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Zardari and the Generals’ consensus

By Praveen Swami

Pakistan’s civilian rulers seem to have averted a possible coup with a little help from inside the army itself.

Eight weeks ago, as rumours of an imminent coup swirled around Islamabad, few seemed to doubt democratic rule in Pakistan would soon be marched before a firing squad.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, had been recalled to face charges of conspiring to sack top military officials. There was even talk of a treason trial targeting President Asif Ali Zardari himself — with Mr. Haqqani as the Army’s star witness.

Events since, however, haven’t quite panned out as hardline Pakistani generals might have anticipated: instead of capturing power, the army has found itself in retreat.

Mr. Zardari, Pakistani media have reported, is almost certain to deny the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, an extension to serve until 2013 — a blow directed at Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and a sign of civilian confidence.

In November, Pakistan’s military had shut down the Shamsi airbase, used to stage United States drone attacks against Islamist insurgents: actions intended to distinguish them from political rulers too-willing to please the United States. Last month, though, drone strikes resumed — directed by United States intelligence officers located at the Shahbaz airbase near Abbottabad.

Politicians have become increasingly defiant of ISI authority: even Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who has long shied away from controversy, warned against efforts to run “a state within a state”.

The Generals’ consensus

LONG held together by a Generals’ consensus on the direction Pakistan ought to head in, the army now seems divided as never before. Last month, at a January 13 meeting of the corps commanders conference, where Gen. Kayani briefed generals on the evolving political crisis , he ran into unexpected in-house resistance, leading to a 10-hour debate.

The toughest questioning, a Pakistani government source privy to the discussions told The Hindu, came from Lieutenant-General Tariq Khan — the commander of the Mangla-based 1 corps, and a veteran of counter-insurgency operations who is considered among the most competent of the army’s commanders

Gen. Khan, the source said, made clear the army was unprepared to take power, and demanded to know how the army chief intended to resolve the still-unfolding showdown with the civilian governments. He noted that the army had no coherent plan to address its increasingly-fragile relationship with the United States, too. Backed by other key officers, like Gujaranwala-based XXX corps commander Raheel Sharif, Gen. Khan pushed for the army to pull back from the brink.

Ever since the killing of military ruler Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1998, the corps commanders conference has been a key instrument of what Mr. Haqqani once described as “military rule by other means”. The resistance faced by Gen. Kayani within the institution is, therefore, of great significance.

Ever since he took office, Pakistan’s army chief had worked to rebuild the army’s relationship with the jihadist groups it had patronised for decades. Terrorism in Pakistan, he argued, had come about because the country had become enmeshed in the United States’ war against jihadists in Afghanistan. Building peace, he argued, necessitated reviving this relationship — even at the cost of ties with the United States.

In 2008, Gen. Pasha delivered an off-the-record briefing to journalists, where he described Tehreek-e-Taliban commanders Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Muhammad Fazlullah — responsible for hundreds of killings in Pakistanas “patriots”.

Following the raid that claimed Osama bin Laden last year, Mr. Pasha put the case for an aggressive anti-United States line to Pakistani legislators: “At every difficult moment in our history”, he said “the United States has let us down. This fear that we can’t live without the United States is wrong.

Gen. Kayani’s line, the government’s decision not to allow his spymaster to serve on suggests, no longer represents the army’s institutional consensus.

The path to peace he envisaged involved costs the army isn’t willing to pay.

Political resurgence?

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Dr Shakil Afridi – By Farhat Taj

Dr Afridi’s act could not be hidden from the world because the US is directly involved in it. Therefore, a smear campaign has been launched. It depicts the doctor as a dishonest person and a traitor. The aim, it seems, is to absolve the military of any responsibility for bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan for years

A native of Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Dr Shakil Afridi has been arrested by the military authorities in Pakistan. He faces charges of treason for his role in locating and killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Reportedly, he ran a vaccination campaign for the US intelligence agency the CIA in Abbottabad to collect blood samples of the children of Osama bin Laden. The DNA test from the blood samples established the presence of bin Laden in a military area in Abbottabad and subsequently he was killed in the US commando raid in the house where the al Qaeda leader had lived with his family for many years.

Capturing or killing of al Qaeda terrorists is the aim of the UN-mandated US-led war on terror. Pakistan is supposedly a partner in this war. The Pakistani military authorities have not only been killing, capturing and handing al Qaeda militants based in Pakistan to the US but have also been taking pride in doing so. Former dictator Musharraf admits in his book (In the Line of Fire, pg 237) that his government captured and handed over 369 al Qaeda militants to the US. He also writes that Pakistanis received ‘millions of dollars’ as prize money from the CIA for capturing those militants. But none of those Pakistanis ever faced the treason charges that Dr Afridi does today. The reason is not what some people are underscoring in internet blogs and newspapers in Pakistan — that because Dr Afridi’s cooperation with the US led to, what they call, an ‘invasion’ of Pakistan, so he must be tried for treason.

The reason is that his act has torn apart the strategic depth narrative internalised by many in Pakistan due to a constant state-backed propaganda based on outright lies or at best distortion of facts. According to this narrative, the people of FATA are fanatically religious. They have given refuge to al Qaeda militants following their escape from the US bombing in Afghanistan. They have given their daughters and sisters in marriage to foreign al Qaeda militants, who enjoy comfortable hospitality in the area not only under the code of tribal Pashtunwali but also as sons-in-law and brothers-in-law. According to this narrative, Osama bin Laden was never supposed to be discovered in a military area in Pakistan, but in FATA. The tribes in the area were supposed to rise in rage in the event of any harm to Osama bin Laden by the US. Dr Afridi, himself a tribesman from the area, proved exactly the opposite.

Dr Afridi, however, is not the first person from FATA who has exposed the Pakistani military’s control over the Taliban or al Qaeda terrorists, whereby they are used for terrorism in Afghanistan and the ‘unwanted’ among them handed over to the US to prove Pakistan’s ‘performance’ in the war on terror as well as to win the head money placed by the US on terrorists. There are countless more people in the area who have done so before him. But their contributions have never made it to the wider world because there is a strict state control over the flow of information from FATA coupled with a systemic state-sponsored propaganda that distorts facts as well as attributes outright lies to the area, its culture and people. More importantly, many of those who exposed the military control over the militants were eliminated through targeted killings, which had scared the others into silence. …

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