Ruling party belligerence and veiled military threats

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This is about who says what to whom!

 

Now that civilian-military signaling is bringing differences out in the open, Islamabad is expected to be a different place from here on. The government is aware of the army’s grievances and, as far as posturing goes, continued belligerence of the two Khwajas has announced party strategy in no uncertain terms – reining in the khakis, even if it means confrontation.

But upsetting the army leaves the door open to unpleasant consequences Nawaz is not unfamiliar with. And no matter how confident he feels around his heavy mandate government, and how present circumstances rule out any possibility of the military overextending, this conflict will still eat into the leadership’s ability to make decisions and govern. Already correspondents from the capital are feeding the local and foreign press with stories of unease among the public and parts of the opposition.

Problems had been mounting as Gen Musharraf’s trial progressed and the government went its own way in negotiating with the Taliban. But they had been kept under a lid till Musharraf’s Mar31 indictment. The prime minister’s refusal to go along with Gen Raheel’s ECL recommendation was taken as a signal that framing charges was not enough and the government wanted to squeeze the situation further for political advantage. And when the defence and railways ministers were moved across the board, it became clear that civ-mil peace, enduring since Kayani’s days, would begin to break.

Mercurial times

There are different views about the intent behind N’s provocation, especially since there are enough problems that require the government’s immediate attention. The insurgency has grown to the point of negotiating with the state, the economy is in shambles, and growing internal security threats require the government and military to work together, not drift apart.

“There are grave dangers facing the country and the government seems unable to handle them”, said Gen (r ) Hameed Gul, ex ISI chief and president of the Ex Servicemen Society. “Its sense of priorities is worse than a joke”.

There are different views about the intent behind N’s provocation, especially since there are enough problems that require the government’s immediate attention. The insurgency has grown to the point of negotiating with the state, the economy is in shambles, and growing internal security threats require the government and military to work together, not drift apart.

These are times, according to the old spymaster, when external actors have “ganged up” against Pakistan in an “invisible war”. They may not be able to attack directly, but the Afghan war has provided them with a platform to extend their covert proxy war into Pakistan. The Indians regularly play their old games, this time from across the western border. And how Afghan intelligence, often in collusion with its American counterparts, has aided active insurgent groups in Pakistan has been public knowledge for some time now.

These enemies have deadly objectives, aptly reflected in the 50,000 plus Pakistani casualties in this war against terrorism. And the government does not have the deadly resolve needed to overcome this challenge.

“These are mercurial times”, added Gen Gul. “The Afghan situation is changing with the American departure, hardliners are coming to power in India, and we are still trying to deal with the insurgency”. And if the government had political wisdom, which is so desperately needed in such times, it would have found common ground with the military, which is the only institution capable of facing terrorism and security threats. Instead, the N team chose to put these issues on the backburner and pick another fight.

Cart before the horse

Sources close to N’s inner circle tell of a firm conviction that the fight over Article6 is just as important as the long struggle for democracy. And the position they have committed to requires going all the way, hence the Khwajas Saad and Asif gambits, despite the risks.

And there are also more scientific explanations for this political metamorphosis of sorts.

“This is not a confrontation, rather a recalibration of civil-military relations”, said Salman Zaidi, deputy director of Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad based think tank. “This process began after the OBL Abbottabad episode, and has resulted in increasing civilian ingress into security related decision making”.

These enemies have deadly objectives, aptly reflected in the 50,000 plus Pakistani casualties in this war against terrorism. And the government does not have the deadly resolve needed to overcome this challenge.

And despite appearances, this is not a government attempt to attack the military in any manner, but rather the natural continuation of this new discourse. This is a necessary dynamic and must be allowed to run its course.

“This is about who can say what to whom,” he added. “It may be the wrong time or the wrong way to do it, but Nawaz’s inroads into foreign policy, security, etc, are now central to Pakistan’s democratic project. He wants to see the army take the back seat, whether that’s good or bad is another debate”.

But if this is really the wrong time and wrong way to do the right thing, then the government risks putting the cart before the horse and inviting government dysfunction at a time when the public is already unhappy with its service delivery. And there are other areas where the government will not be able to exercise muscle over the military.

Remember the talks?

The army has never been comfortable with the government’s talks with the Talban. It went along, just as a number of opposition parties did at the APC, to give negotiations one last chance. But the fallout has left the civilian and military leadership divided over future course of events. Nawaz is adamant talks must continue, while the army is convinced they are leading nowhere.

“The military will not give them much more time”, prominent defence analyst Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi told Pakistan Today. “It needs to achieve active operational control over the tribal area before the Americans leave Afghanistan later this year. And since this must happen before snow sets in, they will have a Sep/Oct deadline for it”.

If the agencies are not secured, Pakistan will be faced with an increasing flow of funds and fighters strengthening the Taliban, not to mention more Afghan intelligence incursions.

“So the talks must begin to show some results by end-April, which is not very far”, said Dr Rizvi. “There must be something concrete, which ensures that the Taliban are willing to submit to write of state and accept the constitution,” or the military will act unilaterally, however much that embarrasses the government and widens the cleavage.

The government must display moderation, he added, and take steps to diffuse this ill-timed and unnecessary clash with the brass. Otherwise the situation will deteriorate, and even if a takeover is very unlikely, there are other ways that the government’s freedom can be restricted. “Expect more opposition to the protection of Pakistan bill”, he added. “And expect more allies like Maulana Fazlur Rahman to walk away”.

The coming few weeks will tell a lot, especially how vocal government stalwarts remain if the Supreme Court lets Musharraf go and the talks remain frozen till the army decides to act.

2 COMMENTS

  1. He said the government would ensure that it creates and pursues a clear, balanced and effective sovereign foreign policy to safeguard the country’s national and international interests.

  2. He said the government would ensure that it creates and pursues a clear, balanced and effective sovereign foreign policy to safeguard the countrya??s national and international interests.

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