Silent war is a kind of war with another state in which the ruler and his ministers and, unknowingly, the people act publicly as if they are at peace with the opposing state, but all the while its secret agents are busy assassinating important leaders in the other state, creating divisions among key ministers and classes, and spreading propaganda and disinformation with the ultimate objective of weakening and subjugating it.

–Kautilya, Arthashastra

There are various ways to analyse Pakistan’s current dismal political scene. One way is to look at it from the prism of the traditional power struggle between the democratic and anti-democratic forces or the civilian-military tussle for dominance, which led to repeated military takeovers in the past. The narrative of each side in this struggle is well-known. Democratic forces base their case on the almost universal acceptance of the principle of rule through the elected representatives of the people in the modern world, the fact that Pakistan came into being through the exercise of the right to vote by the people, the clear assertion in the constitution that the state shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people, and the inescapable necessity of safeguarding the sanctity of the constitution and the rule of law for political stability, social justice and economic progress of the country.

On the other hand, anti-democratic forces criticise elected governments as inefficient, accuse them of working against national interests as defined by these forces, and level accusations of corruption against them to justify their removal from power. These elements simply do not believe that the people of Pakistan have the ability to choose the right type of representatives for exercising the powers and authority of the state. They, therefore, call for some form of controlled order in which, behind the façade of democracy, the ultimate power to decide the policies and the destiny of the nation should be in the hands of the renegade elements of the establishment. It does not matter to them that in so doing, the constitution is violated and the rule of law is trampled upon. They also refuse to learn from the past experience in which military takeovers repeatedly brought the nation to the brink of disaster, the worst example being the breakup of the country in 1971. With a regularity that is amazing, these anti-democratic forces, exhibiting a pathological tendency, have been initiating their machinations at ten-yearly intervals to destabilise and overthrow elected governments in the country.

The democratic order was restored the last time in 2008. The smooth transition of power from one elected government to the other in 2013 encouraged the democratic elements into believing that the nation had finally overcome the demon of political instability. But this conclusion, unfortunately, soon proved to be premature. Within one year after the coming into power of a duly elected government in 2013, conspiracies were hatched by the anti-democratic forces to destabilise and remove it from power. The dharna of 2014 destabilised the country politically, had a negative effect on Pakistan’s economy, and caused the postponement of the Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan besides tarnishing Pakistan’s image internationally.

After the failure of the dharna of 2014, it was hoped that the democratic process would be allowed to continue smoothly, permitting the elected federal government to function unhindered and then be judged by the people of Pakistan at the next elections. However, these hopes were soon belied. Panama Leaks in 2016 provided another opportunity to the anti-democratic forces to destabilise an elected government. Subsequent developments have given birth to several controversies among political and legal circles. Our superior judiciary should take note of the points made in the resolutions of the Pakistan Bar Council in its meeting held in Lahore on 21 April, 2018. In particular, as recommended by PBC, the Supreme Court should sparingly exercise its powers under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution and respect the system of trichotomy of powers enshrined in it.

The prevailing scene in the country, embodying social unrest and widespread public discontent, may also be the outcome of the contradictions between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the downtrodden. The reality is that we have an oppressive and exploitative system of governance, in which the poor and the weak are at the mercy of the social elite. This archaic system must be reformed to make it people-friendly, progressive, and welfare-oriented. The primary responsibility for this reform lies on the governments of the day and the legislature. But other institutions of the state can play their own role in this regard while remaining within their respective constitutionally laid down jurisdictions. Parliamentary oversight of these institutions, including also the superior judiciary, must be strengthened to ensure that they function in the best interest of the people and the country.

Finally, the possibility of the involvement of foreign enemy powers to destabilise Pakistan cannot be totally ruled out. Kautilya’s advice given above, which may be reflective of the actual policies of the Indian government, underscores the danger of foreign interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs to destabilise it. Our state institutions must beware so as not to become unwitting accomplices of the machinations of enemy powers to aggravate instability in the country. A politically destabilised country’s economic progress, security and very existence can be endangered. The following quotation from a recent book, “Destined for War—-Can America and China escape Thucydides’s Trap?” by Graham Allison, a noted American scholar, while giving advice on how to undermine China, deserves the attention of our policy makers:

“For example, the US government could use its cyber-capabilities to steal and then leak through third parties inside China damaging truths about past and present abuses, revealing, for example, how its current leaders became wealthy. The US could cultivate and encourage dissident groups in China, as it did in the Soviet-occupied Europe or the Soviet Union itself during the Cold War.” (p.224)

The above quotation shows that American scholars and policy makers are not far from employing covert means to destabilise foreign countries in pursuit of their national interests and goals. However, it is ironical that the US which has routinely interfered in the internal affairs of other states and brought about regime changes though covert means, should now be complaining about the possible Russian interference in the US presidential elections in 2016. The question that our leaders and policy makers need to ponder over is whether, unwittingly, some of them have become the victims of outside machinations to destabilise Pakistan. More specifically, is it merely a coincidence that the dharna of 2014 was launched a few months before Pakistan and China were expected to sign the CPEC agreement? The dharna failed to overthrow the Nawaz Sharif government which was its main target. But it did result in the postponement of the Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan for the signing of the CPEC agreement.

Within one year after the signing of the CPEC agreement in April, 2015, the Panama Leaks led to a concerted move and sustained propaganda and character assassination campaign to dislodge Nawaz Sharif from the post of Prime Minister leading finally to his ouster. While internal forces and developments may have played seemingly their own independent role in this endeavour, the question that needs to be investigated is whether outside powers, which are opposed to CPEC, were in any way involved in the scheme to get rid of Nawaz Sharif to punish him for signing the CPEC agreement.

The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.

Within one year after the coming into power of a duly elected government in 2013, conspiracies were hatched by the anti-democratic forces to destabilise and remove it from power.