America must help nuclear-armed Pakistan avoid a civil war: opinion – Courier Journal

Pakistan, a country with nukes, is at the brink of a civil war. A clique of generals is trying to suppress the will of the people, who want the army’s control on political power to end. America has a lot at stake in the situation, so it must tread cautiously, but effectively. 
The generals’ problem is not that they cannot manipulate the results of the forthcoming election to their liking. They can easily do it. The army has almost always rigged the elections. Mirza Aslam Baig, a past army chief, even joked about it in the 1990s. In the wake of an election, he said angles came down to fix the ballot boxes.
But to the army’s chagrin. things are different, now. A political party, PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf; translation: Pakistan Justice Movement), headed by a former prime minister, Imran Khan, is favored by such a large majority of the people that any rigging will be obvious. And that’s the generals’ problem.
 It’s déjà vu, all over again. In 1971, the army refused to accept the will of the people of erstwhile East Pakistan, manifested in the 1970 election results. The junta banned the winning party and declared its leader, a traitor. A civil war broke out in East Pakistan. Millions fled to neighboring India. An India-Pakistan war ensued. On December 16, 1971, Pakistan army surrendered to India, and East Pakistan became the independent country of Bangladesh
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The generals had no shame in surrendering to their foes on the battlefield, but, earlier, they couldn’t stomach the idea of bowing to the will of the people. 
The people of today’s Pakistan have had enough of the interference in their lives by those whose job is to protect the country from external threats, not run it. The army devours the bulk of the country’s resources, and labels anyone who questions it as a traitor. 
Khan has awakened a sleepy nation that, so far, did not question the army’s modus operandi. 
 The government is arresting and torturing PTI’s leaders and workers. Several major PTI leaders, under pressure from the clique, have abdicated PTI. The clique wants to break PTI. Stay tuned: PTI may be banned and Khan may be declared a traitor. But that will only aggravate the situation. America must not let that happen.
 Khan’s immense popularity scares the clique and its puppet government. The puppets rightly foresee their political annihilation in the election that is constitutionally due within months. They are trying to delay it, or even skip it. Meanwhile, they are conspiring to get a conviction against Khan, on fake or doctored charges.
Also, they are blaming Khan for the violence that occurred during the protests against Khan’s kidnapping by the rangers on May 9. He was later released, though. To his credit, he has distanced himself from the violence. He claims it was carried out by the government’s goons. Almost certainly, he is right.
 In earnest, Khan’s democratic credentials are far from perfect. When he was in power, he rode roughshod over his opponents and the media. But the people want him back in power, and they deserve to have him. Let’s hope the ordeal Khan is enduing has changed him. Pakistan will not be saved by an individual, but strong democracy. Therefore, democratic norms must persist.
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A civil war in the nuclear-armed Pakistan will be a precarious situation for Washington, especially if Pakistan army bifurcates on the pattern of the Union-Confederate division that marred the American Civil War. Luckily, the antebellum U.S. did not have nukes. No faction in a polarized Pakistan will be totally amenable to Washington. After all, the reason for a massive rise in Khan’s popularity was the propaganda he unleashed, saying that America engineered his ouster.
But Khan has toned down his rhetoric, now saying that America was not behind his ouster. If America openly and emphatically favors holding timely, free and fair elections, Khan’s supporters who constitute the majority of Pakistanis, will be thankful to America.
 It is a great opportunity for America to gain the gratitude of the people of a Muslim-majority country, something that America will find helpful, as it pursues its global agenda. Some may argue that supporting Pakistan’s people will amount to taking sides in an impending civil war. I say, no, it will constitute support of democracy to avoid a civil war in a country with nukes.
When America talks, Pakistani generals listen attentively. And America must start talking, loudly and clearly. Otherwise, the generals would rather risk nuclear instability than accept the will of the people.  After having supported several past army dictators in Pakistan for the sake of bull-headed foreign policy goals, America now owes the people of Pakistan moral support in their “pursuit of happiness.” Paying that debt will do America a world of good.
Siddique Malik is an observer of sociopolitical affairs.


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