Can an empowered Gilani stand up to Kayani?
The Indo-Pak thaw in the Bhutanese capital of Thimpu has been attributed to India’s willingness to deal with a newly empowered Pakistani Prime Minister under a reworked Constitution. Asif Ali Zardari has transferred his presidential powers to Yousaf Raza Gilani under a reforms package backed by an unprecedented political/parliamentary consensus.
But has Gilani really emerged as ‘Superman PM’ after the Constitution (18th Amendment)? A definitive Indian judgment on the debatable issue will take some bit of time and talking with Islamabad. Zardari has been greatly weakened in the presidency that’s now ceremonial; divested as it is of executive powers bequeathed by his uniformed predecessors. Yet, in the PPP hierarchy, his position remains relatively unassailable and higher than that of the party-appointed PM.
However, the real test of the PM’s relevance in the Pak establishment lies in his dealings with the Army that’s unlikely to give up it pivotal role in the country’s affairs—-democracy or not.
For New Delhi to continue taking him seriously, Gilani will need to demonstrate his ability to address India’s genuine concerns on terrorism. Without that, the promise of bridging the gaping trust deficit between the two neighbors will remain a pipe-dream. A denouement of this nature will be deleterious for Indo-Pak ties, deplete further as it will the already shrinking popular support for peace engagements with Islamabad.
Not only that. Gilani’s failure to take the agreed baby steps towards reviving dialogue with New Delhi will also impact negatively the establishment of genuine parliamentary democracy in the country that for most parts of its life has been under military despots.
One wonders whether he has an appreciation of it. But Gilani could, if he measures up to Indian expectations without compromising his country’s interests, obliterate the so-called Indian threat the fauj often uses to enhance stakes in Pakistan’s complex power structure. In former Premier Nawaz Sharif’s view, there can be no genuine democracy in Pakistan without demolishing the “myth of Indian threat or hostility” successive army chiefs exaggerated in the past to become sole custodians of national interest.
Gilani’s task obviously is easier said than carried out. His enhanced powers are at the expense of a civilian President. In that sense, the Army Chief’s larger-than-life role in the power troika remains unaltered.
Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was and will remain the sole arbitrator on key foreign policy questions. The elected regime will look for and be dependent on his support on matters relating to the US, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Afghanistan and Iran.
Kayani will continue observing the protocol of calling on the PM. But the call will be his if the LeT has to be tamed or its face of terror, Hafiz Sayeed prosecuted or put behind bars.
From India’s standpoint, the Thimpu formulation has to be read against this background. Will New Delhi’s assumption behind the resumption of talks expose the presumption of democracy in Pakistan?