American officials have been pressing Pakistan’s military leadership to be more aggressive in going after the Haqqanis. And Mr. Sharif’s exit means that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army’s chief, assumes an even bigger role.
“This means even more power in the military’s hands because the military is truly the only institution in Pakistan that’s not in turmoil,” said Vikram J. Singh, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia. “But the fact is,” he added, “they already have all the power in the military. So it’s not that big a change.”
For some in American security circles, that is a relief. The military has always controlled the country’s nuclear arsenal, and stability within that military structure means fewer worries that amid the country’s political turmoil, its nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
General Bajwa is well known to American diplomats and defense officials. He met this week with General John W. Nicholson, the American commander of Afghanistan war effort, and David Hale, the American ambassador to Pakistan, a holdover from the Obama administration, to talk about Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Haqqanis.
General Bajwa’s office issued a statement afterward complaining that Pakistan was being unfairly criticized for chaos in Afghanistan, citing the “blame game perpetrated by some quarters in Afghanistan and U.S.A. to undermine Pakistan’s contributions towards war on terror.”
General Bajwa went on to say it was “not a coincidence that this theme is being played at a time when policy review is being undertaken in the U.S.,” a reference to the Afghanistan strategy review that is stalled at the White House.
Still, the statement promised, “Pakistan will continue to act positively as we consider defeat of terrorism as a national interest.”
But even if military engagement between the United States and Pakistan stays on track, American officials and experts in South Asia worry that if the political situation in Pakistan becomes unstable, it could lead to bigger problems not only for the United States, but for Pakistan’s neighbors, India and Afghanistan, and the region as a whole.
Mr. Sharif stepped down on Friday, acquiescing to the Supreme Court’s demands in a corruption case that brought charges against him and three of his children that stemmed from disclosures last year in the Panama Papers leak. Those documents revealed that the children owned expensive residential property in London through offshore companies.
But even though Mr. Sharif’s party is expected to continue to rule, and will be appointing a successor, he still has a number of supporters in the country. If he, or his children, are convicted on corruption charges, that could spark civil unrest in Pakistan, South Asia experts said.
“The fall of Nawaz Sharif does not immediately impact the security situation,” said Vali Nasr, the dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former senior adviser to the United States special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “However, if it leads to greater political chaos and uncertainty in Pakistan, it could have an impact on the United States going forward, as the U.S. is looking to ramp up its engagement in Afghanistan and to control and contain the growing insurgency there.”
A Pakistan that is mired in chaos right next door would prevent the United States from putting in place any kind of coherent policy in Afghanistan, Mr. Nasr said.
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