By Najam Sethi
Jul 30 2010
“Gilani’s nervous readout at short notice implied great pressure from GHQ or the US, or worse still, both.”
TWO months ago, I analysed the developing political situation in Pakistan and editorialised (“Watch out for the General!”) on the role of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistan Army Chief, in months to come. Last week, as predicted, General Kayani got an unprecedented three year extension in service until November 2013 from the Zardari government.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s terms ends in February 2013, President Zardari’s in September 2013 and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s in December 2013. This has prompted Mr Gilani to claim, rather optimistically, that all of them will stick around to work in the “interest of democracy” and go home around the same time three years hence.
If General Kayani’s extension was a fact foretold for many political reasons — he had done a great job fighting the war against the Taliban, continuity in the midst of strategic success was absolutely necessary, the Pentagon was comfortable with him, etc etc — the controversial chronicling of the run- up to the announcement was certainly problematic.
And that has cast a shadow on his achievement.
Normally, a new army chief is announced three months before the incumbent retires. A positive announcement was expected in August because, on May 23, a story was put out that the Corps Commanders in Rawalpindi had reposed their faith in General Kayani and endorsed an extension for him. On July 16, a story was leaked by the military that the government would announce an extension within 72 hours, which meant before the arrival of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Islamabad on July 18.
HOWEVER, when quizzed, Mr Gilani parried. This set tongues wagging. Mrs Clinton also sidestepped a question about the consequences of giving an extension to General Kayani, curtly countering with “this is an internal matter for Pakistan”. Then three eminent columns appeared in a row to question the wisdom of such a move, followed by a spate of letters “to the editor” for and against, with some wondering whether there might be an “American hand” behind the initiative.
That is when GHQ panicked. It had tried to get a favourable announcement before Mrs Clinton’s arrival on July 18 precisely to thwart any such speculation.
But now, with the controversy threatening to get out of hand, it decided to lean on Mr Gilani and obtain a hurried three minute announcement on July 22.
Unfortunately, the tactic backfired. Mr Gilani’s nervous readout at an hour’s notice clearly implied either unbearable pressure from GHQ or the US or, worse still, both. Under the circumstances, the media and public opinion have tilted against the move. The mainstream opposition party and government- in- waiting, Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, is on record as opposing any extension to him.
Its studied “ no- comment” after the event, when all the other parties are luke- warmly supporting it because it is a fait accompli and no one wants to be on the other side of the General, expresses its somber mood. To General Kayani’s discomfort, some prominent columnists, whose opinion he is said to admire, have criticised the decision on one count or another.
But the worst is still to come. One section of the media is already saying that if he doesn’t back up the Supreme Court in its running battle with the government it will mean that he has done an unsavoury deal with the government to ignore its past and future shenanigans and the extension is a reward for this commitment.
Another is espousing exactly the opposite view — that it order to show his independence and prove that he doesn’t owe anything to a corrupt and inefficient regime, he might secretly support the supreme court in destabilising the presidency and government, which would be bad for democracy. Either way he loses.
What next? General Kayani is a thoughtful soldier.
This situation cannot be to his liking. He has two options: to ride out the controversy, continue with his good soldiering any provocations or exhortations by any other state institution or media that would stir the embers again.
Or he can stand above the fray, refuse this dubious honour and allow the succession principle to prevail in the army, thereby showing his confidence in his alma mater and khaki colleagues to burden the task of guiding it in the difficult times at hand.
Certainly, the last thing he should countenance is the suggestion now being floated by some reckless journalists or opportunist advisors that he should bid to reform the structure of the defense forces and become the Commander in Chief of all the three services in a unified command.
That would certainly unleash a controversy in which disgruntled supporters of the autonomy of the air force and navy would be dragged into the fray, thereby weakening the morale of the armed forces as a whole.
G ENERAL Kayani has had an eventful career as DG- MO, DG- ISI, Vice Chief of Army Staff and Army Chief. This has spanned at least nine years. He was part and parcel of some critical but bad decisions taken by General Pervez Musharraf, including in 2007 the ouster of Chief Justice Chaudhry, the commando action on the Red Mosque, the imposition of the Emergency, and the NRO deal with Benazir Bhutto.
But it is equally true that, as Army Chief, he ensured a fair election in 2008, nudged the reluctant Zardari government to restore the Chief Justice to office and fought the war against the terrorists brilliantly when the occasion demanded it.
Now, if he decides to stick around for another three years, he will find the going tougher than in the last nine years not just because of the baggage he is carrying but also because of the conflicting expectations of him by fiercely contending domestic and international political players.
My own view remains consistent. In order to protect the institutional integrity, the terms of service of army chiefs, judges and bureaucrats, however good or indispensable they may be, should not be extended. Similarly, in order to protect the process of democratisation, the terms of elected governments, however bad they may be, must not be cut short by conspiracies and witch- hunts under the garb of sham constitutionalism by vested interests.
The writer is Editor, The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today, India