Structural Impediments to Closer Indo-American Relations

American president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi of India attend a state dinner at the presidential palace in New Delhi, January 25
American president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi of India attend a state dinner at the presidential palace in New Delhi, January 25 (White House/Pete Souza)

American president Barack Obama’s recent visit to India supposedly saw the conclusion of some far-reaching agreements, including on defense cooperation, specifically missile defense, technology transfer and the operationalization of the dormant nuclear agreement Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, negotiated with India in 2005.

All of this cements the image of India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, of being both a strategic thinker and a doer.

But this is at the political level. At the operational level, things are controlled by a bureaucracy that remains deeply anti-American and is ingrained in leftist nonaligned thought. It may well fail to implement or even block the implementation of the latest agreements.

The clearest sign of the Indian bureaucracy’s ingrained anti-Americanism came from the visible euphoria of officials who were part of the negotiations. This in spite of the fact that no public announcements were made.

The Delhi diplomatic grapevine indicates that the Americans had never met an Indian leader who was so willing to “talk business” and help contain China.

India is a country with an acute governance deficit. Its bureaucracy that has no inkling of modern economic thought and zero experience with information age technologies. This may ultimately prove to be the biggest roadblock to a brave new era in Indo-American relations.

Take, for example, the purported agreement on building American nuclear reactors in India. India’s goal has been to get a first dozen or so reactors from abroad, gradually absorb the technology and then produce the same designs domestically at a fraction of the cost with some of the technological knowledge gained migrating into the military nuclear program.

The issue is that every Western-designed reactor depends on reactor vessels fabricated by Mitsubishi heavy industries in Japan, a country that has a similarly strong bureaucracy ingrained in nonproliferation and is unwilling to conclude a nuclear deal with India for this very reason.

This is not to say that the United States or France would be incapable of independently designing and milling a reactor vessel. But given the miniscule number of new reactors commissioned each year, the economics simply don’t support the creation of industrial facilities to produce, at best, ten to fifteen reactor vessels. As a result, even if General Electric and Westinghouse — the two American energy companies looking to export reactors to India — agree to the compromise reached with India on liability, going forward is an extremely difficult proposition.

The second set of agreements signed had to do with India slowly making its weapons systems more interoperable with NATO standards and transfers of American military technology. Here again the Indian bureaucracy’s lack of economic training could greatly impede operationalization.

Much of what India has invested in is NATO incompatible, specifically its fleet of Russian tanks and warplanes. Indigenous destroyers and frigates are also equipped with Russian sensors and weapons.

As a result, the kind of seamless interoperability that would bring serious synergies to play is largely either out of reach for around 70 percent of India’s armed forces. The remaining 30 percent is too small in terms of quantity to make a major difference, especially now the deal for the French Dassault Rafale fighter plane is now on the brink of collapse.

Moreover, India’s foggy ideas about nonalignment means that interoperability is both “undesirable and unnecessary,” as one senior military officer put it.

The net result is that future Indo-American cooperation at the strategic level is held hostage at three levels — all structural.

The first is the bureaucracy. The second is a largely non-NATO compatible military that does not wish to be NATO compatible. The third is the fact that India is a third-world economy. Its demographic bulge and collapsing education system mean it will have to focus on quantity manufacturing rather that high-value addition, quality manufacturing that Western technology represents.

This, combined with a chronic lack of civil-military integration in the manufacturing sector, means that Indian industry cannot sustain the manufacture of low volumes exclusively for military purposes when it is not properly integrated into global civilian supply chains.

Signs of change in at least one of these sectors, the bureaucracy, are visible. The new government has not hesitated to transfer or sack obstructionist or underperforming bureaucrats and officials who do not agree with its policy. But this represents a change on only one of the three structural plains that will determine the operationalization of meaningful Indo-American relations with the other two seemingly untouched.

Irrespective of Modi’s willingness to cooperate with the United States, his country’s reputation as one failing in terms of governance will likely act as check on meaningful cooperation for the foreseeable future.

After Month of Unrest, Pakistan Back to Square One

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks with his British counterpart, David Cameron, in London, England, April 30
Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks with his British counterpart, David Cameron, in London, England, April 30 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

For the last month or so, most of South Asia has been transfixed on the situation in Pakistan. Except for minor diversionary hiccups involving the Islamic State and its victories in Iraq, the subcontinent’s media has been focusing on the shenanigans of Imran Khan and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri — before predictably losing interest and moving onto other things.

