’s external policies to the foreign office for implementation.

Once General Pervez Musharraf became the army chief, he ordered the creation of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) in December 1998. The SPD became the sole custodian of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. This was a drastic change from earlier times when Pakistan’s covert nuclear weapons capability was under the control of the trio comprising the President, Prime Minister and the Army chief. With nukes outside the closet, the Pakistan Army suddenly was all-powerful; all major powers decided to interact with the General Headquarters rather than Islamabad for meaningful negotiations.

This was time for Musharraf to seize Pakistan’s governance too, which he did through National Security Council (NSC) headed by him. The NSC, willy-nilly, formalised the role of the army in Pakistan’s policy-making and governance. Musharraf’s successors in Rawalpindi ensured further (if not total) control over Pakistan’s governance dispensing with the necessity of coups. The next logical step for Rawalpindi was to have a government which rubber-stamped its decisions. This too seems to have been accomplished.


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