– Humiliation of the military men
Civilian leaders and the United States put pressure on the beleaguered generals
AMERICA’S killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2nd brought with it a rare chance to ease the Pakistani army’s unhealthy grip on the country’s domestic and foreign affairs. The generals have floundered since the raid in Abbottabad, unsettled by accusations of complicity with bin Laden or, if not, then incompetence. It has not helped that video clips show bin Laden apparently active as al-Qaeda’s leader in his last years.
Pakistanis cannot agree what is more shocking, that bin Laden had skulked in a military town so close to the capital, Islamabad, or that Americans nipped in to kill him without meeting the least resistance. Either way, they know to blame the humiliated men in uniform. Columnists and bloggers even call for army bosses to fall on their swagger sticks.
Ashfaq Kayani, the now sullen-faced head of the armed forces, and his more exposed underling, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who runs the main military spy outfit, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), are unused to such cheek. Their spokesmen have fumbled to come up with a consistent line. They have claimed both that Pakistan abhorred America’s attack and helped to bring it about. Army inaction on the night was because someone forgot to turn on the radar, or because it only worked pointing east at India. And General Pasha would, and then certainly would not, fly to America to smooth things over.
That disarray gave elected leaders a chance. Neither President Asif Zardari nor Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, deludes himself that he is really in charge. Nor do outsiders. Just after they had killed bin Laden, the Americans first telephoned General Kayani, not the president. In the past year both Generals Kayani and Pasha have had their spells in office extended beyond their usual terms, without a squeak from the brow-beaten civilians.
The armed forces scoop up roughly a quarter of all public spending and large dollops of aid, with no proper oversight, says Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst. They also run big firms, employ over 500,000, grab prime land for retired officers, set foreign and counterterrorism policies and scotch peace overtures to India. They are racing to expand a nuclear arsenal beyond 100 warheads—Pakistan will soon be the world’s fifth-biggest nuclear power and has been a chief proliferator.
Civilian silence thus spoke volumes. Rather than try to defend the army, both elected leaders found pressing needs to be out-of-town. …
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