Why a Coup Is Unlikely in Pakistan
By Tom Wright
Is there a coup in the offing in Pakistan? Not likely, say former Pakistan military and intelligence officials.
There’s a lot of speculation of a military takeover amid rising tensions between army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The tensions have their roots in the U.S. raid on a Pakistani garrison town in May, which lead to the death of Osama bin Laden. Pakistan’s army was not forewarned about the raid and was deeply embarrassed.
The emergence in October of a memo allegedly sent by Mr. Gilani’s Pakistan People’s Party-led administration to Washington in the wake of the raid, asking for U.S. help in forestalling a coup by an angered military, was the start of the current troubles.
Mr. Gilani, under army pressure, fired Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, for his alleged involvement in the affair. Mr. Haqqani denies the allegations. His removal was supposed to be the end of the affair, Pakistani military and civilian officials say.
But Nawaz Sharif, leader of Pakistan’s main opposition party, demanded a Supreme Court investigation of the memo.
The court’s probe, which is underway, has escalated tensions between the civilian government and army. Mr. Gilani says the investigation is politically motivated, and has blamed the military for bypassing the government in answering the court’s questions.
The army said in a statement Wednesday it had responded to the court through the Defense Ministry and warned Mr. Gilani his accusations could have “grievous consequences.” Mr. Gilani responded later Wednesday by firing the country’s military-backed senior defense bureaucrat.
The army’s tone set alarm bells ringing that a coup might be in the offing. Pakistan media reported President Asif Ali Zardari traveled to Dubai Thursday on a one-day private visit. The president underwent medical tests in Dubai last month after suffering a mini-stroke and his absence again has led to jitters about the stability of the government.
It’s true the army does not like the current administration, which it views as corrupt and incompetent. Pakistan’s generals, who have ruled the country for half its 65-year history, openly state their belief that civilian leaders are incapable of running the country.
But there are many reasons why the military won’t want to take the reins of power right now, defense analysts say.
First, Pakistan is beset by almost insoluble challenges, ranging from a major Taliban militant insurgency that has taken the lives of thousands of people to runaway inflation and hours of daily power outages, which make being in control an unenviable task.
“There are so many problems,” says Asad Munir, a former Peshawar station chief for the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the army’s spy agency. “I’m 95% certain they wouldn’t want to come into power at the moment.”
Second, Pakistan’s military already exerts huge powers beyond the role of a traditional army in a democracy and does not need to formally usurp power. It controls foreign and defense policy. Gen. Kayani often leads delegations of government ministers to Washington.
In pressuring Mr. Gilani’s administration over the “Memogate” scandal, the army is likely trying to salvage its pride, hurt by the bin Laden raid, and ensure control over their spheres of influence, says Talat Masood, a former army general and security analyst.
“They want to protect their image and keep a hold on policy,” he says.
Third, the army has insufficient political support to mount a coup. While the army in Pakistan has seized power in the past unilaterally, it often has looked to Parliament to support its action. Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down as president in 2008, used a coalition of Islamist parties to legitimize his rule.
Today, the Islamist parties are weak, and the army is on equally poor terms with Mr. Sharif’s opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, as it is with the Pakistan People’s Party.
Fourth, a coup would likely cause the U.S. to cut off some of the billions of dollars in civilian and military aid it gives to Pakistan each year. (U.S. officials said Wednesday they support a democratic government in Pakistan but that the latest tensions were an internal matter for the country.)
So what will happen?
It looks like this kind of sparring will continue and Mr. Gilani’s government will bumble along, exerting more effort on political bickering than solving the country’s economic and security challenges. The army will continue to run foreign and defense policy.
The instability is likely to complicate the U.S.’s goal of nudging Pakistan to help bring an end to the war in Afghanistan. Washington wants Pakistan’s army to deliver Taliban militants who shelter on its soil to take part in peace talks. A distracted military, only partially focused on the militant threat, is less likely to play a fruitful role here.
But the U.S. could take some comfort in the resilience of Mr. Gilani’s administration.
Many commentators now expect the government to call elections, which must be held before March 2013, sometime in the fall of this year.
If the government survives until then, it will be the first democratically-elected administration in Pakistan’s history to complete a full term.
Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal