By Khaled Ahmed
24 Aug, 2012
The army chief has presided over the most crucial period of Pakistan's international isolation and is clearly responsible for it
Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani made a surprisingly frank assessment of what was wrong with Pakistan in his Independence Day address at Kakul. He described the state of extremism in Pakistan as a thinking norm, tracing it to religion. Unfortunately his Urdu definition of extremism was not carried in the English language press but it hardly had any effect among those who belong to the Urdu 'episteme' or consciousness.
He said that violence sprang from the absolutism (hatmi) of religious exegesis which is intolerant of other Muslims' interpretation of the same faith. He said no Muslim had the right of absolutist interpretation of Islam which was a creed of universal application. He said: 'The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we'll be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this'.
The army has to fight this war because no one else is willing or has the capacity to fight it after a period of promptings to the contrary from the Army itself
Kayani against extremism and terror: He clarified his stance further: 'We realise that the most difficult task for any army is to fight against its own people. But this happens as a last resort. Our real objective is to restore peace in these [affected] areas so that people can lead normal lives. No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force'.
Was this a clear commitment on behalf of the Army to fight Al Qaeda and its Taliban and Punjabi affiliates? It is clear that he is the most powerful man in Pakistan leading an institution that dominates the political system as well. It is a myth to say that Pakistan's democracy enjoys a normal division of powers. The three pillars of the state obey the invisible single pillar, the Army, either openly or furtively, and pitch their politics on the premise of the dominance of the Army.
Deviations from Musharraf's policy: General Kayani has presided over the most crucial period of Pakistan's international isolation and is clearly responsible for it. He was General Musharraf's lieutenant in power when Pakistan became an ally of the international reaction against Al Qaeda's 9/11 attack of 2001. Because of his background he probably had reservations about some non-populist aspects of Musharraf's anti-terrorism policy dependent on close cooperation with the US. He changed them and catapulted Pakistan into many-sided confrontation.
He allowed his ISI chief General Pasha to sow the seeds of paranoia, creating a national brainwash that is now resisting his changed stance of taking on the terrorists who have not responded to his indirectly pro-Taliban strategy - its sole reliance being on anti-Americanism. His implied intent of taking the war against terrorism into North Waziristan instead of allowing it to unfold in Karachi is no longer acceptable among political parties who once took extremely 'unrealistic' orders of another sort in the unanimous resolutions in parliament. His post-Salala posture was populist but unrealistic.
Too late on strategic depth: He is said to have revised his strategic depth doctrine to get Pakistan out of a regional and global bind, with its economy hurtling to an endgame of its own before the American endgame in Afghanistan. He took the wrong decision of presenting the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad as an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty and allowed the ISI to inculcate a misplaced rage against America for having eliminated the greatest scourge of Pakistan. He quietly accepted gallop polls saying Al Qaeda was not a threat to Pakistan.
He took the decision of going to an 'activist' Supreme Court to depose against the PPP-led government in the 'Memogate' case based on charges of treason entailing possible death to the guilty persons including President Zardari himself. He did not worry too much that the PMLN had joined him in the case to get rid of the PPP government through a conviction for treason. He was insensitive to the implications of such decisions as the arrest and prosecution of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in Lahore, the angry closure of the NATO supply route, and the sentencing of the doctor who had helped trace Osama bin Laden to Abbottabad.
Kayani's ill-advised populism: His populist strategy was restricted to cultivating Urdu columnists and ignoring the opinion of writers in the English language press. Now that he has changed tack, these Urdu columnists are lining up behind the PMLN in rejecting his possible decision to take on the Taliban in North Waziristan. When he says the Army alone can't fight the terrorists, it sounds out of place. Most of the fighting will take place against the 'proxy warriors' created by the Army during its asymmetrical war with India. The army has to fight this war because no one else is willing or has the capacity to fight it after a period of promptings to the contrary from the Army itself.
The Army has not yet announced to the nation that it has decided to attack North Waziristan. (US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta says Pakistan has committed to go into North Waziristan but not against the Haqqanis.) But the various stakeholders are already opposed to the idea. One retired military analyst said on TV that before going into NW the government should be made to go to the people and get their support. How that should be done is anybody's guess. One way is to go to the parliament. There, the opposition is already against the operation, based on the past parliamentary resolutions attacking the US and challenging the government to face up to the US with the entire world is lined up behind the superpower.
Fallout from thinking in a groove: No other Army Chief has been praised for keeping out of politics more than General Kayani. It has become a shibboleth for those who want the Army to be supreme in Pakistan. Yet there is talk of the Army orchestrating a 'pro-Taliban' electoral alliance behind the scenes to upstage the old bipartisan system. Seeing this, the main opposition party the PMLN has pushed the envelope and clearly opposed any planned attack on North Waziristan. If the hate-America vote is going to be decisive in the next elections the politicians will plump for it, no matter what happens to the people suffering suicide attacks.
No one can know the mind of the most powerful man in Pakistan. The analyst is puzzled by the volte face hidden in his Kakul address. The general himself seems unmindful of the inevitable fallout from his earlier policies which he thought were right for Pakistan. Perhaps he is not to blame. Having an Army that is all powerful despite some appurtenances of democracy, with officers trained to think in a groove, is not a good bet for the survival of a state defying the world while helpless to prevent its internal bleeding.
Will history indict Kayani? With his extensions in service, General Kayani qualifies as the de facto ruler of Pakistan from behind the scenes - or not too much from behind the scenes if you look at the activism of ISI under him. All military rulers have been indicted by history: General Ayub, General Yahya, General Zia, General Beg and General Musharraf. The charge against General Kayani would be based on the practice of populism that hurt Pakistan as an internally troubled state; he repeatedly turned blindly aggressive in foreign policy, only to retreat later.
The charges could be as follows: 1) Trial and release of Raymond Davis; 2) Participation in the Memogate trial; 3) Harassment of American diplomats in Pakistan; 3) Reacting with rage to the killing of Osama bin Laden; 4) Sheltering the Haqqani network; 5) Pursuing strategic depth in Afghanistan; 6) After the Salala incident, blocking the NATO supply route; 7) Not leashing the proxy warriors nurtured by the Army after their alliance with Al Qaeda; 8) Not leashing ISI chief General Pasha; 9) Unleashing Defence of Pakistan's non state actors on a much weakened political system.