Dr Graham T. Allison, Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, recently authored the bestseller, “Destined for War: America, China, and Thucydides’ Trap”. In his book, Dr Allison introduced a phenomenon which he called, the Thucydides’ Trap. He argued that this phenomenon is applied to an insecurity paranoia between a rising power and an accepted and established dominant power, where the end result is almost always breaking into conflict. Thucydides was an Athenian historian and general during the 5th century BC, who wrote the history of Peloponnesian wars which, in the end, destroyed the whole Greek cultural advantages over other nations. Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War” recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens. Thucydides claimed that there must be applied strict standards of evidence gatherings and critical analysis of cause and effects without any reference to intervention by gods – as was the case in ancient Greece. Those who accept his claims, designate him the “Father of Scientific History”. Dr Allison took the term from the writings of Thucydides who commented that the rise of Athens spawned fears in Sparta, an already established power who subsequently started to arm itself for war. Sparta would go on to win the war but at a tremendous cost that hurt it immensely and paved the way for new powers just 30 years later.
In Pakistan, predominantly there are two forces, one is the powerful establishment and other is all the political forces, which claim to be democratic but those are run by different dynasties. Over the years, some of those dynasties get street power but those are quashed by the powerful establishment through Martial Laws, constitutional amendments using the pliant non-party parliament and the Judiciary. After the debacle of East Pakistan in 1971, the establishment decided to bring Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in power, but, Bhutto began to get street power and made establishment nervous about it. In 1977 general elections, Bhutto decided to strengthen his grip on power by making sure that he would have a two-third majority in the parliament. For that he allowed his nominees to rig the elections. The opposition rejected the results and the establishment found an opportunity to topple Bhutto. Bhutto dynasty’s downfall began after Military Dictator General Zia, using the subservient Judiciary, hanged Bhutto for the murder of one of the political opponent’s father, and banished his family from Pakistan. Air Martial Asghar Khan – who was seen as the crony of establishment and an outspoken politician, who formed his political party, Tehreek-i-Istaqlal, in 1970, became popular during the 1977 election campaign. Gen. Zia, after dealing with Bhuttos, announced the general elections in 1979. Asghar Khan’s party was in a position to grab the power by winning the elections. But after sensing the popularity of Tehreek-i-Istaqlal, at last movement Gen. Zia postponed the elections and put Asghar Khan in house arrest for more than five years.
After the death of Gen. Zia in the plane crash along with some of his close allies in the military, the establishment supported one of Zia’s closest political and ideological patron Nawaz Sharif to stamp out the remains of Bhutto dynasty. However, even in heavily rigged elections of 1988, Nawaz Sharif’s coalition party was not able to defeat Bhutto’s party which was reorganized after Z. A. Bhutto’s assassination by his daughter Benazir Bhutto. Benazir’s government was toppled in 1990, by the President of Pakistan who, because of General Zia’s constitutional amendments, became very powerful and used to make decisions with military leadership without letting the civil government know about it. Other elections were rigged and the huge amount of tax payers’ money was wasted to help and buy the candidates and assure Nawaz Sharif’s Islamic Democratic Alliance, (IJI) – a conglomerate of different right and center-right political parties — victory. The ex-military Chief Gen. Aslam Beg and Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) former Director General, Hamid Gul (1987-1989), after their retirements, time and again confessed and boasted about the manipulation on media and justified their actions, but any courts in the country never had the courage to question those actions. Later, another former ISI chief Lieutenant General Assad Durrani (1990-92) had conceded the role of ISI and Military Intelligence (MI) in rigging the 1990 parliamentary elections. Durrani submitted an affidavit in response to the one submitted by Gen Aslam Beg blaming the ISI for corrupt practices. Durrani stated that then-army chief, Aslam Beg, knew about the plan.
Two and half year later, Nawaz Sharif questioned the powerful President and the establishment who were allegedly trying to control and manipulate his government. The conflict between him and the President went so far that the President – once again – decided to topple his second government. Sharif went to Supreme Court against the President’s action and Apex Court gave the verdict in favour of Sharif, although, the verdict did not ask the President to reinstate the civilian government. Chief of Army Staff intervened and Nawaz agreed with his formula that he would go for the next elections on the condition of President would resign as well. Next elections brought Benazir in power. She nominated a new President from her party, however, he collaborated with the establishment as well and overthrew her government in 1997. In 1997, Sharif came with two-third majority and with strong mandate, he tried to increase the grip on power to deal with powerful establishment by bringing 15th amendment in the constitution. The parliament passed the amendment but it was stuck in the upper house because the opposition – which had a majority in the upper house – believed that Sharif was giving himself unlimited powers and he wanted to be almost a monarch.
