America and Pakistani Democracy
By Aakar Patel
February 17, 2013
Just after 9/11, a colonel from the Israeli Defence Forces briefed some Indians in Tel Aviv.
Speaking about the neighbours, he said anti-Israeli sentiment was higher in the population than in the military leaderships. Dictators were more alert to self-interest and less driven by passion. It was the people that were the real threat.
Did he mean that democracy in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Abdullah’s Jordan and Saddam Husain’s Iraq was against Israeli interests? Yes, the colonel said quite brazenly,
The same question can be asked in Pakistan this election year. Will democracy be against American interests?
The Pakistani population is against the war in the tribal areas. A Gallup poll, a few days ago, showed that an astonishing 92 per cent of Pakistanis had a negative view of the United States leadership, fuelled by drone strikes. Astonishing, given how many Pakistanis have family relations in that country.
Of the three national parties contesting elections in a few months, only Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf believes violence in Pakistan will end if the army vacates the tribal areas and America is forced to end drone attacks. In this, he has the support of the Urdu press and its columnists, who present a consensus against Pakistani participation in America’s war. Imran is also thought to have the support of the establishment, which is seen as reluctant to fight the Taliban. If the anti-Americanism of Pakistanis is applicable to its soldiers, Imran’s view is that of the ordinary Jawans and perhaps, also the field officers. But that is not what is meant when the word establishment is used. It is the army chief and his generals who determine threats and act against them.
Are they reluctant to fight the war they are in?
It is difficult to swallow the idea that it is President Asif Ali Zardari who’s forcing Pakistan’s generals to fight and lose dozens of men each month against their will. This is what we have to accept if we concede that the army is backing Imran for a change in policy.
The facts show that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the majority of his generals are convinced that the problem is internal. It is they, not so much President Zardari and the government, which are worried about the Taliban threat and are acting against it. It is likely the Jawans — who don’t have access to the data and the thinking of the generals — don’t feel this way and aren’t enthusiastic about fighting. This explains the oblique manner in which the campaign has been explained by the army. It doesn’t own the war entirely because large parts of it are unconvinced, rightly or wrongly, about the logic of fighting an enemy that claims the Pakistan Army is being used by America as a mercenary force.
But it has stuck through it and, truth be told, acted maturely in recent skirmishing with old enemy India, because its focus is elsewhere.
If this is true, the generals would not want an anti-American Imran to win. Certainly, they would not be backing him. They would rather the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) win or the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) remains in power because these parties don’t really cross the army.
This has come from experience. Both the PPP and the PML are happy to leave large parts of strategy with the army and this has always been the case. It is General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf who precipitated the crisis against Nawaz Sharif through Kargil. Then taking offence and, like Cornelius Sulla, brought the soldiers into the capital over what was a personal matter.
On the other hand, it was Sharif who initially extended General (Retd) Musharraf’s tenure. President Zardari extended General Kayani’s tenure and Yousaf Raza Gilani said it was, in fact, the government that wanted to keep him for another three years. This isn’t the sort of behaviour that would get the army chief plotting to have the ruling party replaced.
The indications are that Imran isn’t the army’s man. This means the support he has for his anti-Americanism is real. And if — unlikely as I think the prospect is — this is turned into votes, democracy in Pakistan this year might show itself to be against America’s interests.