By Bhaskar Roy
In an interview with the BBC last December, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar admitted that the Pakistan army’s overwhelming power and influence over the civilian government was a fact of life since the country came into existence in 1947. Will this situation go on for, say, another 50 years? Can this strangulation of Pakistan’s politics change?
But what happened on December 22, 2011 may be the embryonic beginning of a new path if the people of Pakistan, the political parties and countries which are most crucial to Pakistan get together and support this new development. Usually, such developments die an early death in Pakistan because opposition parties approach the army to intervene directly (coup) or indirectly (helping in ousting the civilian government). With the two major political parties – Mian Nawaz Sharif led (PML-N) and Asif Ali Zardari headed Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – having suffered at the hands of the army, may consider putting aside their petty political differences and focus on ensuring that civilian politicians to lead the country.
Reacting to the arrogance and independence of the army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani decided to fight back. Addressing a seminar to commemorate the 135th birth anniversary of Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and addressing the parliament – all within a space of two hours – Gilani launched an unprecedented challenge against the army. The government was upset with the Defence Secretary’s communication to the Attorney General that the Defence Ministry was not under the government and could not give a submission to the Supreme Court in the alleged infamous “Memo” to the US government.
In a sharp statement Gilani told the people and the parliament that conspiracies were being hatched to topple the government. He made it clear that “They (army) have to be answerable to the Parliament”, that “they cannot be a state within a state” and “the army must follow the constitution”. He reminded them that it was his government which had stood by the security forces over the Osama bin Laden killing, the November 26 NATO attack on the Salala army post, and the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. He also asked how Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan undetected for six years.
Gilani further attacked the army’s strategic principles of “strategic depth in Afghanistan” and “India as the No.1 enemy”. He emphasized that a stable, peaceful, independent, sovereign Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s interest. And, Pakistan viewed India as its most important neighbour and desired sustained, substantive and result-oriented dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues including the core issue of Kashmir.
In brief, Gilani warned the army that the GHQ in Rawalpindi was responsible for the Mumbai terror attack, giving refuge to the most wanted international terrorist Osama who was responsible for directing the unprecedented terrorist attacks against the USA (“26/11”) from Pakistan’s soil and under the army’s protection, and was responsible for worst ever relationship with the US.
Returning from Dubai earlier than expected where he had gone for treatment of a heart condition, President Asif Ali Zardari called upon the nation to pledge that it will not allow any change through force, intimidation and “bullet” and respect democratic elections as the instrument of change. Zardari’s travel to Dubai to be treated at an American hospital was surrounded by conflicting statements and rumours. One thing that came out clear was through Gilani’s statement was that Zardari feared for his life in a Pakistani hospital. Army doctors had offered to treat him. Zardari’s fears go back to his years in jail under Gen. Musharraf’s regime when reports came out in the international media about attempts to murder him. Zardari, personally, has a difficult time ahead. Army Chief Gen. Asfaq Kayani, who sees him as an American stooge, is determined to oust him. He has also fallen foul of the Pakistani Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Iftikhar Ahmed Choudury. In an arrangement made with President Musharraf in 2008, corruption cases against the late Benazir Bhutto and her husband were closed under the National Reconciliation Order (NRO). The Supreme Court has nullified the NRO and has reopened the cases in which many other were beneficiaries. Zardari and Musharraf remain the main targets.
The fly in the ointment, however, is the memo scandal – the alleged unsigned memo sent to US Chairman of Chiefs of General Staff in early May, 2011 by then ambassador to the US, Hassan Haqqani through Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz. The memo is alleged to have been initiated at the behest of President Zardari, requesting American assistance if the army attempted a coup and promising several stepped up cooperation for counter-terrorism.
Fundamentally, such a request to a foreign country can be interpreted as treason, but the definition would be open to interpretation in case of an army coup. The Supreme Court has stepped into the case, and the reason is obvious.
Both Gen. Kayani and ISI/Chief Lt. Gen. Pasha have submitted to the Supreme Court their responses that the Memo was real. Zardari has refused to submit his petition on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction in the issue. Meanwhile, leading human rights activist and Supreme Court lawyer Ms. Asma Jehangir who was representing Hossain Haqqani in the Memo case in the Supreme Court, withdrew alleging collusion between the court and the army against Haqqani.
This fight between the court and the government is likely to plunge the country into a constitutional tussle where more than law is involved. The Army-Supreme Court collusion has become evident.
