By Adnan Khan
Currently there is much media frenzy of tensions between Pakistan’s civilian government and the military. Much debate and discussion is taking place of an impending military coup. The ‘memogate’ affair and Zardari’s sudden and regular trips to Dubai for apparent medical treatment have all raised real concerns about the future survival of Pakistan’s civilian government. In light of this it is important to understand some fundamental points regarding the current standoff between the military and civilian government.
What has led to the current tensions?
The response of the civilian government and the military to certain recent events has exposed their treachery towards Pakistan. This has led to the heightened tensions between the two.
It began in May 2011 when US Special forces captured Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. The manner in which the American raid was conducted embarrassed the civilian government and the army, who said different things on different days regarding the raid. The civilian government’s position shifted from the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty to them being fully aware of an impending raid and was thus being complicit. On a number of occasions the President and Prime Minister blamed the army and the nation’s intelligence service – the ISI for the failures. Internally within the army General Ashfaq Kayani personally visited various garrisons and gave explanations in town-hall style meetings including at the National Defence University (NDU) and Quetta Staff College in order to pacify angry officers.
Three days after the Abbottabad raid, the oldest brigadier in Pakistan’s army, Brig Ali Khan, was arrested and this was only made public a month later. The Brigadier was invited to a meeting by his former student Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal at the army headquarters. It has been confirmed that General Kayani’s attitude towards the US was criticized by Brigadier Khan. An officer present in the meeting told the BBC that all had been going well until it was Brig Khan’s turn to speak. In his opinion, the culprits who had hidden Bin Laden and allowed the American’s to get away with breaching Pakistan’s sovereignty were to be found within the army. It has now become clear that he had been exerting strong pressure on the top echelons of Pakistan’s military to stop co-operating with American forces in the fight against Taliban amongst army officers who served with the brigadier during his 32-year career. With the possibility of dissent spreading across the middle layer of the army and without any specific charges against the Brigadier aside from exposing the army leadership, General Kayani accused the brigadier of having links with Hizb ut Tahrir – the Islamic political party working for Khilafah.
Events further heightened in the Salalah incident when in late November 2011 two Pakistani patrol posts on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were attacked for hours leaving 24 dead. No statement was forthcoming from the Pakistani military aside from a written statement. This led to numerous army officers making public statements against the raid completely going outside official channels of communication, including Kayani himself. The civilian government deflected blame upon the army for the security lapse, similar to what it did with the US raid on Abbottabad.
This incident put the civilian government and military officials at loggerheads as no sooner had the controversy come to public light a Memo from the civilian government to Admiral Mike Mullen became public. The Memo was published in its entirety on Foreign Policy magazine’s website on November 17. The memo requested the Obama administration to convey a “strong, urgent and direct message to General Kayani and General Pasha to “end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus.” The memo made explicit concession to the US in return for cooperation. This was in effect treason.
With the general state of the economy and with continuing support to US aims in Afghanistan by the civilian government and the military leadership, events have reached a watershed where both institutions are blaming the other to shore up their positions as they have all become exposed. In addition to this the army leadership faces huge dissent from within its ranks for its cooperation with the US.
What is the West’s role in this crisis?
Foreign interference is fundamentally the problem in Pakistan. Successive regimes, leaders, politicians and army chiefs have protected US interests and weakened Pakistan. Each of the rulers in Pakistan’s recent history have gone further than its predecessor in carrying out US orders. Under General Musharraf the army began carrying out raids in the FATA region at America’s behest. Thereafter under Kayani and Zardari CIA and FBI agents and contractors travel freely in Pakistan – as the Raymond Davies controversy showed.
US officials not only hold regular meetings with Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership but meet with Civil Servants, Corp commanders as well as civil society. The US is deeply involved with Pakistan as it wants Pakistan to serve its aims.
How important is Pakistan to the US?
Understanding US aims in the region highlights Pakistan’s importance to America. The US strategy for the region is built upon containing a future threat from China. The US is developing a number of nations around China to ensure the balance of power in the region never becomes firmly in China’s grip. For the Sub-continent which borders China the US has focused upon developing India as a rising regional counter weight and turn it into a policeman for the region. In 2003 in her testimony before the sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific, US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca, stated, “Soon after taking office, President Bush outlined his vision of a transformed and deepened US-India partnership, one that reflects India’s emergence as a major regional power.”
Under both the Bush administration and the Obama administration a whole host of tools such as aid, loans, using opportunist politicians and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been used to weaken Pakistan. Through such tools the US has forced successive Pakistani leaders both military and civilian to normalise relations with India and negotiate over Kashmir. The biggest obstacle standing in the way of US ambitions is the disputed territory of Kashmir. This crisis continues to thwart US policy, as it acts as a continuous strain on the Indian economy and political focus as she spends approximately $1 million a day on monitoring and policing the territory. Hence a solution to this problem is critical for the US to achieve its interests in the region of containing China.
