By Dr Subhash Kapila
Pakistan today is virtually tottering on the edge of an abyss. This conclusion arises from the harsh reality that is unfolding in Pakistan today. Pakistan today stands internally besieged with an on-going multi-dimensional clash of interests between the major pillars of the Pakistan nation-state. The entire major pillars of the State, namely the democratically elected Civilian Government, the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Supreme Court are involved in a headlong clash with each other.
Previous papers of this author on the subject have analysed in fair detail the unfolding of this regrettable saga which threatens the survival of the nascent Pakistan democracy which had just about started striking roots in Pakistan after decades of Pakistan Army coups and military rule.
Also highlighted was the inevitable conclusion that Pakistan’s Civilian Government would not have dared to take-on the powerful Pakistan Army Chief in an open and now well publicized confrontation unless fortified by assurances of ensured survival by the United States, the erstwhile ‘Patron Saint’ of the Pakistan Army. In the same connection was highlighted the flurry of visits by the DG ISI to China for obvious reasons. China’s assurances during the recent 5 day visit of Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani to China that China would stand y Pakistan to ensure Pakistan’s sovereignty and survival are not threatened, are ominous assertions.
Ordinarily one would have expected that in this clash of interests, Pakistan’s domestic political dynamics and processes would have stepped in by now to avoid a self-destructive clash between the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Civilian Government valiantly trying to establish the democratic principle of civilian control over the Pakistan Army. No such indicators are presently available.
On the contrary, what is unfolding are the contours of a strategy of the Pakistan Army Chief, General Kayani to facilitate and contrive a first class Constitutional crisis and Constitutional breakdown which in the last resort would facilitate a military take-over by the Pakistan Army. This would absolve the Pakistan Army from the onus of resorting to a direct military coup.
Pakistan Army and Pakistan Civilian Government Poised on a Knife Edge Today
Sequentially, the Pakistan Army-Pakistan Civilian Government confrontation has sharpened much further than what was discussed and highlighted in my previous papers on the subject. In the last couple of days the following has unfolded:
- Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani asserts in an interview to China People’s Daily that the Pakistan Army Chief and his DG ISI had violated the ‘Rules of Business’ by sending their replies as respondents in the Memogate case to the Supreme Court without routing these replies through the Government channels as obliged to do so. Significantly, this assertion was made by the Pakistan Prime Minister while the Pakistan Army Chief was visiting China.
- In a sharp response to the above, the Pakistan Army Chief through a Note issued publicly by the military ISPR asserted that the allegations made by Pakistan Prime Minister against the Pakistan Army Chief and DG ISI were “very serious’ and had “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country”. This needs to be read as an open threat by the Army Chief.
- In the wake of the above the Pakistan Prime Minister fires the Pak Defence Secretary, Lt General (Retd) Lodhi considered close to the Pakistan Army Chief and considered more powerful than the Pak Defence Minister.
- As a follow-up two things have happened. Pakistan Army Chief summons an emergency meeting of his Corps Commanders and the Pakistan Government summons a special session of the Parliament.
These developments carry significant and serious ramifications leading one Pakistani defence analyst Ikram Sehgal to opine that the sacking of the Defence Secretary, (traditionally a retired General positioned by the Pakistan Army in a Civilian Government as an insider) needs to be viewed as the first step by the Pakistan Civilian Government to sack the Pakistan Army Chief and his DG ISI.
Retaliation by the Pakistan Army to a dismissal of the Army Chief would be a certainty as witnessed in the military coup in absentia carried out by the Pakistan Army when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dismissed General Musharraf as Pak Army Chief.
What could follow in the wake of the mayhem so generated stands discussed in my earlier Papers, including a likely military intervention by the United States.
Pakistan Army Chief’s Preferred Option: Await Likely Unseating of the President and Prime Mister by the Supreme Court
Pakistan Army military coup is a near certainty in case the Pak Army Chief is dismissed from service by recalling the three year extension given by the Government. Technically it may not count as dismissal from a normal tenure but annulling the extension.
Should the Pakistan Civilian Government shirk from an outright dismissal of the Pak Army Chief, then he can be expected to await a likely unseating of the President and the Prime Minister by the Supreme Court that the President does not enjoy immunity on corruption charges and the Prime Minister for not implementing the NRO orders of opening investigations against the President on corruption charges.
The overall situation has become very messy in Pakistan and the Pakistan Army Chief can await the Pakistan Civilian Government-Pakistan Supreme Court confrontation to play out.
Pakistan Civilian Government’s Option to Exit from the Confrontation Impasse
The Pakistan Government is not without options to exit from this confrontational impasse. The Pakistan Government if not unseated by a swift military coup by the Pakistan Army Chief can order early General Elections soon after the Senate elections. If it is returned to power by the Pakistani people in a democratic election then the Pakistan Army would be ill-placed to carry out a direct military coup.
All political parties in Pakistan including those opposed to the Zardari regime are on record that they are strongly opposed to any military coup by the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan Supreme Court has hinted that they would rule out as unconstitutional any military coup by the Pakistan Army and that a peoples’ mandate in a General Election could be an exit from the current impasse between the vital organs of the State.
Indicators whether such an exit option can play out would only be available in another few weeks.
Pakistan undoubtedly is locked in a deepening confrontation between vital organs of the Pakistan nation-state. The civil-military divide has congealed into seemingly irreconcilable confrontational stances in which neither domestic political dynamics can bring about reconciliation between warring organs of state nor external options are visible.
Irrefutable is the fact that a democratic and stable Pakistan can only emerge when the Pakistan Army submits under both domestic political pressures and external coercion to submit to civilian supremacy and civilian control.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])