By Khaled Ahmed
Nov 29 2013
The populist general helped tip Pakistan into dangerous paranoia.
Pakistan’s “India-centric” army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, retires on November 29. He has been a popular chief, sworn to non-interference in the civilian system of governance (sic). He espoused this populism till August 14, 2012, when he unaccountably and dangerously — because of the possible reaction from within the army — announced from Kakul in Abbottabad that the war against terrorism was Pakistan’s war and that Pakistan’s trouble was internal, caused by religious intolerance. Had he remained populist, he would have embraced the universally accepted agitprop saying “it’s not our war”. As a former ISI boss, he went against the intelligence agency’s own line, given to politicians and TV anchors.
Populism forced him to be India-centric and anti-US, and in both respects, he hurt Pakistan and made its civilian governance difficult. For 20 years, in various capacities, he helped set Pakistan’s direction and was described by Forbes Magazine in 2012 as the “28th most powerful person in the world”. During the course of the PPP government (2008-2013), he turned anti-American and rejected the aid bill that was to be the shot-in-the-arm of a country devastated by terrorism. So much for his vow of non-interference.
A series of decisions taken by him tilted the country into dangerous paranoia. Far from the popular impression of his non-interference, not only was the army openly in exclusive charge of the country’s foreign and security policy, it was clearly the real power in Pakistan behind the facade of democracy. General Kayani was thus seen as the most powerful man in the country, paradoxically enjoying the reputation of an army chief who believed in non-interference in the democratic process.
Earlier, as ISI head “he was also negligent, at best, and complicit, at worst, when the terrorist attacks on Benazir Bhutto took place”. Later, as army chief, he did not cooperate with the fact-finding commissions to uncover the truth about her assassins. He appointed General Ahmad Shuja Pasha as ISI boss. Pasha effectively undermined the PPP government and participated in the infamous “Memogate” trial at the Supreme Court against PPP leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, which led to the resignation of Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. Kayani, appearing in court in person, caused Zardari to have a nervous breakdown and thus sullied the army’s name. The whole affair was triggered by the wicked interpretation put forward by him on the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. (A fact-finding commission later held the army responsible for his presence in a garrison town.)
The Pakistan army effectively rules Pakistan. The PPP government dared to normalise relations with India after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack from Pakistan, but India-centric Kayani was able to stop it, just as General Pervez Musharraf was able to prevent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from reaching out to New Delhi in 1999 by overthrowing his government. Taking that precedent to heart, the Zardari government literally enslaved itself to the GHQ to survive, compensating by taking wholeheartedly to corruption. Before Kayani’s departure this month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, re-elected in 2013, once again disavowed his India policy at the UN, ominously indicating that the post-Kayani GHQ will continue to be India-centric, looking at Afghanistan as an Indian strategic arena to humble Pakistan. The Pakistan foreign office abets the army in this frozen worldview.
The Pakistan army, a well-organised entity, has tried to fit into an underdeveloped political system — which has remained underdeveloped because of the army — while responding to the unequal challenge of next-door India. Driven by a tough revisionist nationalism, it has ended up cannibalising the state it is supposed to defend. Its acts of trespass and usurpation have sapped its professional function and habituated it to reinterpreting its defeats as victories. Shuja Nawaz, in his book, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars within (2008), has examined the mind of the army and come to some interesting conclusions.
He compares it tentatively with the Kemalist army of Turkey, which often clashed with the democratic aspirations of the Turks — with roles reversed as far as religion is concerned — and, more relevantly, with the Indonesian army, which has tentacles deep inside the national economy and a system of privileges. The special relationship between the army and the United States is seen in light of the nature of the task the nation placed on the shoulders of its soldiers in 1947: that of defeating a many-times larger enemy in a just war and of keeping the state itself geared to this military undertaking. Lack of realism in this sub continental challenge was offset by the oceanic axis with the US during the Cold War. From there, ideology framed for the state by politicians facilitated its mutation into an Islamic army that sat back and let jihad undermine the state itself in the 1980s.
Is the Pakistani civilian mind militarised by the dominance of the army or by the history of the people who formed Pakistan? Does Pakistani nationalism postpone the civilianising of the Pakistani mind or is it the army that pulls Pakistan towards the collective dream of a winnable “just war” with India? Out of this theorem emerges the phenomenon of the Islamic soldier who heroically questions the legitimacy of Pakistan’s clinch with the US, thus enlarging the challenge of the army’s mission statement and making it potentially adventurist and dangerous. The most dangerous aspect of this nationalism is the nexus the army developed with the “non-state actors” and the aggressive seminaries, called madrasas, in the state’s hinterland.
Today, an army built to face India is being asked to retrieve territory lost to its own non-state actors, whose ideology is seen as superior to the ideology of the state. What if the Maoist insurgencies in India had been nurtured by a Maoist army serving a Maoist state? Today, Hafiz Saeed is the most powerful man in Pakistan; since Kayani, like Musharraf, is scared of challenging him, Forbes Magazine may revisit its verdict and choose Saeed instead as one of the most powerful men in the world.
Pakistan is a highly distorted intellectual entity and this distortion affects its army the most. Retired army officers routinely come on TV to suggest remedies based on “honour” rather than on the opportunist bias in favour of the national economy. In the eyes of the Pakistan army, both America and India represent a “dishonourable” regard for the mammon of the economy and, quite oddly, the man in the street, most affected by the hardship of a dysfunctional economy, tends to agree. Today, the nation is united on the idea of dancing at Musharraf’s political demise, the “liberal chief” most despised by the Taliban. A race is on in Pakistan to please the tormentor, but Kayani is safe because he defied both the US in Afghanistan and India on the LoC.
General Kayani was forced to interpret terrorism away from the diagnosis that the army had spawned the non-state actors now decimating Pakistanis. Instead, he expanded the ambit of responsibility to the whole nation by saying “extremism” was the real enemy. But the anarchists of the Taliban and al-Qaeda have discovered that when they kill non-Muslims in the West, they inspire fear and loathing, when they kill Muslims in Pakistan, they cause conversion. The Pakistan army has the impossible task of saving a country of converts to the cause of the enemy.
Khaled Ahmed is a consulting editor with ‘Newsweek Pakistan’