Pakistan army does not play cricket

(To Gino Lanzara)

The Ukrainian conflict does not stop international relations, which are bound to each other by a globalization capable of crossing all borders, and capable of making any form of balance of power precarious, understood as a recognized and legitimate order; an art of government that should consider the (missing) relationship between strength and ethics, highlighted by the Russian-Ukrainian events, and found in Asia.

There is no doubt that in Pakistan the American horrors favored political Islam, introduced by General Zia ul Haq and emphasized by the jihād against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan, a circumstance in which Islamabad played a leading role in channeling resources from the USA and Saudi Arabia, hosting the resistance of the mujāhidīn and thus being perceived first as a valid partner against global and cross-border terrorism imported from Kabul, then as a global danger due to the nuclear arsenal and to a rising religious extremism supported by the anti-Western rhetoric of Imran Khan (photo), according to a principle of dysfunctionality which threatens both the internal political sphere and the regional one.

It is no mystery that in the Country of the Pure crises have often led to the violent death of leaders, in an alternation of military coups and periodic returns to democratic semblances, with military control over the economy and industrial classes and landowners, with the maintenance of a status quo socio-economic feudal in which the fundamentalist movements, initially protected by the military, the real ones big voters Pakistani1, have found a perfect setting even in the most secular provinces.

The friction between the political-dynastic-family, military-political, extremist-religious powers2 continues to prevent the formation of a modern state that shuns the imminent annihilation syndrome, and encourages the omnipresence of the Armed Forces; it is no coincidence that the agreement with India for a ceasefire on the Kashmir line ran in parallel with the economic-strategic vision proposed by the Army Chief of Staff, General Bajwa, who cannot ignore either peace with New Delhi neither from bilateral cooperation with the USA based on trade exchanges, nor from the consideration of the instability coming from Afghanistan, Balochistan and Sindh, with Kabul which remains vital in terms of strategic depth as it is able to guarantee rear security in case of war with India. Bajwa treated foreign policy as a statesman, thus drawing attention to which Pakistani institution is that beats the beat.

The last few weeks have contributed to increasing the magmatic state of Pakistani politics, with the formation of a new government born from the ashes of the one chaired by Imran Khan, a wealthy national cricket national at the time and now forced, the first Pakistani prime minister, to resign from the parliamentary vote of no confidence due to poor economic and foreign policy results: a sort of soft coup d'etat meditated.

Khan was based on a populist program which, while not renouncing elective representation, intended to summarize Islamic values, liberal economy, an independent judicial system, anti-militarism, and which lacked only the struggle for the crowning of brotherly love in the world. .

Pakistan is in an economic and political crisis, and the new executive of Shahbaz Sharif, in need of political support from President Biden before the elections, is in decision-making paralysis, attacked by Khan who, despite being elected in the odor of electoral fraud, disputes its legitimacy ; Khan who is opposed on the one hand by the current majority who openly attributes a failed economic governance to him, and on the other by the management of Forza Armed which also, at the time, had facilitated its rise but which, in the light of its attempts to create fault points within them, they do not have forgiven the refused transfer of the person in charge of theInter Services Intelligence (ISI), General Faiz Hameed, for whom the general staff had already decided on a different job, certainly not in the place of the chief of staff Bajwa.

Once the support of the Armed Forces was lost, the Army, close to the American positions on the Ukrainian conflict, in its own neutrality, it has given the opposition water for maneuver, which is also supported by the support of two parties already allied with Khan and passed over to the other side of the fence. To get out of the Khan impasse, as a brilliant gaffer3 which it has always been, trying unsuccessfully to dissolve Parliament, on the one hand openly stirred the bugbear of theory, not supported by evidence but fueled by breezes Chinese, of the American conspiracy eager for a regime change, and on the other hand he subtly indicated the military as responsible for his downfall. How? Waving a diplomatic cable transformed into a letter worthy of the Capone brothers (...we, the Americans, are here to tell you that you must go.;:). It is worth recalling that the Army communications officer, Major General Babar Iftekhar, urged Khan not to publicly repeat the allegation of conspiracy, and that Chief of Staff Bajwa said that the Russian invasion was a great tragedy, after mentioning the long and excellent strategic relations of Pakistan with the USA.