In 1999, Gen. Musharraf, who was a new army chief, secretly – without informing the civilian authorities — launched bloody military operation against India by crossing the Line of Control in Kashmir, which is a ceasefire line between the two countries, and the Pakistani soldiers disguising Kashmiri militants took the positions inside Indian Kashmir. Sharif was having meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who visited Pakistan by new bus opened between India and Pakistan through the Wagah border near Lahore. When the foreign diplomats and leaders informed Nawaz Sharif he got very embarrassed and after 4th of July meeting with President Bill Clinton, he asked the military to retreat. That created strong rancor between the Sharif and Army Chief. In October 1999, when Musharraf was flying back from Sri Lanka Nawaz Sharif fired him from the position of Army Chief and nominated another General to replace Musharraf. Musharraf’s Commanders took over Karachi airport and arrested Sharif and his close cabinet allies. When Musharraf landed he found himself controlling a country of 200 million people which – some months ago – successfully tested high yield nuclear devices in response to Indian tests.
After the coup, Nawaz and his family was forced to exile. Nawaz and Benazir in 2005, agreed on a new “Charter of Democracy” and decided to work together to strengthen democracy and they would abandon their attitudes of 90s when they had opportunities to work together and they lost it. After 2005, Musharraf’s single legged economy already at decline, trade deficit began to sour and people started feeling the heat from different mafias operating in the country. In 2007, when the Chief Justice of Supreme Court decided to stop the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills because of alleged favoritism, nepotism and mismanagement, Musharraf decided to replace the CJ and forced him to resign. The CJ refused and Musharraf filed the reference in Supreme Judicial Council against him, which, after hearings, rejected all the charges against the CJ and ordered his immediate reinstatement. When Musharraf could not achieve his goals, he imposed another Emergency and fired most of the Judges and amended more articles of constitution. Lawyers came on the streets in protest and Musharraf secretly made power sharing deal – The National Reconciliation Ordinance — with Benazir Bhutto and promised new elections by the end of 2007. As per the deal, Benazir would not be allowed to come to Pakistan before the elections, however, Benazir sensed the design of cutting her party to size in the elections by rigging the elections like Musharraf did during his referendum and then in 2002 elections. She came to Pakistan. When she came to Pakistan, Saudi Government, who agreed with Musharraf to keep Nawaz family in the Kingdom, refused to stick to their agreement and they let Nawaz Sharif and his family came back to Pakistan. On December 2007, when Benazir was having a public rally in Rawalpindi’s Liaqat bagh, she was assassinated in the bomb blast. Very next day, Musharraf’s nominated interim government’s Interior Minister declared that the investigation revealed that Benazir was assassinated by the Tehreek-i-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP).
The general elections were completed in early 2008 and Benazir’s party, which was now taken over by her husband Asif Ali Zardari, got the clear majority. The power transferred to his party and he nominated a Prime Minister. After Musharraf’s impeachment and his resignation, Asif Zardari got himself elected as President of Pakistan. His government was constantly intervened by the powerful establishment and in 2012 — after US elite force came and killed Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad (Pakistan), US-Pakistan relations suddenly nosedived – the elite intelligence agency in Pakistan found a memo allegedly written by Pakistani ambassador to US to the American law makers about Pakistan establishment’s alleged interventions and their secret role in supporting anti-US elements in Pakistan tribal areas and in Afghanistan. To woo establishment, Nawaz Sharif and his party participated in hurling allegations and they decided to go to Supreme Court to file a petition against Zardari government.
In October 2011, when the country saw a sudden popularity surge in Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) – which was formed in early 90s and so far never have any significant successes in general elections — and lots of turncoats of different political parties and political analysts started joining PTI, the already established political forces felt defensive, because, it is widely accepted view in Pakistan that sudden surge or sudden decline does not need someone’s charisma or incompetence, it is the consequence of becoming favorite of powerful security establishment of the country. Within two years some big names from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) slipped into the “newly favorite” political force. However, in 2013 elections, PTI could not show strong presence in largest province (in population) against their expectations. Nawaz Sharif party got clear majority and Zardari’s party came second. Imran Khan’s party had some successes in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, and Nawaz Sharif refused to assist his allies in parliament and urged them to let Imran Khan form his government.
