Pakistan army's vaulting mission to remain the most powerful actor in Pakistani
politics has received irreparable setbacks in the last few years. This is due
to the onset of several new factors in the country's body politic determining
the direction of political change in the future. It is also a poor reflection
of the ability and willingness of the army's leadership to understand the
far-reaching nature of this change and adapt to it seamlessly. Pakistan's
future as a viable nation-state now depends on how the generals read the
writing on the wall and how quickly they come to terms with it.
failures of the Pak army have downgraded its stock with Pakistanis. (1) The
army's policy of nurturing anti-Americanism in Pakistan for leveraging its
strategic relationship with the US has backfired and left it stranded in
no-man's land. It can't let go of the US privately for purposes of economic
rent and military aid extraction but it can't embrace it publicly because of
the rampant "ghairat" brigade of extremist Islamic nationalists that
it has brainwashed and brandished.
army's policy of nurturing the Afghan Taliban in private while appeasing the
Pakistan Taliban in public has also failed. The Afghan Taliban are now
negotiating directly with America while the Pakistan Taliban are bent on waging
an "existential" war against the Pak army and civil society.
army's relationship with the government, opposition, and media is at an
all-time low. The government has meekly folded before the army on every issue;
but it deeply resents the army's arrogant, intrusive and relentlessly
anti-government propaganda and behaviour. The media is also resentful about its
manipulation by the ISI viz drone policy, the Raymond Davis affair and
Memogate. Question marks abound over its incompetence or complicity in the OBL
affair, especially following recent revelations by former DG-ISI Ziauddin Butt
that General Pervez Musharraf "hid" Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
The murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, followed by threats to independent
journalists, is laid at the ISI's door. The ease with which terrorists have
breached military security, as in the attacks on GHQ, ISI offices, military
messes, Mehran Naval Base, and army officers etc also rankle. Finally, the
media is now speaking up and asking disturbing questions about the role of MI
and related non-state actors in the disappearances and torture of Baloch
activists. Consequently, the media is loath to blindly follow the army's
"line" on any issue any more. The PMLN opposition, meanwhile, has
gone the whole hog, openly demanding that the intrusion of the military in
politics must be curtailed and the army's overweening power cut to size.
ratings are falling, the army's ability to manipulate politics for dubious ends
is also diminishing. In the old days, the army chief was the most powerful
member of the ruling troika by virtue of an alliance with the president. Now
the president's role has changed and there are two new and powerful contenders
in the equation. The judiciary under Chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has
unprecedentedly pushed the military on the defensive for being unaccountable
(the Mehrangate affair of 1990, disappearances and murder of Baloch and Taliban
extremists in captivity). And the electronic media is reaching tens of millions
of Pakistanis and courageously raising their consciousness. Neither will
countenance any direct or indirect military intervention in politics.
General Asfaq Kayani made a bid to salvage some wounded pride. He disputed the
size of the defence budget and denied involvement in quelling unrest in
Balochistan. But there are few takers for his version. Defence expenditures are
in fact closer to 25% than 18% if pensions and salaries and supplementary
handouts are considered. And the fact remains that the Rangers and Frontier
Corps who are in charge of "law and order" in Balochistan are directly
commanded by army officers who report to GHQ even though they are formally
under the interior ministry. No less questionable is the military's insistence
on hogging key civilian positions in government and bureaucracy.
Many of the
army high command's current troubles flow from its aggressive overreach and
miscalculation. In the old days, setbacks and losses could be propagated as
victories and gains, and coup-making generals billed as national saviours
because information was not easily or freely available. But that can't be done
now. Confronted by a tsunami of young people demanding "change",
government, opposition, media and judiciary all want to appear
"anti-establishment" because the establishment is another name for
the status quo. The international environment is also anti-military hegemony in
the third world following the Arab Spring.
Pakistan military's 64 year old "national security state paradigm"
has collapsed with devastating consequences for Pakistan. It is time it
retreated to barracks for good and let the civilians cobble an alternative
"social security state paradigm" for stability and prosperity. If it
doesn't do that, a terrible alternative is staring us in the face.
Source: The Friday Times, Lahore