What is certain is that the former premier, an immature and unaware actor of a game that is too big, is trying to polarize the political conflict by also exploiting the squares, with his supporters voted to be wary not only of the new executive but also of the Army, and resorting to the use of religion, a not negligible element in a country where the doctrinal aspect can lead to death sentences.

For his followers, Imran Khan is a leader struck by the US because he intends to create an Islamic state on the model of Medina4, with an independent foreign policy. Khan, in his speeches, always stressed that Pakistan was founded on the fundamental creed of La ilah a illallah5.

The government of the successor Shahbaz Sharif6, immediately praised by President Erdogan and on good terms with the Army and China, and in search of new openings to the West compromised by Khan, is awaited by arduous tests on inflation, the highest in South Asia, and the energy crisis, while the Pakistani economy continues its downward trend with the rupee hitting its all-time low. An example is the German failure to supply the Motor and Turbine Union's 12V396 MTU diesel engines for a class-leading missile submarine. hangor based on the Chinese boat Type 039B destined for the Pakistani Navy; the federal government vetoed exports to China due to its use for military purposes, given the EU arms embargo imposed on Beijing after the Tiananmen events.

In Pakistan, 21% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the negative trade balance has increased the deficit by decreasing reserves.; It is inevitable for Shehbaz Sharif, whose son Hamza was elected head of the province of Punjab, to ask for further quantitative and temporal support from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) which, in 2019, approved a conditional loan in 39 installments of six billion dollars to a series of reforms and austerity fiscal measures, set against undisciplined public spending7. Moreover, before knocking on the IMF, Khan confided in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, returning with empty coffers and full of precious foreign policy precepts to meditate on.

Pakistani debt exposure is also a challenge, as Islamabad benefited from the pandemic suspension of debt service.

The removal of Khan, not immune from flaws like any other politician attacked by him8, will not lead to a rapid conclusion of the crisis, but to the beginning of a new phase, with a violent polarization of the political confrontation, and with the consequent return to the scene of the army, as an element of stability.

The support of the Armed Forces, in terms of soft power, it will be indispensable to avoid violent intervention to contain mass protests; this obviously cannot exclude a priori the intent of the military to ensure control of the situation in function of the regional destabilizing forces.

The IMF expects the cancellation of fuel subsidies, desired by Khan and financially unsustainable, which condicio sine qua non to renew the support program; an unpopular measure in anticipation of the summer 2023 elections (if they are not brought forward), to which the government has responded deciding not to decide, and by hesitatingly paying duty, fruit of the only objective, that of the fall of Khan, without having ready and alternative political plans.

In the background the danger of terrorism, inflamed by the radical fringes and the Taliban movement, with the nuclear threat extended throughout the national territory; it is therefore not only the political situation that is worrying, but also the security scenario that leads to making the compromise of the defense system of the nuclear program a real threat. If on the one hand Khan aspires to ride the moment, on the other hand the coalition in power intends first to carry out the electoral reform that the lack of collaboration of the decayed premier towards the parliament, will deprive of political ownership; what is certain is that the direction of military support will have to be verified.

Is Islamabad heading towards a 2.0 version of the Arab Spring? Unlikely. The system dynastic Pakistani, with the same Sharif and Bhutto families always on the crest of the wave, was facilitated by an incomparable prime minister with the Iranian Mossadeq, who cloaked his gaffes with good intentions9; populistically (and dangerously) Khan's conspiracy drift fascinates the young supporting mass of his party, the bearer of polarizing and nationalist narratives. If Khan's campaign is aimed at allowing him to return to office after the elections, it is hard to see how this could be possible without the support of the Army.

In fact Imran Khan, who wanted to be a martyr like Bhutto, ended up self-destructing politically, although there remains the doubt about the possible support from the head of the ISI; but in a state like Pakistan is the army so easily circumvented?