Mansoor Ijaz first disclosed the details of the memo in a media article, and also confirmed in a meeting with Pasha subsequently in London that the memo were authentic. Mansoor Ijaz is neither a small man nor a novice. And he is not concerned about collateral havoc when he chases a cause. In this case, his cause was to expose the Pakistani army’s aims, and he had the backing of a section of the American security establishment. Ijaz’s utter dislike for the Pak army is well known.
All said, the army is on a back step at the moment. Gen. Kayani was forced to declare publicly (Dec. 22) the army and the ISI are under the government and the constitution. Later, he clarified that he had no intention of a coup. Subsequently, in an offer to truce, Gilani said that the government had no intention of dismissing Kayani and Pasha, and praised Kayani’s professionalism and his support to democracy.
But this is not going to end here. There is a new debate prompted by Gen. (Rtd) Ziauddin Butt @ Khwaja who revealed in a talk in October 2011 that Gen. Musharraf knew about Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan under army protection all along, and that Gen. Kayani also may have known about it. Prime Minister Gilani has already put the army in the dock on the Osama question and is holding his power dry. Even if Zardari somehow gets indicted in the Memo scandal, it will not affect Gilani.
One spoiler who can emerge in this tension filled scenario is former cricket legend and chairman of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party Imran Khan. At this time when the people of Pakistan stand frustrated, he is trying to project himself and his party as the saviour. His political rally in Karachi, a difficult place and full of sectarian political conflicts, on December 25, drew a surprising 100,000 strong crowd. He promised a welfare Islamic state in Pakistan.
A so-called liberal having married and then divorced, a British woman, Imran Khan espouses anti-Americanism very vocally, calls Zardari the most corrupt person in Pakistan (something most people endorse) and talks about Islamic values. Reports suggest he has quiet links with the army as well as some Islamic radical parties. It is not known how he is viewed in the US, but most in India who followed his cricketing career saw on the sidelines his political inclination which had a tinge of Islamism and a vitriolic position on the Kashmir issue. The concern that is more than his Kashmir position is his reported proclivity to enter into deals with the army, and the Islamists who are also linked with army. Most recent reports suggests that PTI may consider aligning with Pervez Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League.
The main question in the current situation is how the Pakistani army will deal with the multifarious challenges they face. They are under severe criticism from some sections in Pakistan for bringing relations with the US to this unprecedented low. Concerned and responsible Pakistanis know the value of relations with the USA. It is not only the American development assistance, but that Washington holds the key to multilateral assistance to Pakistan. Yet, American arrogance especially in running intelligence operations within the country and collateral damages (deaths) to civilians in drone attacks has created a divide among the people of Pakistan. The ISI and the Islamists have used this to the hilt to raise anti-Americanism. At a certain level it has been ingrained in people’s minds that India, the US and to some extent Israel are determined to destroy Pakistan.
The Pakistani army has grown on the premise of continuous wars or, at least, continuous conflicts. It has focussed on the Indian border or the eastern border to safeguard its western border with Afghanistan, that is, prevent India’s influence in Afghanistan and ensure Afghanistan remains as the GHQ’s surrogate.
Kayani is also on record to say that the Islamic militant organizations are their assets. And there is no sign that the army is anywhere near discarding these terrorist organizations. Having created terrorist organizations like the Laskar-e-Toiba (LET) and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Haqqani clique and others to destabilise India and Afghanistan, they have now internalized terror in their own country. When Pakistan argues that it is a victim of terror, it is the terror created by them and many of them continue to be nurtured by the army and the ISI. The roots of international terrorism still remain in Pakistan.
American foreign policy is difficult to read and even more difficult to predict. Without trying to decipher these undecipherables, suffice it to say that a rare opportunity has arisen to bring Pakistan under real civilian rule and return the army to the barracks and the borders. The ISI requires total dismantling and brought under civilian control. Then only can there be hope for Pakistan. India has no intention for a misadventure against Pakistan which has no dividends.
As a footnote, the unpredictable. Former army chef and President, Parvez Musharraf, who lives in London, is planning to return to Pakistan in the end of January. He would be facing charges in several cases including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. He has been declared an absconder in the case. Yet, in the last four years the case has really moved nowhere and Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikar Ahmed Choudury has shown little urgency in the case.
Equations change so quickly in Pakistan that it is difficult to see who will be his friends and who his enemies. Even Imran Khan is not a sure bet. But alliances do form. If Musharraf is arrested on his arrival, situation will take a different turn. If he is not, another large field of intrigues and alliances would open up. But Musharraf will only return if he is able to make a deal with Gen. Kayani and Chief Justice Choudury. At the least, there will be a new mess in Pakistan.