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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?

Continue reading Zardari and the Generals’ consensus

Pakistan’s Faustian Parliament – by Wajid Ali Syed

It was embarrassing enough for the people of Pakistan to find out that Osama bin Laden was living in their midst for years. Even more shameful was the realization that their politicians are incapable of questioning the security apparatus of the country. The masses rallied and protested and faced hardships for months to kick General Pervez Musharraf out of power. They voted the Pakistan People’s Party, the most widely-based and allegedly liberal party to power, believing that democracy has been restored.

Though the leader of the government, President Asif Ali Zardari has been blamed for everything going wrong in the country and is regarded as a corrupt individual, until now there has been a perceived upside that Pakistan is being led by an elected government and not a military dictatorship.

This illusion of so-called civilian supremacy silently burst like a bubble when the head of the ISI, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and the Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani were called before the parliament to answer for their incompetence related to the May 2 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. The agenda was to inquire about the U.S. attack and why the state security apparatus was unaware of Osama bin Laden’s presence.

But what happened during the closed door meeting revealed once again that the real power in Pakistan still lies with the army and the ISI, not the politicians.

It had been suggested that heads would roll, the foreign aid and the big chunk of national budget that the army receives would be scrutinized. The parliamentarians dropped the ball again and lost another opportunity to exert their authority over other institutions of the state. Once again it became clear who really runs Pakistan.

The last time a civilian government had an opportunity to put the army in its place was in 1971, following the Pakistan army’s defeat in the war that led to the loss of East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s then-president and founder of the Pakistan People’s Party, got off to a promising start by placing former dictator General Yahya Khan under house arrest. He re-organized the Pakistan Armed Forces and boosted the military’s morale. But Bhutto also restored their hubris. Years later, his own appointed Army Chief, General Zia ul-Haq, would overthrow Bhutto’s government and send him to the gallows.

During Zia’s 11 year rule, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and withdrew. The army grew so strong that even after Zia’s death in a plane crash, the new chief of the military did not allow the democratically elected Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, to tour the country’s nuclear facility. She was labelled anti-Pakistan and an American agent.

It is ironic to witness that the opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which was created with the support of the army to counter the PPP’s popularity, is now asking the tough questions about covert operations and the finances of the military.

By snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Pakistan’s ruling party, Bhutto’s PPP, is losing its chance to demonstrate leadership and moral authority. They failed to hold the army accountable for the thousands of civilians and security officers killed in the war on terror in Pakistan. They did not press the chief of the generously-funded army to explain how OBL could have lived in a military garrison town for six years.

These are the same parliamentarians who extended General Kiyani’s tenure. The same parliamentarians who extended ISI Chief General Pasha’s tenure. The boastful parliamentarians who had promised to leave no stone unturned roared like lions for the cameras but behaved like lambs behind closed doors.

It was reported that opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar tried to deliver a speech during the question and answer session, only to be snubbed by General Pasha in front of a full house. Pasha claimed that he ‘knew’ why he was being targeted by the opposition leader, alleging that Nisar had asked him for a personal favor, which he, as DG ISI, refused to extend. An embarrassed Chaudhry Nisar was said to have been taken aback as Pasha continued with his ‘counter-attack’.

Then the tail furiously wagged the dog. General Pasha reportedly offered to resign. Rather than demanding that the ISI chief step down immediately, apparently the parliamentarians did not accept his resignation.

The state run television channel could have returned to its heyday of running prime time programming that kept the country glued to their sets by recording that “closed door” meeting to broadcast later as a drama — or farce.

Some idealistic Pakistanis hoped that the U.S. would finally question the secretly played “double game.” After all, the U.S. supported extensions of Kiyani’s and Pasha’s tenures, claiming that keeping the chiefs in their positions would help to continue the war on terror in an orderly fashion. The U.S. abandoned the people of Pakistan by siding with the army once again, pledging support and failing to attach any strings or conditions to the military aid it provides.

Cowed by Kiyani’s and Pasha’s brazen displays, Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution that drone attacks should be stopped and that the operations like the one carried out on May 2nd won’t be tolerated in future.

The parliament has an obligation to explain to the public not only how and why Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, but why the Taliban continues to carry out its bloody operations, and why al Qaeda leaders have been given safe haven. The risk of allowing these questions to remain unanswered is that the military will gain more strength over the civilian government.

The parliamentarians who are supposed to represent the people of Pakistan abrogated their responsibility for the sake of staying in office for few more months, while at the same time making it clear who the country’s rulers truly are.

Courtesy: Wichaar

Debate on HEC Devolution

by Dr Azhar A. Shah

In the context of present debate on the devolution of HEC when we present some facts and figures to support our arguments in favor of devolution; most of the opponents of the devolution have come up to negate these facts not by counter arguments and supporting evidence but by labeling it as a campaign for regionalism and provincialism. They issue directives to us to be Pakistani and stop this debate! To them, being Pakistani means surrendering the right to present our point of view on a matter which is directly related to the very field that we are an important stakeholders of!.

I think it is this attitude of opposing any argument/voice in favor of limited regional autonomy (decentralization, devolution, delegation, provinces’ rights ), which is guaranteed by the constitution of our country, that would further enhances the gaps between provinces and regions. We must learn to respect each other by considering all of us as equal citizens, as equal Pakistanis and providing every one a chance to participate in the debate with equal dignity without questioning her/his level of Pakistaniat! It seems a very mean thing to remind a person of his nationality (Pakistaniat) while she/he is debating a point in terms of academic discourse! Every one understands that not all the participants in the debate could be right. We could be wrong! But it doesn’t imply that we don’t think as Pakistanis!.

If I am showcasing the weaknesses, the faults, the troubles, the unfairness, the inequality of our system of our organizations, it is meant to be noted for correction, it is meant to be noted for improvement, it is meant to be noted for progress. We should get rid of that old feudo-military mindset that represses the ideas, that represses the creativity, and that considers every opponent ideas as enemy number one.

That said, I would present an example of how regional voice and concerns are being encouraged, supported and responded by the civilized societies of the world . Please respect the ancient civilization of our ingeniousness ancestors and refrain from further turning of our present society into militant society!

Courtesy: Sindhi e-lists/ e-groups, April 14, 2011