In the meantime, it should be noted that the influence of Iran, which sent military delegations to Pakistan, was positively received thanks to the work of Khan, who proposed himself as an intermediary between Tehran10 and Riyadh which, after having invested in India, also evaluated long-term strategic interventions in Pakistan, despite the low volumes of current bilateral trade and the neutral position taken in the Yemeni conflict; to this is added the diplomatic return to Qatar, the key to redesigning the Pakistani security role in the Gulf in light of the changes induced by the Abrahamic Agreements that highlight Israel, not recognized by Islamabad, which thus has fewer and fewer chips to relaunch .

The Chinese quarrel is more complex, characterized by heavy investments but also by attacks against citizens of the PRC especially in Baluchistan and especially just two weeks after the appointment of Shahbaz Sharif who promised the resumption of the Sino-Pakistani corridor without forgetting the request for renegotiation of loans, a not so remote hypothesis, given the change with the important and geostrategic port of Gwadar.

Interesting the Khan's acquiescent policy towards Xinjiang, an area capable of silencing any Muslim religious inspiration once the economic interests aroused by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and by Special Economic Zones, the proceeds of which, however, will go mainly to Beijing.

In summary, Pakistani alignment decisions, such as abstentions, were based each time on realistic bases, maintaining a balance capable of placing Islamabad in an equidistant position even between Tehran, suspected of supporting the irredentism of Baluchistan, and Riyadh. , more inclined to support the cause of Pakistani Kashmir, maintaining relations with Bashar Al-Asad's Syria. More than one observer attributes this now unrepeatable diplomatic miracle to the deep state military, a miracle endangered by Imran Khan. Not surprisingly, in 2020 it was Bajwa himself who visited Saudi Arabia with the aim of re-establishing normal relations.

In short, the army wants to maintain relations with the Americans while having China as a co-guarantor with which to risk a dangerous one double-dealing which must consider the scarce leverage that Islamic terrorism has towards Beijing.

In this context, a change of American pace is desirable, which aims not only at defense but also at the economy, not underestimating the weight exerted by the Pakistani military, waiting for the next Chief in November.

If events have shown Khan real life and politics are not a game of cricket, it should be clear to the new executive that it will be increasingly difficult to maintain neutrality.

1 In Military IncInside Pakistan Military Economy, Ayesha Siddiqa in 2007 assesses the assets of the Armed Forces at approximately $ 20 billion and 4,8 million hectares of land and describes five centers of interest (welfare foundations). According to Siddiqa, the Armed Forces control one third of heavy industry and 7% of private assets. The Armed Forces are also relevant in training, thanks to academies, university exchanges and research. This allows the Armed Forces to manage the training of the future ruling class.

2 At no time did the Indian Muslim League or its president Mahomed Ali Jinnah invoke Medina or speak of a theocratic state; In the 80s, General Zia-ul-Haq instead tried to prove that Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, during his second term, tried to turn Pakistan into a theocracy, but this was hampered by the coup of General Pervez Musharraf.

3 According to Imran Khan, the Taliban are only Pashtun nationalists who receive support only from the Pakistani people; he declared on live TV that Germany and Japan are neighbors, that Africa is a state and that Bin Laden was a martyr. Also according to Khan, China has raised 700 million people from poverty, and also claimed that China follows the teachings of the Prophet

4 Rescript of Medina, document elaborated by Muhammad around 622. It was an agreement between Muhammad, the most significant tribes and clans of the oasis of Yathrib (Medina), including Muslims, Jews and pagans. 

5 there is no God but Allah

6 Coalition made up of different parties (left, radical religious groups). The two largest parties are the Muslim League of Pakistan, led by the premier, and the People's Party of Pakistan, co-chaired by the son and husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

7 See Fuel subsidy

8 The following should be considered: his secret marriage to a divorced woman; the admiration for the dictatorial regime of General Zia ul Haq; the lawsuit filed against him in 2018 on charges of raising USD 3 million in illegal foreign funds through two offshore companies registered under his signature.

9 See the Moscow visit on February 24, as Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

10 Chinese investments in Iran amount to approximately USD 21 billion

Photo: The White House