Imran Khan and his backers were not very happy so they urged Imran Khan to use street power to topple the Nawaz government. In 2014, Imran Khan joined hands with Canada-based religious scholar Tahirul Qadri and his devoted followers to raid the capital city and force Nawaz to resign so that a “controlled government” is formed which would run by technocrats – which is indirectly telling that the establishment controlled government. He also time to time telling the people about the “umpire” who, allegedly, was ready to give the verdict. All political parties joined hand against Imran’s alleged conspiracy with the establishment to topple the democracy and impose their favorites in power. Imran Khan’s siege of Islamabad failed to deliver him the highest office, and after the gruesome murders of children in Peshawar by TTP thugs, Imran Khan got a face saving to pull back from his failed maximal position. The media was clearly polarized with pro-Imran and pro-Nawaz channels, media anchors, and the analysts. There were rare voices in the media which could be trusted. To confuse masses, media – at the wink of anti-democratic forces – began debates if Pakistan is ready for the democracy or it should have “benign dictatorship”.
In April 2016, Imran Khan got another opportunity when it was revealed that Nawaz Sharif’s children have some offshore companies. Although, Nawaz Sharif’s name was not in the leaks but the media and opposition parties raised question if the money to buy those properties is brought using the money laundering and unlawful means. Imran Khan and some of his allies, filed petition in Supreme Court to hear the case and pressured the Judiciary and other institutions to assure the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif. On July 28th, the Supreme Court passed the verdict and disqualified Nawaz Sharif (the understanding of legal experts is that the disqualification under the article used to convict Nawaz requires lifelong disqualification from holding any public office).
The verdict of Supreme Court did not convict him on the offshore companies and hidden properties, but on a dictionary definition of “assets”, which says that even the income which is not even receivable comes under the category of “asset” and since Nawaz did not declare those “assets” in his nomination papers when he was contesting elections, so he lied and therefore he is disqualified under the article which Supreme Court never used before and Judges themselves in the intermediate verdict ruled that the said article cannot be used by Supreme Court. Interestingly, the Pakistan Tax Law does not define the non-receivable as “asset” but Supreme Court Judges chose to use dictionary definition instead of Pakistani law. The verdict largely divided public opinion and most of the independent legal experts – in so many words – rejected the way this case was run and the verdict was delivered. People strongly believe that Judges were told to come up with such verdict by the powerful establishment which was for years wanted to settle scores with Nawaz Sharif, and they were not trying to find the truth but all the hearings were done to find how they can disqualify him for life. When they could not find anything they simply use some weak grounds and manipulated definition of law, and disqualified him, without even listening Nawaz by calling him, which was promised by the interim verdict. On the verdict, Pakistan’s top of the line English newspaper “Daily Dawn” wrote in its Editorial comments, “The consensus in expert and independent circles is twofold and clear: Nawaz Sharif has been stripped of the prime minister-ship on troublingly narrow legal grounds and the judgement has the undesirable potential to upend the democratic process in the country”. In the circumstances, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar ought to consider, following an appropriate petition, convening the full court to review the five-member bench’s final judgement in the Panama Papers case”.
Clearly, looking this history through the prism of Thucydidean dynamics discussed by Dr. Graham Allison, one can observe that so far in Pakistani politics, the establishment – an established power – and the political forces are trying to assert in their ways. The civilian elected leadership sees the establishment as a hurdle in every area of governance. The civilians are frustrated that all the defense related decisions, foreign policy decisions, economic decisions are imposed on them by the military and if the civilian try to defy, they have to face the public humiliation, media onslaught and establishments’ supported opposition leaders. At the other hand, the military has decided that civilian can never be trusted and they should only be allowed to operate under strict surveillance by the powerful army. In Pakistan, there is a wide spread belief that since Nawaz Sharif belongs to the largest province (population), where most of the Army comes from, so it was not easy to simply get rid of him like Bhuttos were dealt with, so they built a leader who was a virtual failure as a politician and supported him to stand up to Nawaz. They used their carrot and stick approach to influence media to make their candidate popular then get Nawaz out either by the siege of the capital, and when failed, use the Judiciary – which has a long history of delivering to the establishments’ will. Although it seems now that there is no way the establishment would ever come under the civilian authorities, but this verdict started a serious argument because of the realization that no civilian authority is safe from the hands of Judiciary and the establishments’ nexus. There is a talk about the new legislation in the National Assembly to curtail the sweeping powers of establishment and to check on the judicial activism.
The million dollar question is, would the end result be the tension between the two broken into a disastrous conflict which will throw the country in total abyss? Only time is the judge.