In the more immediate term the US has relied upon Pakistan to conduct is its war in Afghanistan. The US has relied upon the Pakistan army to conduct operations across the FATA region into Eastern Afghanistan in order to break the resistance against US forces. The US has also relied on Pakistani territory for energy and equipment for its troops in Afghanistan. US reliance on the Pakistan supply route for its troops has remained between 50% – 80% of all supplies throughout the war.
America needs Pakistan for negotiations with the Taliban, It was Pakistan that created the Taliban and maintains links with key personnel and any final negotiation depends on Pakistan’s cooperation.
There is much talk in the international media of an imminent coup, how likely is this?
This is unlikely as both General Ashfaq Kayani and the head of the ISI - Lieutenant-General Ahmad Pasha and both Gilani and Zardari are all loyal to the US and have been so consistently. The position of the civilian government has weakened considerably since the Abbottabad raid and also due to its failure to solve the nation’s problems.
Due to this the government has attempted to deflect attention from its failures by laying blame on the army for the security failures. The government has continued its rhetoric that it was democratically elected and will finish its term and even plans to have a vote of confidence in parliament. It continues to raise the issue of a coup against democracy to deflect from its failures.
The continued collusion of General Kayani with the US is leading too much dissent within the army and a coup within the army by lower ranked officers although remote is more likely than the army undertaking a coup against the civilian leadership.
The issue at hand is both the civilian leadership and military leadership has remained loyal to the US. They are all attempting to defend their untenable positions by blaming each other, this is why they are at loggerheads.
Where does the overnight rise of Imran Khan of Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf fit into this?
The emergence of Imran Khan from the wilderness appears not to have happened naturally but appears to be an attempt to change the status quo by the US. Large demonstrations have taken place in historic sites in both Lahore and Karachi which would have needed the signatures of both Chief Ministers in Karachi and Lahore, which are in the hands of opposition parties who would otherwise not allow their areas to be used by an alternative party.
In early December 2011 the news international confirmed that at a PTI’s core committee meeting the PTI’s Punjab president confirmed there is a secret committee functioning to probe the background of its new entrants which include a former ISI official, a retired major general and some Intelligence Bureau staff – i.e. the army.
It would appear from this that the army is backing Imran Khan to replace the PPP led government. This would not be possible for Kayani or Pasha without US approval and would indicate that the US is done with Zardari. With operations in Afghanistan drawing down the need for Pakistan to be on the front lines protecting and implementing US plans is at an end and negotiations with the Taliban will now be seriously pursued. It appears the US doesn’t believe this can be achieved with Zardari as he has always supported US aims to of using the military in the northern regions. It would appear the US needs a credible individual who the Taliban as well as the tribes in the North consider a credible leader.
Zardari has been a very weak leader often relying on his wife’s political personality to gain credibility and confidence amongst his peers and the Pakistani public. Even to this day, Zardari has been unable to exert his presidential leadership and credentials on the country. He spends a considerable amount of time in his fortified presidential palace, unable or unwilling to venture out and build meet the public. His slow response to the Pakistani flood crisis in August 2010, in contrast to Kayani’s quick actions to help those beleaguered, further weakened him and his government. Additionally, the revelations by Wikileaks about Zardari’s support for America’s war against Islam, and the debacle of the Raymond Davis affair has caused his popularity to plummet to an all-time low, and rendered his government powerless.
In 2011 the US reoriented its posture in both Iraq and Afghanistan from drawing down combat troops to more specialised forces as the use of the military to achieve US aims has run its course. In Afghanistan the US has been looking to secure a host of security and political guarantees to protect its interests and it would appear that Zardari has outlived his use as the US does not see him as part of its negotiation strategy.
What are Imran Khan’s chances?
It is very early to present an analysis on him as elections are due in early 2013, however elections in Pakistan are not based on policy and thus difficult to predict.
It should be understood that Imran Khan’s party – the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is not really a political party, but a one man party, this is why it does not possess any heavy weight politicians. He is one of very few clean politicians who have a good history in Pakistan, due to his fortunes in Cricket. However his party lacks clear direction and this has resulted in Imran Khan turning to established politicians who are dripping with corruption. Since 1996, the PTI has had only one seat in the Pakistani parliament and that is occupied by Imran Khan. Therefore he has had to reach out to other politicians and ask them to join him to strengthen PTI, and thereby give the party a strong chance of performing well in the elections. Already several notable politicians and technocrats from the Musharraf era, as well as infamous politicians from PPP and PML-N have joined PTI. Around 30 politicians from Musharraf’s former party – the PML-Q joined PTI as was outlined in a report by the Dawn.
All of this has already had an effect on his message as many have wondered how independent he is after allowing many politicians into his party that previously the PTI campaigned against.
The army generally does not have a good history when it attempts to indirectly rule the country. It previously backed Zaid Hamid the former ISI operative and now political commentator. However he gained no traction with the masses and came to be seen as full of conspiracy theories.