Pakistan Government Versus Pakistan Army: The Ongoing Tussle – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

In Pakistan today, the cyclical patterns of history seem to be in motion. It is the ongoing tussle between the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan Army and the year 2011 in years to come may emerge as the defining moment when the first noticeable stirrings of a democratically elected civilian government in Pakistan attempted to assert and establish the supremacy of civilian control over the Pakistan Army.

In my opinion 2001 and 2011 mark decisive turning points in the history of the Pakistan Army in terms of strategic diminution internationally and political diminution domestically. The events of 2001 and 2011 greatly diminished the exaggerated swagger of the professionalism of the Pakistan Army, an image greatly promoted by the United States and the West.

In late 2001 following the Pakistan Army facilitated 9/11 Jihadi bombings on the citadels of power in Homeland United Sates, the Pakistan Army Chief and military ruler of Pakistan then, General Musharraf was put on notice by the United States that brutal retaliation would be inflicted on Pakistan should the Pakistan Army not agree to collude and assist the United States war effort in liquidating the global Jihadi machine and infrastructure of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. The Pakistan Army Chief, General Musharraf immediately capitulated and quoted the Holy Scriptures that such temporizing was permitted with options to strike back at an opportune time.


Pakistan Army’s duplicitous collusion with the United Sates from 2011 to mid-2011 is now well known history and need not be repeated.

On May 2, 2011 the United States Special Forces in a swift raid liquidated Osama bin Laden ensconced in a major garrison city of Abbottabad deep within Pakistani territory after ten years of denial by successive Pakistani Army Chiefs that Osama bin Laden was not in Pakistan.

Pakistani public resentment against the Pakistan Army and its top leadership erupted unprecedently. In public perceptions, the Pakistan Army top leadership was either in deep collusion with the United States on the liquidation of Osama bin Laden or failing which it was utterly professionally incompetent and failed to defend the sovereignty of Pakistan. Pakistan Army’s professional image stood deeply dented in public eyes leading to the Pakistan Army military hierarchy protesting that it could not allow such criticism of the Pakistan Army to continue.

Ironically it was then the Civilian Government of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani that had to step in to retrieve and defend the Pakistan Army from public ridicule. Ironically further, today it is the Pakistan Army and his DG ISI Lt Gen Shuja Pasha more noticeably locked in a tussle for supremacy with the democratically elected Civilian Government of Pakistan. Ironically too is the fact that it was the Zardari regime which gave a three year extension to General Kayani and two extensions to the Director General ISI.

Contextually, the struggle for supremacy cannot be flagged as having commenced with Pakistan’s Memogate in which it was alleged by the Pakistan Army Chief and DG ISI Lt General Pasha that the Pakistan President in collusion with Pakistan Ambassador in USA, Hussein Haqqani had forwarded a secret Memo to The US Chief of Joint Staff seeking American help to dissuade the Pakistan Army from indulging in a military coup against the Civilian Government.

Contextually, the diminishment of Pakistan Army’s military stranglehold over Pakistan needs to be placed in the context of massive civilian protests demonstrations in 2007 against the displacement of activist Pakistan Chief Justice Chaudhry by the military rulers of Pakistan. Those were the first stirrings of democracy in Pakistan and public fatigue with Pakistan Army stranglehold on Pakistan’s political governance.

The current struggle for supremacy between the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan Army needs to be viewed as a sequential follow-up of the preceding events and further aided by the changing perceptions within the United States of the strategic utility of Pakistan Army to the United States.

Never before in Pakistan’s history has such a tussle for supremacy ever taken place publicly and so bitterly. What one is witnessing in Pakistan today is of the Civilian Government in the persons of President Zardari and PM Gilani strongly asserting publicly that the Pakistan Army needs to stay and operate within Constitutional limits and further exhorting the Pakistan public that they should not allow the use of intimidation or force in changing the Government.

With Pakistan and the Pakistan Army besieged from both within and without the ongoing confrontation between the Pakistan Government and the Pakistan Army throws up complex challenges both for Pakistan itself and also for Pakistan’s patrons and regional neighbors..

This Paper intends to examine some of the nagging questions that are rising from the unfolding developments in Pakistan.

