By Najam Sethi
Jan 11 2013
PAKISTAN is in the throes of an existential transition. This transition is marked by uncertainty, violence and instability. It is as if a new polity is trying to emerge out of the womb of the old and the pain is becoming acute. At the core of this transition is the role and mindset of the Pakistan military.
There are four arenas of change. The first is the military’s national security paradigm, its very raison d’etre that defines Pakistan and its own role in it, pegged to India as the eternal enemy. The second is the military’s political relationship with the civilians, pegged to the necessity of military supremacy over the political order in order to retain its monopoly over the definition of national security. The third is the military’s relationship with America, pegged to the military’s need of conventional state- of- the- art weapons and American money to pay for these. The fourth is the military’s need for a growing economy, pegged to its budget and a growing army of angry, frustrated, alienated and jobless youngsters, which is increasingly turning to organised crime, insurgency and terrorism, thereby posing an internal security threat to the state.
General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, recently made an extraordinary statement that puts this existential transition in perspective.
HE SAID that the real threat to the country came from internal sources and not external enemies. He was referring to the threat to the state from a failing economy that is a breeding ground for a raging insurgency in Balochistan, organised crime in the cities and bloody sectarianism and terrorism across the country.
The “ threat” from India will remain as long as conflict is built into unresolved disputes. But the military’s focus is shifting from conflict- mode to normalisationmode with India. The best example of this is the green light by the military to granting reciprocal MFN status to trade with India as well as liberalising the visa regime to facilitate people- to- people contacts.
The significance of this development should be noted: India’s position has long been that liberalisation of trade and visa facilities should be a first step in building trust between the two countries as a prelude to resolving thorny disputes, while Pakistan’s position has been that the core disputes, especially of Kashmir, should be settled first before embarking on liberal business and people- centred regimes. The quiet reversal of Pakistan’s stance has come about only because of a radical change of thinking in GHQ. But this transition is still vulnerable to unplanned border flare- ups and planned cross border terrorism by non- state actors.
The civil- military relationship is also undergoing change in Pakistan. A civilian government is about to complete its full five- year term.
This is unprecedented.
One reason for this is the emergence of a strong judiciary and powerful media that will not brook any direct military intervention regardless of the corruption and incompetence of the civilians. Another is the military’s urgent need to get popular backing for confronting the internal threats to the state from terrorism and insurgency. But this transition is undermined by the continuing incapacity of political parties and the political system to deliver good governance, economic growth and social welfare, and explains the military’s inclination to try and experiment with the political system ( a caretaker government of technocrats for a couple of years to put the economy and polity on the rails) at the expense of elected representatives.
The military’s historically cosy relationship with America is also untenable now. This is due to both push and pull factors. The rising tide of anti- Americanism in Pakistan makes it impossible for the Pakistani military to do America’s bidding in the region as in the past. In fact, the military is now loath to do so because Pakistan’s long- term interests in Afghanistan are increasingly at odds with the short- term aims of America.
Therefore the military cannot expect America to sustain its internal and external ambitions any more. This is compelling it to redefine the civil- military relationship at home from an antagonistic one into a competitive or cooperative one. But this is proving difficult because of a lack of cohesion and consensus among the civilians.
THE military’s rising stakes in reviving the economy and reducing dependence on tied external aid and grants are a measure of the challenge facing Pakistan. This explains its obsession with blocking the route of incompetent and corrupt politicians who are a drain on the economy or who are obstacles to reforming it radically ( Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s insistence on making the military a key stakeholder in the political system coupled with his demand to stop the same old corrupt politicians from returning to office).
The strategic transition is now poised to come to fruition or founder on the rock of a new general election in the country.
If the military thinks the elections will not yield a suitably functioning system, it will ponder the consequences to hijacking the process once again. But if it enables the system to proceed, the civilians will have to ponder the consequences of failing to secure it permanently.
Najam Sethi is editor of The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today