Arif Rafiq, fellow at the Center for Global Policy and non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., talks about the many layers of Pakistani politics in a conversation with CGP digital content director Farrah Sheikh.
The military has a strong influence over civil affairs in Pakistan — there have been three military coups in the country’s history — and exerts pressure on the government, Rafiq says. The current government, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has yielded power to the military in the areas of foreign policy, internal and external security, and anti-corruption efforts. The military seems to be content with its role and sees a full coup as being ultimately counterproductive.
Opposition parties have been focusing on corruption claims involving Sharif and his family in the wake of the Panama Papers revelation. Rafiq says the parties could be working together to some degree to bring down Sharif. However, Sharif has proposed an inquiry involving a broader group of political families implicated in the Panama Papers.
Sharif explains that a new coherence in Pakistan’s army and government has led to a decade low in militant attacks. This is significant, given the emergence of ISIS and renewed sectarianism, and given the worsening security situation in Afghanistan.
The two most important steps Pakistan can take to continue recovering from years of militancy are to secure a lasting peace in Afghanistan and resolve its dispute with India over Kashmir, Sharif says. These steps would eliminate the international impetus for terrorist activity within the country.
Sharif also discusses Pakistan’s relationship with the United States, which has grown tenser in recent years. With the United States putting conditions on its aid to Pakistan, Islamabad is likely to turn to China for arms and other assistance. Moreover, Pakistan is growing closer to China and is looking to integrate more with its large neighbor through a series of infrastructure projects.