Pakistan Government versus Pakistan Army Confrontation: A Suicidal Specter Hovers

Hovering above the ongoing Pakistan Government-Pakistan Army confrontation is a suicidal specter in which both entities may have over-reached themselves by locking horns for what appears to be a fight to the finish. A point of no return seems to have been reached.

The Pakistan Government appears to be strongly bent on establishing civilian supremacy and control of the Pakistan Army. It seems to be fortified by both domestic political factors and external support.

The Pakistan Army unused to being challenged by Pakistani political leaders equally seems to be bent on not letting the Pakistan Government on what it perceives as its legitimate turf including the all-important control of Pakistan’s foreign policy specifically with the United States, China, India and Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Army has presently taken recourse to legal remedies in terms of rejoinders and affidavits to the Supreme Court by the Pakistan Army Chief and his Director General ISI both in the eye of the present storm.

Keeping in mind Pakistan Army’s propensities for military coups to secure its ends, the same cannot be ruled out altogether.

Pakistan media is carrying reports that the Civilian Government is toying with the idea of dismissal of both the Army Chief and the Director General ISI.

Whatever be the outcome of this confrontation what appears as a distinct possibility is that both sides lose considerably and to that extent the present course is suicidal. However it needs to be noted that this time around the contextual factors are heavily stacked against the Pakistan Army.

Pakistan Army Military Intervention: The Factors Ranged Against it Within Pakistan in 2012

The fears of a military intervention by the Pakistan Army have been raging ever since the Army’s domestic stock took a nose-dive following the United States Special Forces operations to liquidate Osama bi Laden in the Abbottabad attacks on May 02,2011. It needs to be recalled that the Pakistan Army unabashedly exhibited a state of denial on this score fully knowing that Abbottabad was Pakistan’s major military garrison and Osama’s presence there for six years would have been facilitated by the Pakistan Army Chief and his Director General ISI.

Pakistan’s Memogate appeared in October/November 2011 and provided the Pakistan Army a heaven-sent opportunity to retrieve its domestic image on the plea that President Zardari and erstwhile Pak Ambassador to USA had conspired to discredit the Pakistan Army’s reputation and this amounted to national treason.

Curiously, Pakistan Army’s moves in this direction backfired in that the Pakistan polity as a virtual whole started openly demanding that if Ambassador Haqqani was held accountable by the Pakistan Army for Pakistan Memogate and dismissed under Army pressures, then by the same token the Director General ISI should be held accountable for the Abbottabad fiasco and violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and security and that Lt General Pasha should also be dismissed. Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani has not responded to these demands.

In 2012, it appears that all the cards are heavily tacked against the Pakistan Army’s temptation for a possible military intervention against the Zardari régime. The impediments or dissuasive factors deterring the Pakistan Army from such a course are both domestic and external.

Pakistan’s political landscape unlike earlier years has not thrown up any indicators pointing to a groundswell for a Pakistan Army intervention. Further all political parties in Pakistan while having sharp differences with the PPP Government have not ranged with the Pakistan Army against the Civilian Government.

More significantly the activist Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court, while being no friend of President Zardari has publicly warned that it would rule any such military intervention as unconstitutional. General Musharraf’s dismissal of Chief Justice Chaudhary and 60 other Judges and their subsequent reinstatement under intense public demonstrations on Pakistani streets should be an eye-opener for General Kayani on the perils of ignoring the judicial warnings.

Equally significant are the socio-economic factors operating in Pakistan presently where an enlarging civil society and middle class backed by an activist media would not countenance any future military intervention.

Externally, what needs to dawn on Pakistan Army Generals is that their ‘Guardian Angel’, the United States is no longer backing them. It would not be wrong to state that currently the Pakistan Army is in a state of undeclared semi-war situation with the United States as one Pakistani commentator has observed.

The Pakistan Army seemingly may be over-reaching itself should it decide to go in for a military intervention against the Civilian Government.

Pakistan President and Pakistan Prime Minister: From Where Have They Derived the Strength to Confront the Pakistan Army?

