PAKISTAN is witnessing a test of wills between its civil and military elite. It is a play of many parts and a thriller in its own right. It contains within it the subtext of provocation, courtesy Mansoor Ijaz. Pakistan is in the grip of ever-increasing speculation.
The question that I ask myself is: who benefits from the current turbulence? It is not helping the military as it diverts its focus from its main task that is to enhance the nation’s security and fight the insurgency. Recent reports indicate that the militants have increased their attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. Thus the tussle is threatening national security.
Rationality demands that it must be terminated.
The political leadership is already in the dock in the Supreme Court, where the government is being pummelled into a state of incoherence with each passing day.
The setback that it is facing at the hands of the judiciary and the military indicates that the ruling civilian clique is in a quandary and the prime minister and his advisers appear to be at their wits’ end.
It is becoming increasingly clear that perhaps the only solution to this crisis is to call early elections otherwise the crisis will deepen. In the face of the military’s onslaught, it is the only viable alternative left. The recent resolution placed before parliament may be a tactical thrust, but it is unlikely to make much of a difference.
A study of Pakistan’s history and its civil-military relations shows that that there are certain features of the Pakistani polity that lays down the dos and don’ts of its politics and unless these are transformed there is unlikely to be a change in the civil-military dynamics managing Pakistan.
So what are the main featuresof the civil-military landscape? The ‘establishment’ as it is euphemistically called is composed of an oligarchy consisting of politicians, the military, intelligence agencies, some civilservants, some media personalities and a sprinkling of those from other professions of lawyers, businessmen, landlords and the recent addition of militants.
What is not remarked on is the space provided to the militants to enforce the formation of a new identity.
This oligarchy has managed Pakistan since the 1960s. The military has kept the Pakistan political system under scrutiny for its alleged incompetence, failure to address the people’s problems and corruption. The military rests its case for right to influence policy based on competence, patriotism and a better understanding of the national interest.
Membership to this oligarchy, that numbers anywhere from 800 to 1,000, is dictated by belonging to an influential class and adherence to the oligarchy’s core values. Anyone who challenges these precepts is categorised as unsafe and removed from this group or eliminated in the new variant.
It is thus not necessary that all senior officers will be its members unless they also follow the value set that is largely determined by the military.
The core beliefs of the 011-garchy are: India is a threat to Pakistan; Pakistan’s security is foremost a military one; strategically the defence of Pakistan lies in the protection of Punjab and thus it forms the heartland ofthe state;the establishment agrees that social reform though theoretically necessary is too risky and can cause destabilisation.
Reforms are thus delayed and reliance is instead placed on seeking military and economic assistance for growth by forming alliances with the US and now China.
On the other hand, the politicians have attempted to slip out of the military’s stranglehold by banking on people’s power. Such efforts are only marginally effective.
Mr Bhutto used populism to bring changes but as support dwindled he was neutralised by the formation of the rightist Pakistan National Alliance under the manipulation of the ISI. An orchestrated agitation finally led to Gen Zia’s coup and Bhutto’s ouster and his subsequent execution.
In 1999, Mr Nawaz Sharif with his large parliamentary majority attempted to marginalise the ambitious Gen Musharraf he too faced a coup and was removed from power and arrested and made to leave Pakistan. If the past is any indicator, then it is clear that the military has placed the weak political government in a defensive position.
It is well known that the PPP was brought to power under an arrangement crafted between the military, the PPP and the US. The current army chief was at the time the head of the powerful ISI and obviously gave his consent to the arrangement. So what went wrong despite the attempt of the political leadership to keep the general staff happy? A good guess is that the military’s distrust of the PPP is rooted in its attempts to reform the ISI, while the May 2 raid on Abbottabad has dented the military’s claim of competence, protector of national security and obtainerof foreign resources for modernisation.
It is argued that perhaps there is a secret caveat between the US and the PPP as the price of being brought to power and that it is to open up Pakistan’s nuclear assets to greater transparency. The military fears that such an arrangement would compromise Pakistan’s deterrence against India and the PPP government might thus be harmful.
The other pieces in this puzzle like the prime minister’s remarks suggesting the military’s complicity in the Bin Laden affair or the ‘memogate’ case are some of the other peripheral matters placing the PPP government under pressure. The acrimony will not end.
In order to reverse Pakistan’s decline, it is necessary that the ‘establishment’ should have a realistic understanding of the international environment facing it instead of being cornered into isolation and have international sanctions imposed. The choice is ours.