In Pakistan, the press found mundane stories to report, such as the forced deplaning of former interior minister Rehman Malik by the irate passengers of a Pakistan International Airlines flight that was delayed because of him. In India, prime ministerial visits to Japan and Chinese presidential visits to India grabbed the headlines while in Sri Lanka, a dispute with trespassing Indian fishermen quickly took over.

The waning interest, even in Pakistan, is symptomatic of the merry go round that is Pakistani politics. What we see is not any real movement to change the status quo but rather the usual shadowboxing of civil-military relations that is now in its umpteenth rerun.

There are three factors that point to this. First, that the civilian government is completely defanged. Second, that the “challenger” is not challenging the policy status quo — just the ruling dispensation. And third, the fact that the army is back in the driver’s seat.

The events of the last month have largely put to rest the wildly misplaced euphoria of Pakistan’s first democratic transfer of power. Combined with this was the belief that the new army chief was somehow supine to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and had shifted his focus from traditional enemy India to far more dangerous internal security problems. The belief was that these two developments in tandem had somehow decisively shifted the balance toward democracy.

Clearly that was not the case. Imran Khan’s impressive showing in last year’s parliamentary elections was largely believed to have been engineered by the intelligence services, as is his supposed mass base. Yet he was convinced by the usual conspiracy theories that are the hallmark of South Asian politics that far from being the runner up, he had in fact won the election and been cheated out of his victory by those who favored the status quo. So began his day of rage — which has now flopped after a month of rage.

The aim was to force Sharif to quit in order to have an “impartial” investigation of the election. Of course, why the majority of Pakistanis should have voted for Imran Khan remains a mystery since he has no new policies and his party is aligned with some of the most corrupt, feudal and regressive landlords of the country, as well as some of the most pro-jihadi, pro-army strategic analysts around. (His chief “strategic advisor,” Shireen Mazari, claimed last year that smog from India’s factories was an attempt to cause cancer in Pakistan since it was wafting across the border.) Clearly his protest had very little to do with the status quo.

However, what his protests achieved was the complete defanging of the Nawaz Sharif government which is now on the back foot in spite of commanding a parliamentary majority.

It could hardly order the police into the crowd to shoot down unruly protesters. That would have provoked a far greater conflagration and required the army to take control — in effect inviting the military back into politics. Not ordering the police to be tough, on the other hand, meant that some of Imran Khan’s threats to burn down the prime minister’s house might have been followed up on.

Complicating matters, it seems the government’s rapprochement with India is in tatters, given that the ambassador to India — apparently acting on army orders but defying Nawaz Sharif’s — held talks with Kashmiri separatists despite a clear warning from New Delhi that peace talks would be canceled. If the prime minister admits the ambassador acted on his own, he would lose ground in Islamabad. If he ignores the ambassador’s gross insubordination, he concedes ground to the army which has traditionally allowed no interference from the government in defense and foreign policy.

Into this dilemma wades the new, supposedly “averse to politics” and “respectful of civilian authority” army chief Raheel Sharif (no relation to the prime minister) who publicly advises Nawaz Sharif to “share power.”

His role brings a welcome respite from the negative media reports doing the rounds that the army’s campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas against the Taliban was a farce with all the wanted terrorists being mysteriously tipped off before strikes began.

The net result then after a month chaos? A powerful government is reduced to a shadow of its former self, its powers completely whittled away without so much as a shot being fired. A challenger whose movement has all but fizzled out and gone from being seen as the great hope to the great disappointment. And finally an army chief — thought to be supine, anti-jihadi and focused on internal security — who has singlehandedly saved all of Pakistan’s “subconventional assets” (jihadis) for later use while pretending to fight them, raised the threat perception from India, despite claiming to be internally focused, and wrecked the remaining four years of the Nawaz Sharif government, despite claiming to be “respectful of civilian authority.” And so we are back to square one.

Kayani’s Succession Follows Familiar Pakistani Pattern

German army chief of staff General Volker Wieker exchanges gifts with his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in Islamabad, January 18, 2011
German army chief of staff General Volker Wieker exchanges gifts with his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in Islamabad, January 18, 2011 (Bundeswehr)

Pakistani general Ashfaq Parvez Kayani achieved rather little during his six years as army chief while his replacement this week brings back painful memories of past mistakes and missteps.

