The Charter of Democracy, which Sharif signed in 2006, calls for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the military's illegal actions post-1996. Creating such a body while Sharif needs the army to fight a war against the Pakistani Taliban would be unwise. Sharif should keep the big picture in mind. Five years from now, if Sharif’s government completes its tenure, succeeds in bringing the country out of its current economic and security morass, conducts free and fair elections, and is either re-elected or passes on power to another democratically-elected government, the door to military dictatorship could be firmly shut.
Avoiding confrontation with the military doesn't mean that Sharif should let it run the show when it comes to Pakistan's foreign policy. In fact, Sharif must push forward with bolstering civilian-led national security policymaking bodies. Rather than having private meetings with the army chief as has been common, Sharif should hold weekly meetings for the Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), Pakistan's equivalent of a national security council. The DCC needs someone akin to a national security advisor on top – a retired civil servant able to work with the military, but not necessarily an ex-officer. And it needs a permanent staff, selected from among the best and the brightest of the country's bureaucracy, who can think outside the box and integrate inputs from various ministries, including defense, finance, and water and power. With the prime minister at its helm, the DCC must be the chief forum in which Pakistan's civilian and military leaders get together to discuss domestic and regional security challenges.
Hardline elements in the military will likely resist Sharif’s efforts toward normalizing relations with India and rolling back Pakistan’s heavy-handed Afghanistan policy. But he will have potential allies among a broad segment of Pakistan’s political class, which is keen on peace with all of the country’s neighbors. Sharif’s government should use all-parties conferences and parliamentary committees, such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to get the opposition to buy into his peace initiatives and reduce the maneuvering space of conservative forces in the military.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Sharif could use the same approach to resolve the insurgency in Balochistan, which – like Turkey’s Kurdish region – is home to a marginalized ethnic group that is pushing for greater autonomy or even secession. Baloch nationalist politicians have a high degree of confidence in Sharif, who has been among the most outspoken against military operations in the region. Their initial demands are almost exclusively focused on the powerful military and intelligence agencies. The Baloch seek an end to unlawful detentions and extrajudicial killings by the military, and want internally displaced persons to be allowed to return to the Dera Bugti region. Working with the provincial government as well as other major national parties, Sharif must put an end to the human rights abuses in the province and develop a framework for dealing with the bigger, more complicated issues behind the insurgency: autonomy, language rights, and resource control.
The cruel irony is that Sharif’s pursuit of zero problems with neighbors could result in greater problems at home. Peace with India might result in more jihadists joining the fight against the Pakistani state, as had happened after 9/11 when Musharraf sided with Washington in the war on terror and sought to normalize ties with New Delhi. Similarly, a political settlement in Afghanistan that makes too many concessions to the Afghan Taliban might actually embolden Pakistan’s Taliban factions in their war against Islamabad. A civil war in Afghanistan also bears the same risks. But neither a full-fledged assault on militants in Pakistan nor a continued approach of pitting different militant groups against one another would bring an end to Pakistan’s misery. Instead, Sharif must work with his army to develop a comprehensive exit strategy for the use of jihadists as proxies – a strategy that is national in focus, encompasses all militant organizations, and moves in sequence with progress in resolving disputes with neighbors.