TCA Raghavan: ‘Pakistan’s state structures aren’t collapsing; it’s in political chaos but hasn’t affected us’ – The Indian Express

T C A Raghavan, India’s former High Commissioner to Pakistan, and the author of People Next Door, an acclaimed book on Pakistan, spoke to The Indian Express at an Explained.Live event: on the cult of Imran Khan, the role of the Pakistan Army and strategic implications for India. The session was moderated by Strategic Affairs Editor Nirupama Subramanian. 
On political engineering by the Pakistan Army versus the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan
There is a change from the past but former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif also had a very strong following at different points in time but were removed. While Imran Khan’s popularity appears to have a different quality of asserting greater civilian control over political affairs, it’s useful to recall that this is really an older script.
What’s different is that unlike the past, when political figures chose to compromise themselves — they would go into exile or agree to a lower profile or simply follow what the military wanted to do — Khan has been defiant. Whether it is good or bad for Pakistan is a different question. He has certainly gotten under their (the military’s) skin and they have got under his.
But this is the surprising feature about Pakistan. Every major political figure who has been built up by the Pakistan military has, at some point in time, turned against it and wanted to act independently. This is as strong an evidence as we will get to show that the civil-military tension or the civil-military dynamic is the real dynamic. There is a political constituency which is constantly seeking to enlarge its space and comes up on this collision course almost once a decade.
On Khan’s future
Khan had a personal charisma, being an iconic cricketer and helming social work, that had been flowering from 2010-2011 onwards. But that flowering had to do with the military’s effort to boost him up. So they put together different components of the party which he led and surrounded him with people who were always close to the military. Many of those now leaving Khan are those who never saw themselves taking on the military as part of the menu when they joined his party. The military is having difficulty dealing with his personal popularity and the kind of iconic status which he has built up as someone who’s trying to create a new kind of politics.
Whether that is so in fact or not is a different matter but most of his followers see him as representing something new, a new political force and that element, while it will become subterranean because of the military pressure, will remain. That really will hold the key to Khan’s future.
But then he also changes his position quite radically. Perhaps when he took on the military establishment, there was an element of wishful thinking on his part, or he had started believing his own propaganda. But now, at least for the short and medium term, his future looks much more difficult.
On whether Khan will be disqualified
Some people in the military establishment feel that they weighed the scales too much in favour of Khan and the playing field has to be levelled again. That can be done in a number of ways, through his disqualification or some grand kind of reconciliation in the future where those who had been disqualified earlier, such as Nawaz Sharif and others, are also allowed to come back into politics.
That’s the broad direction as many in the Army feel that they can’t empower one party or one politician so much that they then become a problem, so there must always be countervailing political forces. That’s the way they can manage the system much better – by playing off one against the other. There is shallowness in Imran’s democratic credentials but he has expanded the political space. Now it’s a scrap between different forces trying to maximise their position.
On weakening of Pakistan Army’s role
Former Army General Qamar Bajwa, during his tenure, was built up as the soldier’s soldier and a far-sighted military statesman but by the time he left, virtually everyone had turned against him, and he was seen as a figure who had been trying to basically further his own interests. Whether this denting of the Army’s image means that there is going to be a structural retreat, in terms of the role the military plays in Pakistan politics, is more difficult to answer. I don’t think we will see an early retreat from the role it has played in the short-term. But there will be a long-term impact.
On a scrap between the power elite and a divided judiciary
Just like the political class and the military, the judiciary has also dramatically shown all divisions within it. These reflect, to a great extent, the larger polarisation in Pakistan itself. There are two Supreme Courts in Pakistan — one headed by the Chief Justice, who is inclined towards Imran Khan, and the other headed by the Chief Justice-to-be, who is inclined towards Nawaz Sharif’s party.
Justice (Qazi Faez) Isa, who’s the second seniormost judge after the Chief Justice, will become the next Chief Justice. The Army realises that it has to choose from a menu of bad options and he is definitely preferable to some other judges. But while the current Chief Justice is in place, there is going to be a great deal of play and different kinds of conflicting judgments.
The Supreme Court is split into two as are many of the High Courts. This means that the judiciary has emerged as a player in its own right in Pakistan’s politics over the past decade-and-a-half, since the first decade of this century when Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was sacked. The bar associations have also emerged as a political force and they reflect, to some extent, the polarisation in Pakistan’s politics between different parties. They act as an independent force demanding their own space and are very sensitive to any infringement of their rights.
On Pakistan’s ‘implosion’ and relations with India
There’s no evidence that Pakistan’s state structures are collapsing or have stopped working or people are deserting their posts at the government machinery. There’s a very intense political conflict which prevents any kind of purposeful policy attention on the economy and other problems that Pakistan faces.
This is something which the Pakistanis have to sort out themselves. I think external intervention will bring Pakistan together, so if you think that this is a time which presents a tactical opportunity for India, that would be wrong. The Pakistani military has a credible unified command structure, so it’s not as if we have suddenly got a better opportunity than in the past. So far, the domestic crisis has had no impact on India. It’s not had much of an impact on the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) and it appears to be holding.
There is a minimal relationship, we have no trade, there are not even High Commissioners in place, and you have very little political or other contacts.
We have to be realistic about our own limitations. Even if India attempts to extend help to them, nobody begins from a clean slate. We cannot simply assume that it will be taken at face value. Dramatic gestures or dramatic changes will not lead to an improvement in relations. It will take a long time and there is no other instrument you have for embarking on that course, except patient, difficult diplomacy.
On resumption of trade ties
Given their economic crisis, Pakistan would be well advised to think of opening up trade with India and, in fact, General Bajwa did try this. But given the extent of political polarisation, it’s a very difficult thing to do just now. Nobody there wants to take a major decision like that on India and be accused by their political opponents of selling out.

Nirupama SubramanianNirupama Subramanian is National Editor (Strategic Affairs). She write… read more


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