Kayani was General Pervez Musharraf’s successor as chief of Army Staff. When he took over in 2007, he was hailed, as is usual in the Pakistani press, as a reformer, a realist, apolitical and whatnot. By Pakistani standards he certainly was, given that the country had its first peaceful democratic transition of power under his watch. He is also credited with unverified reports of midnight diplomacy between politicians and judges to stave off a constitutional crisis.

But militarily he was no reformer. Pakistan’s green book, believed to be the core doctrine of army thought, retains its focus on India. This showed in Kayani’s conduct of counterterrorist operations. Pakistani troops remained just as deliberately ineffective in fighting the Taliban and other radical groups.

Under Kayani’s stewardship, American-Pakistani relations plunged to new lows — especially after terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was found hiding on the outskirts of a Pakistani garrison town in 2011.

He also contributed in no small measure to the intelligence services’ increasing use of the media to malign the United States for conducting drone strikes in Pakistan’s territory only to request more in secret.

The general’s successor, Raheel Sharif, comes with the same stock descriptions used to justify the appointment of every army chief when overruling seniority. “Apolitical,” “not ambitious,” “confidante” of this person or that, “not too smart,” “reformer,” etc. Sadly every one of these epithets has been proven wrong over and over again.

The first such appointment was Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s in March 1976 by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on the grounds that Zia was religious, apolitical and actively detested politics. The following year the “apolitical” Zia unseated Bhutto in a coup and two years after had him hanged.

The next appointment that ignored seniority and was based on personal whims was by that of General Abdul Waheed Kakar in 1993 by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his first term. Following a showdown with the supreme court and the president, Kakkar forced the political leaders to step down, ending Sharif’s first stint in power.

Sharif made the same mistake again during his second term in office. In October 1998, he appointed Pervez Musharraf, superseding several senior generals, on the grounds that Musharraf was apolitical, dynamic and forward looking. Exactly a year later, Musharraf deposed the premier, jailed him and finally sent him into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Evidently the good prime minister hasn’t learned his lesson. Yet again he has appointed an “apolitical” general while superseding three others.

What we know of Raheel Sharif, who is no relation to the premier, is that his elder brother died in the 1971 war with India and was awarded Pakistan’s highest military honor. Yet the general is supposed to have been instrumental in changing the army’s focus from fighting a conventional war with India to fighting militants inside Pakistan. As head of the training command, he apparently rewrote the manuals and initiated the training required for such a strategic shift.

Facts on the ground and sheer logic don’t bear out this narrative.

Violence within Pakistan remains high with no signs of any deployment away from the Indian border in the last few years. There has been no discernible increase in success in the fight against extremists within Pakistan’s borders which should be associated with a new strategy. Crossborder attacks into Afghanistan and safe havens provided to the Taliban remain in place. Either General Sharif isn’t very good at his job or the rumors about his determination to affect a strategic reorientation are false.

Similarly his “apolitical” nature seems fishy given his stated proximity to the prime minister’s family, a proximity that contributed to his sudden and unexpected triple promotion.

One hopes this time at least Nawaz Sharif got it right. But all the warning signs are flashing.

India’s Conservative Leader Modi Outmaneuvers Rival

Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, India, June 11, 2012
Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, India, June 11, 2012 (Google Plus/Narendra Modi)

After a disastrous election defeat and a stint as absentee leader of the opposition, Lal Krishna Advani finally resigned from India’s opposition conservative party on Monday at the culmination of its national conference held in Goa. That conference was meant to sew up the final minutiae of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral strategy for next year’s general election. The Indian press labeled the resignation as some kind of major churning being set in motion.

Ostensibly this churn is a result of the meteoric rise of Narendra Modi, the supposedly divisive chief minister of Gujarat state. Advani, as the story goes, believed Modi’s divisiveness to be detrimental to the party’s electoral prospects. The reality is that Advani, like most Indian politicians, used identity politics to further his own career. This had little to do with inclusiveness and everything to do with an internal power struggle.

What happened at the BJP conference in Goa was simply a reflection of ground reality. For too long, the BJP’s leadership has been far removed from dissatisfaction in its lower ranks that came from two successive election defeats. Each of these defeats resulted in selective demotions of people not in the Advani faction of the party. For example, despite being the prime ministerial candidate in 2009 and suffering a crushing defeat, Advani continued to wield power within the party through his protégés. These protégés were Arun Jaitley, who became leader of the opposition in the upper house, and Sushma Swaraj, who became leader of the opposition in the lower house.

That Arun Jaitly had managed the failed 2009 campaign was glossed over, as was the fact that Sushma Swaraj lost to chief ministership of Delhi so badly in 1998 that the right hasn’t been able to stage a comeback there in fifteen years.

