Recent events in Pakistan, including the special forces assault on the Abbottabad compound in which Osama bin Laden was hiding and living, the attack of PNS Mehran in Karachi and many more have once again raised the issue of the ability of the Pakistani state and more particularly the army to control militant extremism. It has also raised several questions, both internal to the armed forces and otherwise, on the primacy of position of the Pakistan army as the saviour of the nation.
Essentially, the challenge before the Pakistani army and in turn the state is the war on terror. Filled with conflicting interests and contradictory policy implementation, the war on terror cannot hope to succeed unless, the military and the ISI change its strategy”¦
Presently, a weak civilian government has little say in the affairs of the armed forces and therefore, the only concern is that of internal debate and dissent on Pakistan’s policies vis-à-vis the terrorist-militant elements that are deeply entrenched in society. It also raises questions about Pakistan’s role in the war on terror and the contradictions that afflict this policy
Essentially, the challenge before the Pakistani army and in turn the state is the war on terror. Filled with conflicting interests and contradictory policy implementation, the war on terror cannot hope to succeed unless, the military and the ISI change its strategy of “support and yet denial” the game will not last long. In due course, the Frankenstein element will emerge stronger and then the state will find it difficult to protect itself and more dangerously the nuclear weapons that could create havoc, if it finds its way into the hands of these militant elements.
When General Pervez Musharraf handed over the reigns of power to General Ashfaq Kayani in 2007, the former knew that he would not only protect him, but also the interests of the Pakistan Army, portrayed as the saviour of the state. Not only has Kayani served both interests well since that time, but he has also built himself as the quiet negotiator who masterminds foreign policy for Islamabad, especially with the US.
What has changed this scene somewhat is the assassination of the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a surprise US Special Forces attack codenamed Operation Neptune Spear in May 2011. This has been compounded by the attack by Pakistani Taliban on PNS Mehran in Karachi and the killing of the journalist Saleem Shahzad, suspectedly by the Inter Services Intelligence [ISI].
“¦some of this senior Corps Commanders had strongly opposed the beginning of the Drone attacks within Pakistan. This continues to be and may well become a factor in Kayanis own future as the debate rages on how to protect Pakistans sovereignty with regard to the US war on terror.
The targeted killing of senior Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad, the bureau chief of the Asia Times online website was the third major blow to the security of Pakistan. These three events have thrown Pakistan into a cauldron. The impact of this is being felt in many ways within the armed forces and outside it.
- First, it has raised doubts in the people’s minds about the ability of the state and particularly the military to control the terrorist elements against whom Islamabad has been fighting a battle in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Wazaristan. Civil society in Pakistan is clearly on the move and is sending out the message that the army must return to the barracks.
- Second, it has raised questions amongst the lower level of army officers and jawans, especially among those who are fighting the Taliban and al-qaeda about the intentions of the ISI and government as the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad clearly could not have been possible without some complicity of high officials in Pakistan. Many junior level officers who are at the forefront of the US led war on terror in South Wazaristan and FATA now want to know who and what they are fighting for.
- Third, amongst the middle level army officers the technical issues of how Pakistani air space could have been penetrated without the knowledge of their own top brass, while US forces continued their operations for over 40 minutes, is an issue that is being hotly debated.
- Finally, the very raison d etre for the existence of the Pakistan army, its primacy in society and politics is being questioned as a result of recent events. More importantly and worrying for the world is the safety and security of Islamabad’s nuclear weapons. With each passing day the threat to its nuclear weapons will only increase and more than any one else, the Chinese will need to do something quick to prevent a terrorist strike or penetration of a nuclear facility, in Europe or America.
Kayani in Power
General Kayani is the fourteenth chief of the Pakistan Army. He was promoted as Vice Chief of Army Staff in October 2007. A month later he became the Army Chief after General Pervez Musharraf retired. Among Kayani’s first pronouncements’ in January 2008, after his ascent to power as army chief, was a directive which ordered military officers not to maintain contacts with politicians. A month later he ordered the withdrawal of military officers from all of Pakistan’s government civil departments.
The US hand in the extension of Kayani and the compulsions behind it are very clear. The American view was that their comfort level working with “Kayani-Pasha-Haqqani” trio was quite high therefore it was decided that General Kayani would stay for another year.
In March 2008, General Kayani confirmed that the Pakistan’s armed forces would stay out of politics and support the new government. He told a gathering of military commanders in Rawalpindi that “the army fully stands behind the democratic process and is committed to playing its constitutional role.” These comments came soon after the the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP] won the 2008 elections and formed a coalition government.1
Kayani’s own position as Army Chief has been debated and discussed among the Corps Commanders and there have been serious differences of opinion among the top leadership about the extensions given first, to Kayani and then to Shuja Pasha. What irked many Corps Commanders was the fact that the US leaned on the civilian leadership to give a three year extension to Kayani and not one as was proposed.
The US hand in the extension of Kayani and the compulsions behind it are very clear. The American view was that their comfort level working with “Kayani-Pasha-Haqqani” trio was quite high therefore it was decided that General Kayani would stay for another year.2