Pakistan: Unstable and Not at Peace - I
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 04 Jul , 2011

But Kayani’s political savvy was expressed in the words of Patterson in the 12 March 2009 message to her headquarters in Washington. She noted that “The scenario Kayani hinted at was one in which he would pressure Zardari to resign (and presumably leave the country). This would not be an official Army ‘coup’; it would leave the P(akistan) P(eople’s) P(arty) government led by Prime Minister Gilani in place and preclude the need for elections that likely would bring Nawaz (Sharif) to power.”

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In the middle of last year, the army was deeply troubled by the all-encompassing chaos within the country. While it was engaged in bloody battles in the country’s west and northwest against a well-armed and organised insurgency, the political situation was deteriorating as the economic condition of the country headed south.

Kayani told Patterson in the conversation referred to above that the corps commanders of his army had been telling him that the civilian government was not taking action in terms of the economy and security of the country. But at the same time, the army was busy striking deals with the local terrorist leaders to gain respite when stretched. Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban chief, wielded enormous influence on these terrorist groups as he exhorted them to reduce, if not eliminate, their attacks on the Pakistan army.

The army was then—in the mid-1990s—busy fighting terror gangs in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA). The military resources were stretched to the extreme. And the troops strained. Those battles were ugly and dirty.

Even the U.S. embassy was cabling headquarters in September 2009 that there were enough credible reports of “extrajudicial killings” of detained terrorists in the custody of the Pakistan army and its paramilitary, Frontier Corps. As early as on 10 September 2009, Patterson was writing to Washington, “A growing body of evidence is lending credence to allegations of human rights abuses by Pakistan security forces during domestic operations against terrorists in Malakand Division and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. While it is oftentimes difficult to attribute with accuracy any responsibility for such abuses, reporting from a variety of sources suggests that Frontier Corps and regular Pakistan Army units involved in direct combat with terrorists may have been involved.

The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees. The detainees involved were in the custody of Frontier Corps or Pakistan Army units. The allegations of extra-judicial killings generally do not/not extend to what are locally referred to as “the disappeared” — high-value terrorist suspects and domestic insurgents who are being held incommunicado by Pakistani intelligence agencies including the Inter-Services Intelligence Division (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) in their facilities.”

The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees.

Over the 60 odd years that Pakistan had been in existence, the army had gained the people’s faith as the only state institution which had integrity and fairness and was judicious. This belief had survived despite the military reverses it received in 1965, 1971 and 1999 at the hands of India. The corporate body of the army was not overwhelmed even by the normally debilitating vivisection of the country because of the formation of Bangladesh. But, this weather-proof image took a huge battering because its troops had to contend with its local population with brutality. Of course, it had to be said that the army was primarily an army of the Punjab, where 50 per cent of the people of Pakistan lived in an area that was 25 per cent of the country’s total size. And the people this army was killing were from the periphery besides being ethnically dissimilar. The politicians never put any salve on the society either.

They fared even more poorly. Zardari went after the Sharif brothers—Nawaz and the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz—soon after assuming power in 2008. On 25 February last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the two leaders of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) would not be able to contest elections and thus not hold public office. Then, charge de affairs of the U.S. embassy, Gerald Feirestein, wrote home the same day, as put into the public domain by Wikileaks, that “It . . . demonstrates, disappointingly, that Zardari continues to play politics while his country disintegrates.”

What followed was a political crisis of a serious magnitude that led to the conversation referred to above between Kayani and Patterson on 12 March, when the former talked about replacing the president of the country. The Sharif brothers’ disbarment episode got connected to the larger battle of Pakistan’s lawyers to get the government to reinstate the previous chief justice of the court, Justice Ifthikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom the Americans consider “politically ambitious.” The latter had been ousted by the military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf that had itself led to his own downfall.

Whether it is the sectarian violence, or the Pakistan armys inability to surgically remove the spectre of Islamic militancy and terrorism without bludgeoning the people into submission, or even the political failure in reinstating peoples faith in the state institutions”¦

These kinds of zero-sum political positioning continue in Pakistan. In the process, the government loses its ability to govern. The people deny them the unwritten covenant for governance by which the former cede their power to a democratic, representative body so that the latter could act in the greater good under stated rules, recorded through a national consensus. Such is the grip of Pakistan’s elite on the institutions of the state and such is their rapacity that the people are losing faith in the ability of the political class to act in benevolence.

The condition of Pakistan’s economy is a case in point. The ability of the government to tax its people—a primary measure of the legitimacy of governance—has been eroded to such an extent that the tax-to-gross-domestic-product ratio has gone down to 9, a steep decline from a 12:1 in 2002. It is not as if Pakistan’s elite is unconscious of the steady erosion of the civil governmental authority. President Zardari sounds desperate in a cable sent by Ambassador Patterson on 23 February this year. The message was about a meeting Zardari had with U.S. senator John, a Democratic Party leader. According to the cable, Zardari expressed his gratitude for U.S. assistance to Pakistan. “He opined that he was ‘a casualty of the world recession’ and needed something to give his people, as all they had since he came to power were price increases. Zardari requested that the USG weigh in with the IMF against further electricity tariff increases. Another increase, he warned, would result in riots in the streets. However, Zardari promised to broaden the tax base and implement a Value-added Tax (VAT), as required by the IMF Stand-by Arrangement.”

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya, writes on Indian strategic security issues. He is currently working as a defence correspondent for a leading newspaper published from New Delhi.

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