Rob Crilly: “It Is Too Soon to Give up On Civilian Government in Pakistan”
Rob Crilly, the Pakistan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, told The Ukrainian Week about democratic process in the country, military influence as well as Islamabad`s relations with Afghanistan and India
U.W.: Pakistan needs a political leader who can unite the country. But are there any leaders like that in Pakistan today?
Pakistan has always struggled to find leaders who can unify the country. Today is no different. The system is based on patterns of regional influence and patronage. President Asif Ali Zardari draws much of his strength from Sindh province, while the main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, is popular in Punjab. Imran Khan, the former cricket captain, might offer something different and appeal to more regions, but even he has struggled to build a national movement.
U.W.: Has the army’s perception of itself as the guarantor of national security led it to abuse its position?
The military has always been a significant power base in Pakistan, a country that defines itself largely in opposition to India, its massive, regional rival. And that will remain the case until Pakistan and India can improve relations. At present, the role of the military is under scrutiny in the courts, in particular its Inter-Services Intelligence agency which is accused of detaining thousands of people illegally. The civilian government and the courts have both tried to bring the military into line, but that is a huge challenge.
U.W.: Does the army’s power shape Pakistan's foreign policy?
The army is widely perceived to keep a tight rein over foreign policy, most notably with regard to Afghanistan and Kashmir. At times, that has meant the civilian government has been unable to try to build better relations with India. Better relations would of course reduce the power of a military which is predicated on the threat of war from its neighbour.
U.W.: With the nation in its control, has Pakistan's army grown too strong for the executive, judiciary and politicians to handle on equal terms?
We are witnessing a fascinating tussle for power within Pakistan right now. The courts have launched challenges to both the civilian government and the military. Similarly the prime minister has recently launched attacks on the military and the so-called memo-gate affair suggests that the government – at some level – has been trying to restrict the power of the generals. They have seen their reputation damaged by the secret US raid to kill Osama bin Laden, which they apparently failed to detect. So the military remains a potent force, but is under challenge from several sides.
U.W.: People in Pakistan are tired and restless with their civilian government, and it looks like the military with its wealth and huge influence has started to produce pro-army ads on Pakistani TV and on the internet hoping to capitalise on the discontent. Have you noticed this?
I don’t know about that. There have always been pro-Army ads.
U.W.: Do internal corruption, sectarian and ethnic conflict still plague Pakistan?
Pakistanfaces numerous challenges, not least from corruption, sectarian strife and ethnic conflict. Terrorist groups have tried to exacerbate differences as part of their plot to bring down the government, attacking Shia religious shrines and processions or the Ahmadi minority. Karachi is regularly the scene of gangland killings with a strong ethnic undertone.
U.W.: Pakistan is playing a double game in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are its enemies (because they are the enemies of its ally America) and its friends (because they are the enemies of its enemy India) at the same time…
Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan is complex and multi-faceted. Historically it has worked with Islamist militias against Soviet occupation and it still retains links to the Taliban. Pakistan fears growing Indian influence to its west, leaving it trapped in a pincer, so retains links with insurgent groups in order to keep some leverage in any political settlement in Afghanistan. At the same time, it has realised that the proxy it has used has gone out of control to some extent, launching terrorist attacks in Pakistan and threatening the country’s stability. While it has recognised the dangers of its historical approach, it is unclear whether Pakistan has developed a new strategy.
U.W.: Does being anti-military in Pakistan often mean being labelled unpatriotic?
There is a small liberal elite that is not afraid to criticise the military. However, it does face repeated criticism that it is unpatriotic.
U.W.: Is the answer to Pakistan's woes to revert to military rule?
The answer to Pakistan’s problems is a stable, democratic government. Reverting to military rule may provide some short term answers, but it would not be in Pakistan’s long-term interests. The country has a short history and it has only been four years since the military ruler Pervez Musharraf relinquished control. It is too soon to give up on civilian government.
Rob Crilly is the Pakistan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph. Before joining that publication, he spent five years writing about Africa for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor from his base in Nairobi.
His articles have also appeared in The Scotsman, USA Today, News of the World, The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph.
Rob Crilly's book Saving Darfur: Everyone's Favourite African War, based on four years of reporting on Sudan and extensive travels throughout the region, was published in February 2010.