Chances of sudden change in Pakistan remote: experts


WASHINGTON: 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, says Ambassador Robin Raphel.
The former US assistant secretary of state for South Asia was among half a dozen American scholars — and a Pakistani journalist — who analysed the current political situation in Pakistan at a recent seminar in Washington.
The speakers highlighted different weaknesses and strengths in the current political set-up and its relations with the country’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 Ms 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 and allowed to resume her work as an expert on South Asian affairs.
Ms Raphel thinks that if elections are held now, “likely beneficiary will be Imran Khan” but the elections will take place as scheduled, in 2018. She and other speakers argued that the military was reluctant to trust Imran Khan because of his “loose cannon” image, which might or might not be true.
While ruling out the possibility of a military takeover, Ms 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.”
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, a senior Pakistan expert in Washington, 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.”
Agreeing with the two scholars, Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi said that in the past eight years, democracy had been strengthened in Pakistan and it would be difficult to alter the course.
It was the launching of Mr Rumi’s book — The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition — that brought these and other scholars to the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington, for a discussion on the current political situation in Pakistan.
The experts agreed that despite some serious institutional problems, Pakistan would continue (its journey) on the road to democracy.
“Pakistan’s internal struggle for democratic rights and gradual advance of civilian assertion is overlooked by the western media and commentators, who view Pakistan only through the security prism most notably what the military wants in Afghanistan,” said Mr Rumi while explaining why some experts in the West continue to predict the demise of democracy in Pakistan.
Ms Raphel noted that democracy survived the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s dharna, which caused echoes of coup, but ultimately, “those echoes subsided and the government emerged stronger than before.”
Other speakers noted that recent amendments to the Pakistani Constitution gave more power to provinces and created a system that was far from perfect, but better than before.