By B. Raman
Appearing in a talk show hosted by Suhasini Haidar of CNN-IBN on November 26,2011, I said that I never believed a coup was likely in Pakistan as a result of the Army’s anger over the so-called Memogate affair . I added that Pakistan had an independent judiciary today and that, hence, the Army would not have the confidence that it could get a coup validated by the judiciary post-facto.
If Suhasini were to ask me the same question today in the light of the outrage in the Pakistan Army over the reported death of 28 Pakistani troops due to a mistaken NATO airstrike on two Pakistani military posts about two kms from the Afghan border in the Mohmand Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on November 26, my reply would be a little more nuanced.
I would still rule out a coup by senior officers headed by Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), who are quite capable of rational thinking regarding the legal and other consequences of a coup, but I would not rule out a coup by subalterns and middle level officers enraged over the failure of their senior officers and the political leadership to protect the honour of the Pakistan Army against repeated infringements by the US and other NATO forces.
One saw reports of such anger in the barracks over the failure of the senior military leadership to prevent the US Commando raid to kill Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2,2011.Kayani managed to control this anger with great difficulty by undertaking a tour of important military cantonments.
Reports received by me from Pakistani sources, who are not known to have misled me in the past, claim that one could see similar anger over the latest incident spreading across the barracks. The anger is against the US as well as against the senior leadership of the Army. The reports indicate that organisations such as the Hizbut Tehrir have been trying to fan this anger.
If this anger doesn’t subside, there is a danger of a successful or attempted coup in Pakistan organised by officers at middle level, who would not be bothered about the legal consequences of a coup. The Pakistan Army is a disciplined force. In its history, there has never been a successful coup by junior officers. However, there were two instances of attempted junior officers’ coup, the preparations for which were detected in time by the senior military leadership and crushed.
The last of them was in 1995 when Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister and Gen Abdul Wahid Kakkar was the COAS. A group of middle level officers headed by Brig. Zahir-ul-Islam Abbasi, former Defence Attache to India, joined hands with the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and planned to capture power after killing Benazir and the COAS. The plans for the coup were accidentally detected and the officers concerned arrested and court-martialled.
When Gen. Pervez Musharraf was in power we had seen reports of individual junior officers of the Army and the Air Force, who were angry over Musharraf’s co-operation with the US, joining hands with Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements in a conspiracy to have Musharraf assassinated. Their role came to notice during the investigation into the two attempts to kill Musharraf in December,2003, allegedly orchestrated by Abu Faraj at-Libbi of Al Qaeda now in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre of the US.
The anti-US anger in the lower and middle ranks of the Pakistan Army after the Abbottabad raid has till now been kept under control by Kayani. If the anger over the killing of 28 troops, including two officers, allegedly by NATO air strikes on Pakistani military posts in the Momand Agency is not carefully and tactfully handled by the US and the Pakistani civilian and military leadership, there is a danger of this anger getting out of control leading to a conspiracy of the junior officers.
If such a conspiracy is successful with the co-operation of jihadi elements, there would be a real threat of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal coming under their control. Senior Pakistani Army officers are responsible people who are quite capable of ensuring that there is no misuse of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I do not have the same confidence about the junior officers.
The US-Pakistan relations are going from bad to worse — particularly the military-military and intelligence-intelligence relationship. There is a lot of glee among many Indian analysts over it. This need not necessarily be a beneficial development for India. It is in our interest that the US retains the ability to influence the behaviour of the Pakistani military leadership.
The situation in Pakistan needs very close monitoring.
About the author: B. Raman
B. Raman was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: [email protected]