The writing on the wall was clear enough for the BJP rank and file. Losers cannot win elections. For a long time the BJP’s adherence to supposedly Hindu principles of respecting elders and not questioning the hierarchy held but at some point pragmatism had to take over. Since the lost 2009 election, a slow but perceptible shift away from the Advani faction has taken place. At the time, Jaitley and Swaraj curiously hid behind Modi’s rising star to avoid censure. While formally acting as Modi’s champions, though, they were in fact persistently undermining his chances from within.

The second source of opposition to Modi came from within the BJP’s second rung of leadership, known as the “lost generation.” The first generation were the grand old men: Advani himself, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former party leader Murli Manohar Joshi. All of them had their chance of winning the prime ministership. Only Vajpayee made it.

The second rung comprises the likes of former foreign and finance minister Yashwant Sinha — who, like Advani, refused to attend the Goa conference and accept the new power alignment. The assumption was that owing to his precocious talent and education he would be the obvious heir apparent. This was not to be.

The third-generation leadership is centered around Modi, assisted, sincerely this time, by Jaitley and Swaraj who worked hard to ensure that succession would skip a generation. They hoped to subsequently edge Modi out.

Modi, as it turned out, would not let himself be outmaneuvered. While he wasn’t officially nominated for the premiership, he will lead the BJP into next year’s election. The party will therefore likely focus on development and have a very right-wing approach to economic policy. It will try to steer clear of social issues, knowing that Modi’s reputation can only bring negatives to the table — even if minorities in Gujarat are better off than anywhere else in the country.

So Modi has won even if he didn’t get it all. What’s next?

It is doubtful that Modi will have the internal administrative powers to overhaul the BJP’s hopelessly divided rank and file. In all probability, it will cruise to another election defeat given that the Congress is relying once again on true and tested preelection populism that has proven so detrimental to India’s economy in the past. The danger for Modi is that while he is now the face of the party, he isn’t formally its lead candidate. He might be scapegoated for defeat but not benefit from any gains.

Secondly, the final battle for the BJP has just begun and will be played out in earnest following the 2014 elections. Modi has proven time and again that he wants power, not the trappings of it. Until he gets what he wants, the BJP will likely remain in flux.

Cabinet Reshuffle Changes Little in India’s Political Outlook

Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deliver a joint press conference in New Delhi, May 16, 2009
Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deliver a joint press conference in New Delhi, May 16, 2009 (Reuters)

Sunday saw one of the biggest midterm cabinet shakeups in India since the United Progressive Alliance formed the government in 2004. The reason it is considered “big” is largely due to the fact that it heralds a generational change and lowers the average age of the cabinet.

The specifics of the cabinet reshuffle are less important than the power structure of the ruling Congress party and the electoral and structural dynamics of the country.

The National Congress has in its second term lost significant sympathy as a result of a nigh total policy paralysis and almost daily stories of monumental corruption, causing a string of electoral reverses in state elections.

True power in the party rests with its president, Sonia Gandhi, who is not a member of the government. The split between executive and political power seldom works since in most cases, Gandhi can veto any decision that is made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. No change was made in this party structure on Sunday so the fundamental political outlook of the Congress cannot have changed either.

This outlook includes the firm belief that unsustainable social spending, like the rural employment guarantee scheme, is what won the congress the 2009 election. This is only true up to a point.

The economic ossification that India is heading toward means that the revenue to support such wasteful spending simply isn’t there. Every minister in the cabinet owes his or her election to precisely this kind of wasteful spending and socialist engineering, however, especially the younger ones.

These young Congress leaders, called the “Rahul boys” after Rahul Gandhi, Sonia’s son, who may seek the prime ministership in 2014, have little experience outside politics. All of them have proper educational “degrees” though in a country where pieces of paper and a “not Indian sounding” English accent often substitute for real acumen or ability. Rahul himself lost two consecutive elections in the critical states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The promotions of his acolytes has more to with the failure reinforcing behavior that characterizes terminal dynasties than merit

As Ivor Jennings, a British era civil servant, astutely observed, partition resulted in two things: Pakistan got the army, India got the bureaucracy and they would hang around their necks like a noose.

In Pakistan, the disastrous effect of army control is plainly visible but in India, due to the more benign nature of bureaucratic rule, the detrimental impact of the same is largely glossed over as a “governance deficit.” The reality is that less than 5 percent of any outlays actually gets to the people it targets and politicians cannot, for legal reasons, circumvent the bureaucracy.

