Raza Rumi: Hardline towards Pakistan is cheered in India and it bolsters the establishment’s narrative in Pakistan

The 'surgical strikes' and talk of covert support to Balochistan activists has [further] alarmed the establishment and helped in building public opinion that India is destabilising Pakistan. This is an unfortunate reality of a circular India-Pakistan relationship. Hardline towards Pakistan is cheered in India and it bolsters the establishment's narrative in Pakistan. I see no immediate chance of normalisation let alone improved relationship.

Raza Rumi is a Pakistani author, policy analyst and a journalist. He has been affiliated with The Friday Times, Pakistan’s foremost liberal weekly paper, as a writer and an editor for a decade. Raza is also a commentator for several Pakistani, regional and international publications. In Pakistan, he worked in the broadcast media as an analyst and hosted talk shows. In 2014, Raza moved to the United States after an assassination attempt. Currently he is a scholar in residence at Ithaca College, New York. He is a fellow at National Endowment for Democracy (USA), the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs (USA) and Jinnah Institute (Pakistan).

In an interview with Naradanews, Raza talks about his new book ‘Fractious Path’. He also argues against New Delhi’s aggressive approach towards Pakistan saying while the policy may be cheered in India, it strengthens Establishment’s narrative in Pakistan.

Q : What is your new book ‘The Fractious Path’ about. It follows ‘Delhi by Heart’, your first book on India’s capital city.

A : Delhi by Heart was a travel-memoir with a bit of ‘exploring one’s history’ over the centuries. ‘The Fractious Path’ is different. It focuses on Pakistan’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, and how democracy evolved immediately after the period of General Musharraf.

Though it was not expected to last, it has held on and looks set to get stronger by the day. The Pakistan People’s Party’s five years of rule were critical as they led to the first ever peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another. My book focuses on this transition in Pakistan’s recent history and how it is going to evolve.

Q : You have said that ‘The Fractious Path’ represents a desi insight into Pakistan.

A : The book is a collection of political commentaries on Pakistan’s domestic governance and its foreign policy. And it traces political, security, economic, constitutional crises, that Pakistan and democratic dispensation faced during 2008-13. The point that these commentaries drive home is to challenge the stereotypes about Pakistan, that the country is a black or white case. It is a complex, evolving and transitional country and my analyses on a number of issues highlight this.

The book is a product of my stint with the mainstream media in Pakistan which gave me an opportunity to interact, gather information and views from a variety of sources. This is why I see my book as a desi insight into Pakistan as opposed to lots of commentary done by outsiders especially since the ‘war on terror’ began.

Q :  How do you look at the Pakistan’s democracy now.

A : I think despite inspite of all the flaws, Pakistan’s democracy is stabilizing. After Musharraf exited and PPP formed the elected government, we saw first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power after general elections of 2013. We also saw consolidation of the democratic system whereby President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the military chief, all four transitioned in 2013. And now there has been a smooth succession of the new Army chief. There has been a message that now system is functional and the constitutional processes cannot be subverted.

At the same time, democracy suffered a few setbacks. The stalled trial of former dictator Musharraf is an example. Democratic control over the national security apparatus has yet to be established. Military retains its overarching influence yet, unlike the past, it is not in a position to launch a coup easily nor does it think that direct intervention is good for the institution and its interests. In any case, democracy is a long-term project, and if the current process continues, it may consolidate further.

Q :  But the opinion in India still regards Pakistan Army as the most powerful institution in the country and civilian leadership as subservient to it, especially in regard to relations with India.

A : True. Pakistan has been virtually ruled by military directly or indirectly. The return to a civilian dispensation does not change the balance of power. It will take few more rounds of elections and greater influence by the civilian leadership to exert control over Army. At the moment, Pakistan is battling multiple insurgencies and civil conflict, which enables army to exert extra influence in domestic politics and national policy making. More importantly, the Pakistani politicians have yet to show full faith in the Parliament and remain open to backdoor deals with the Army.

Q :  What is this thing with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistan Government sees it as a terrorist group but the opinion that it is aided by India also holds sway.

A : Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has come out and directly attacked Pakistani state institutions, military installations and personnel across the country. Pakistan’s intelligence is convinced that TTP has been supported by India to foment instability within Pakistan. Thus, TTP is the enemy of the state and has to be degraded and defeated at all cost. The TTP has not descended from outerspace – it comprises section of militants that Pakistani state earlier supported and which have gone rogue for a variety of reasons. The key reason is ideological where military is viewed as a toady of the West especially the U.S. by the hardliners among the violent extremists.

There are linkages between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban but currently their interests are divergent. Afghan Taliban don’t carry out attacks inside Pakistan as they need the support of Pakistan state. The TTP wants to harm Pakistani state so ends up harming military interests and scaring the civilian population.

One more thing to be noted is that Pakistani military believes Afghan Taliban are a legitimate political/national force in Afghanistan. Thus, the state policy assumes that to exert and gain strategic influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan must have a certain degree of communication with Afghan Taliban. It is well known that Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy is largely driven by the fear of Indian encirclement. And India fears terrorism if Afghanistan slips back into militant hands. This is why India and Pakistan need to talk directly and candidly about their respective concerns. Otherwise, stability shall remain elusive in the region.

Q :  Is there a possibility of some basic shift in the policy of Pakistan Army with the change of guard. General Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointing his own men in key positions?

A : Pakistan’s security policy in the region is a function of the military’s threat perception from India. There is no likelihood of a major change as the threat perception remains unchanged. In fact, India’s leaders and ministers have been mentioning insurgency in Balochistan. The ‘surgical strikes’ and talk of covert support to Balochistan activists has [further] alarmed the establishment and helped in building public opinion that India is destabilising Pakistan. This is an unfortunate reality of a circular India-Pakistan relationship. Hardline towards Pakistan is cheered in India and it bolsters the establishment’s narrative in Pakistan. I see no immediate chance of normalisation let alone improved relationship.

Q :  With Panama paper leaks, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seemed to be on the defensive. Of late, he seems to have turned the corner.

A: The Panama Leaks have dented Nawaz Sharif’s credibility especially in the urban centres and the middle class that is concerned about endemic corruption. However, Sharif has the advantage of a disunited opposition, and the fact that both major parties – the Pakistan People’s Party and Imran Khan’s Tehreek i Insaf – are organisationally weak in Punjab. This is why Sharif is confident of winning another election. He has also braved a difficult phase in civil-military relations. The reality is that Pakistan’s Army is the dominant institution but it is no longer easy for it to launch and sustain a coup given the ongoing democratisation of the polity.

Q :  How do you see Pakistan’s place in the evolving geo-politics of the region? Cancellation of SAARC summit and India and Afghanistan’s joint stand against Pakistan at Heart of Asia summit show Islamabad is in for a regional, if not international isolation.

A : India is pursuing a policy to isolate Pakistan in the region. It has been partly successful as the SAARC summit is postponed and Afghanistan is consolidating its relationship with India. But the larger regional realignment of power – especially in Central and West Asia is such that Pakistan is of importance to Russia and China that have joined hands to challenge US power in the region. Russia wants ISIS to be contained in Afghanistan and Central Asia. China wants its economic corridor to be completed and for both the objectives Pakistan’s cooperation is vital. In the past few months, Pakistan has also improved relations with Iran and the latter has publicly states that Chahbahar is no threat to Gwadar. Therefore, Pakistan’s isolation is not as acute as it is narrated in the Indian media. One thing is certain that Pakistan’s historic relations with the U.S. are strained and India has emerged as the reliable defence and economic ally. A new global (and regional) order is emerging and it’s too early to predict its definite contours.