Earlier this year, the US announced plans to provide $280 million in military aid to Pakistan, but that may be cut to zero based on the way the country’s political crisis is taking shape.
The Foreign Assistance Act “restricts assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” Over the past week, a military coup has become a distinct possibility, if not a fait accompli.
The head of Pakistan’s Army, General Raheel Sharif (not relation to the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif), publicly intervened in Pakistan’s ongoing political crisis late Thursday night. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, “The move follows a backroom political deal that government officials privately said ceded important powers over defense and foreign policy from the government to the military.”
While this may be the first time the Army has entered the public light, reports as far back as ten days ago described the military using the protests as leverage to seize political power.
As tens of thousands of protesters advanced on the Pakistani capital last week to demand his resignation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dispatched two emissaries to consult with the army chief.
He wanted to know if the military was quietly engineering the twin protest movements by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and activist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, or if, perhaps, it was preparing to stage a coup.
According to a government insider with a first-hand account of the meeting, Sharif’s envoys returned with good news and bad: there will be no coup, but if he wants his government to survive, from now on it will have to “share space with the army”.
If these reports are accurate, the Army would appear be attempting to carry out a “soft coup” – one that involves a transfer of power without the typical show of military force.
As Gen. Raheel stepped into the public spotlight as a mediator, Pakistan’s press reported that he was doing so at the request of the Prime Minister, a claim the Prime Minister has since publicly denied. Article 245 of Pakistan’s Constitution does permit the federal government to direct the Armed Forces to “act in aid of civil power,” but the real test will be the outcome. Whether or not the military can come to the aid of the federal government, Pakistan’s Constitution makes no provision for any transfer of power from democratically elected offices to the military, nor does it provide for “sharing space.”
Any military intervention in Pakistan’s government will have serious and debilitating consequences. A coup, not matter how “soft,” will set back democratic gains made over the last seven years by decades, severely jeopardizing the likelihood that Pakistan will be a modern, democratic country for the foreseeable future.
The military, too, stands to lose – both in resources and reputation. Gen. Raheel’s predecessor, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, skillfully began rehabilitating the military’s relationship with the United States and its reputation as a threat to democratic order. The new military leadership’s decisions in the next few days could undo all of that progress – as well as cost them $280 million.