This has resulted in rule by patronage and hence the regional representation is a critical factor in any cabinet. What is surprising therefore is that Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal states already in the Congress’ pocket have been given significant representation in the run-up to the 2014 general election. The key swing states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress fares miserably, have been given a pass. The important state of Gujarat, where there will be elections in a few months, has also been ignored. This is surprising as it was a good opportunity to weaken its chief minister Narendra Modi who is speculated to be the next prime ministerial candidate for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and hence Rahul’s and Sonia’s main rival.

Irrespective of its spurts of liberalization — usually too little, too late — Congress remains heavily dependent on left-wing parties for its majority. It is telling that although the liberalization that began under Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s lifted three hundred million Indians out of poverty, the country is still ambiguous on the merits of this policy.

The cabinet shakeup is ultimately little more than a cosmetic change. A party structure and parliamentary majority dedicated to unsustainable social spending, an irrelevant and powerless prime minister, the fundamentally feudal nature of Indian democracy and a rapidly stagnating economy allow for nothing more.

India Sends Message to Washington from Tehran

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran attend the Nonaligned Movement Summit in Tehran, August 30
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran attend the Nonaligned Movement Summit in Tehran, August 30 (MEA)

The Nonaligned Movement has historically been seen as something of a talk fest — high on statements, missing in action and lacking in cohesion.

This week’s summit in Tehran, while mostly living up to the stereotype, was nevertheless important because of what was not said.

Of the 120 member states, only 29 sent their heads of government to Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chose a reasonably befuddled topic as the theme of the summit — “Lasting peace through joint global governance” — as if either of those will ever materialize. But in spite of one expensive exercise in whispering sweet nothings, one message was being conveyed loud and clear — and that was to the United States by India.

India had a whole host of excuses to avoid attending this summit or at least downgrade its participation. For starters, Iran’s hand has now been definitively traced to a bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi earlier this year. India also has the largest Bahá’í population in the world, a faith that is viciously persecuted by the Iranian ayatollahs. Added to this is a very public American attempt to isolate Iran economically and diplomatically. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the Nonaligned Movement Summit in person.

Singh’s speech in Tehran didn’t convey the significance of his presence. Terrorism, human rights and nuclear proliferation found only cursory mention in his address, almost as if they were esoteric concepts. The real message was not in the message but in the act.

In recent months, India has dramatically reduced its petroleum imports from Iran. Oil buys are down 40 percent as a result of the embargo against the Islamic republic which Western nations suspect is developing a nuclear weapons capacity. This has earned India considerable praise from Washington DC and a reprieve from the threat of Western sanctions.

In February, the Atlantic Sentinel predicted that India would not, in fact, join the Western boycott for domestic political reasons. And as it turns out, the “dramatic drop” in Indian oil imports is really more of a blip in response to the sanctions.

Almost on cue a day before the prime minister left for Iran, “government sources” told the Press Trust of India that the reduction in Iranian oil buys was a temporary phenomenon, a result of international insurance implementing Western sanctions.

Iran and India are trying to find ways to circumvent the boycott. Mostly this rests on allowing Iranian banks to open branches in India and finding alternatives to the SWIFT interbank code transfers which have been rescinded for Iran.

The massive power outages that paralyzed India last month, combined with rampant energy price driven inflation, give the government a powerful argument to resist American pressure. But India isn’t just dependent on Iranian oil imports; Iran is its only access to the battleground of Afghanistan, hence key to keeping Pakistan off balance. A nuclear Iran capable of playing mischief without fear of reprisal is viewed in New Delhi as “not undesirable” at all.

There were a few other messages from the Nonaligned Movement Summit that can be interpreted as minor victories for Iran. President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt violated the guiding principles of the movement — nonalignment — by roundly criticizing the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. However, he ignored the issue of Iranian support for Damascus. The fact that he turned up for the summit at all spoke volumes.

Similarly, Prime Minister Singh did not bring up the issue of February’s attack on the Israeli diplomat in Delhi. This is quite possibly because India has been the only country allowed to pursue its investigations into Iran — and subsequently drew a blank.

Iran resorted to theatrics to preempt any mention of the incident. Standing on red draped exhibition podia were the three shattered cars of each of the Iranian nuclear scientists who were presumably assassinated by Israeli intelligence.

The only real setback for Iran was United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s criticism of both President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for their statements on Israel. But on balance, the summit can be hailed as a foreign policy success by Tehran.

