Washington: Pakistan’s powerful military is not prepared to bring down the civilian government but would maintain its ‘dominating influence’, prominent US scholars have said amid efforts to find a successor to army chief General Raheel Sharif.
The chances of a sudden change of government in Pakistan are remote as the military is not prepared to bring down the civilian set-up, according to Ambassador Robin Raphel.
The former US assistant secretary of state for South Asia was among half a dozen American scholars who analysed the current political situation in Pakistan at a recent seminar in Washington, Dawn newspaper reported today.
The speakers highlighted different weaknesses and strengths in the current political set-up and its relations with Pakistan’s powerful military establishment. All agreed that the military would retain its ‘dominating influence’ over the civilian set-up but would not bring it down.
“The military does not want snap elections,” said Raphel, a respected Pakistan sympathiser in Washington who recently faced an FBI investigation for her alleged friendly relations with Pakistani diplomats. In June, she was cleared of charges.
Raphel thinks that if elections are held now, “likely beneficiary will be Imran Khan” but the elections will take place as scheduled, in 2018.
While ruling out the possibility of a military takeover, Raphel warned that the “military may move in if there is a major public disorder in the country”.
The chances of a takeover, however, were remote, she added. “Like the military, the public too has changed and may resist any abrupt move.”
Military dictators have ruled Pakistan for more than half its 70-year history and the armed forces are widely seen as controlling the country’s foreign and defence policies.
But she underlined “some erosion in public support for democracy”, which she said was worrying and might lead to a situation where the people might be forced to welcome an abrupt change, as they did in 1999.
“If it happens, the United States will weigh its options and will take a decision that is compatible with US interests in the region,” she said.
Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute said that the transfer of power in 2013 from the PPP to the PML-N was a game-changer, which greatly reduced the chances of an abrupt government change in Pakistan.
“The transfer happened because the two parties did not make the mistake of derailing democracy as Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto did in the 1990s,” he said.
“The transfer also happened because Nawaz Sharif was willing to wait for the next election, which he did not in the 90s.”
The experts agreed that despite some serious institutional problems, Pakistan would continue (its journey) on the road to democracy.
Raphel noted that democracy survived the dharna led by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s dharna, which caused echoes of coup, but ultimately, “those echoes subsided and the government emerged stronger than before.”
Prime Minister Sharif is poised to select a successor to Gen Raheel, 60, soon as the army chief is scheduled to retire in November this year.