In Pakistan’s last seven decades or so never has any Civilian Government stood up to confront the Pakistan Army on the critical issue of establishing civilian control and supremacy over the Pakistan Army long used to twiddle Pakistani political leaders around their thumbs. Obviously something substantial is afoot where President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani feel strong and emboldened not only to stand upto the Pakistan Army but also make strong public statements to the effect that the Pakistan Army should cease to function as a “State within a State” and that the Pakistan Army should operate within the limits prescribed in the Constitution.

More than the domestic political environment emboldening the Civilian Government in confronting the Pakistan Army, analytically it can be deduced that it is the United States which seems to be the only logical source of assured support to the Civilian Government. The United States in all probability may have assured President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani that it would stand by them to thwart their being overthrown by the Pakistan Army.

There are far too many coincidental factors which suggest this argument. Looking back what appears in sharp contours is that President and Prime Minister Gilani have indulged in strident criticisms of the Pakistan Army only after Pakistan Memogate wherein the Pakistan Army could pressurize the sacking of Ambassador Haqqani but was unsuccessful in ousting President Zardari on the same issue even though President Zardari was the intended target of the Pakistan Army.

Further the Pakistan Army ceased to figure as a reliable and worthwhile ally in the United States strategic calculus not only in relation to Afghanistan but also overall.

The flurry of visits to Islamabad and Rawalpindi by high political and military personages of the United States were intended to get the Pakistan Army on board to contribute to the implementation of the United States strategic blueprint on Afghanistan. In hindsight one could say that the Pakistan Army Chief over-rated himself in relation to US priorities.

The United States Special Forces operations and attacks on Abbottabad on May 02, 2011 can now be read as United States final disillusionment with the Pakistan Army and therefore a ‘Go it Alone Strategy’. The Pakistan Army had proved utterly unreliable in delivering on its pledges to the United States and could no longer be also relied upon to protect or prevent misuse of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal too.

The United States had now strong imperatives to clip the wings of the Pakistan Army and pre-empt it from damaging US interests. What better options for the United States than to get the wings of Pakistan Army being clipped by a Civilian Government in Pakistan with United States tacit support against any retaliatory actions by the Pakistan Army against the civilian leadership?

Media reports emanating from Pakistan suggest that the political leadership in Pakistan is blaming the Pakistan Army Chief and his Director General ISI for advocating and implementing strong confrontationist postures against the United States, moreso after the NATO attacks on Pak Army Sallalah posts on the Afghan border. The political leadership in Pakistan viewed the Pak Army Chief in unnecessarily adopting strong and defiant postures against the United States.

It would not be a conspiracy theory to suggest that should the Pakistan Army attempt to topple the Zardari regime if the Pakistan Army Chief and his Director General ISI are sacked, it may invite possible United States limited military intervention on the plea that in the ensuing turbulence in Pakistan, the assured safety of Pakistan Army nuclear weapons arsenal stood endangered and impacting on United States national security interests.

Concluding Observations

Pointedly and repeatedly asserted in my earlier Papers on Pakistan were two strong indicators pertaining to the evolution in what is presently unfolding in Pakistan. The first was that Pakistan was dangerously perched at strategic crossroads by Pakistan Army’s imperial pretensions on Afghanistan and the second being that Pakistan Army-United States strategic relationship had moved from strategic denouement to a virtual deep freeze by mid-2011.

Shorn of United States strategic patronage, the Pakistan Army can no longer easily dictate the political fortunes of Pakistan. And therein lay great dangers of the Pakistan Army going berserk in being so stunted and resorting to military adventurism both within Pakistan and outside Pakistan.

But all said and done, what does appear is that that the time has come for Pakistan to put the Pakistan Army in its places and thereby allow democracy to flourish in Pakistan.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

One thought on “Pakistan Government Versus Pakistan Army: The Ongoing Tussle – Analysis

  • December 28, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Your analysis hits the nail on the head. I would urge that we pay particular interest in the rise of Imran Khan as a probable puppet of the military. It should not escape anyone that in the one breath, this man claims that he seeks to bring the military under civilian control, while simultaneously aligning himself with the military world view. It would serve us all well to recognize his ties to Hamid Gul.


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