The Great Farce of Pakistani Politics

Government buildings in Islamabad, Pakistan, February 7, 2005
Government buildings in Islamabad, Pakistan, February 7, 2005 (Luke Stiles)

Recent developments in Pakistan have been variously characterized as a “judicial coup,” a “prelude to a coup” (or not, depending on the commentator), an anti-corruption crusade, a personality clash, a vendetta, an intelligence agency conspiracy and a military-judicial collusion. This plethora of views is best encapsulated by the conclusion to the poem The Six Blind Men of Hindoostan.

So six blind men of Hindoostan
disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
exceedingly stiff and strong;
Though each was partly in the right,
they all were in the wrong!

It is far too easy and a crude oversimplification to blame the “military” for Pakistan’s ills. The problem with Pakistan has always been systemic which is why history repeats itself time and again, usually as a farce, which is what this latest “crisis” is.

While military excesses have always been the most visible and documented overreaches of authority, almost all of Pakistan’s many crises have included civilian and judicial overreach.

The very first resolution that the elected cabinet of the independent Pakistan passed in 1947 was to give the unelected Muhammad Ali Jinnah the authority to override them. In many ways, this tendency to personalize institutional prerogatives was exacerbated by Pakistan’s inability to enact a constitution for the first nine years of independence. When it finally was, dangerous precedents had already been set in a lacuna lacking any framework. The nebulous power balances that existed at that time were transferred to the Constitution in the form of unclear checks and balances.

This laid the foundations for an augustan Pakistan where each institution was as good or as bad as the individual in charge. Frequently, this has meant that like the Roman caesars, institutional heads, be they military, judicial or civil, exceeded their mandates.

The 1947 resolution laid the foundations of conflict between the elected and unelected executive and has manifested itself in the dismissal or disqualification of every single Pakistani prime minister since.

The elected executive has also had its share of megalomaniacs. It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s manipulation of President Yahya Khan that worsened the situation in East Pakistan. His subsequent refusal to accept the results of the 1971 election led to the horrors that culminated in the secession of Bangladesh.

Zulfikar Bhutto was also quite candid in admitting that he goaded the military into the 1965 and 1971 confrontations with India specifically to weaken it domestically.

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto tried to play caesar, variously to trump chief justice or president or army chief. Sometimes they succeeded but ultimately were cut to size.

The judges have been no different. Pliant when required, they have justified military coups under the “doctrine of necessity” but also provoked confrontation with the military as current and then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry did in 2007, ostensibly to oppose the imposition of an emergency despite a clear deterioration in law and order but really to deflect some very serious charges he was facing.

What emerges is a perpetual pas de trois involving the army chief, the civilian executive and the chief justice, each vying to be caesar. This is complicated by the subplot, the pas de deux between the unelected president and the elected prime minister.

This ballet plot describes every political crisis in Pakistan, including the present. The army chief cannot take over the country since the circumstances are not right, so variously he activates the Anti Narcotics Force to sabotage the candidacy of Zardari’s first choice for prime minister, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, or he uses the intelligence services to buttress Imran Khan as an alternative. This is done ostensibly under the guise of ensuring the rule of law and accountability.

Justice Chaudhry, in order to cover his own corruption, first took on Pervez Musharraf and now selectively targets President Zardari to hide the corruption of his son. This is done under the guise of taking on a military dictator or combatting graft.

Zardari, in turn, uses the office of prime minister as a proxy to shield himself from blatant corruption and abuse of office but also to open investigations into the chief justice’s son. This is done again under the guise of ensuring judicial accountability and due process.

What then will we see in Pakistan? No Pakistan People’s Party leader can be elected without bearing the Bhutto name, ergo, the prime minister is disposable and is require to fall on his sword for his liege — Zardari. As a result, expect to see more prime ministers of Pakistan fall in rapid succession defending the president.

Iftikhar Chaudhry has a history of corruption and abuse of office, just like Zardari. Expect to see the judiciary attempt — knowing full well that it is an exercise in futility — to force prime ministers to write to Swiss authorities seeking details of the Bhutto family’s ill gotten gains.

Given how vulnerable the army is, expect it to allow the judiciary and legislature to destroy themselves once more so that its chosen puppet Imran Khan can take over. Then the great farce will begin all over again with different faces.

In the end, every actor in this farce is convinced that what they are doing is about civilian supremacy, checks and balances, accountability, the rule of law, etc. The reality is that this is about power, pure and simple.