Monday, December 8, 2008

An Insight Into Pakistan Army and Musharraf

The Army and Future
In the past six years Pakistan Army has taken flak from many quarters for the political decisions of its Commander, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf. These anti military chants however symbolic are in the backdrop of the biggest challenge the military has faced in internal security. The casualty toll of officers and men runs in thousands and continues to rise. Where are these sacrifices leading to? And why must we die for a cause, rejected by many Pakistanis are questions that are bound to trouble the soldier’s mind. Yet each day, they venture out against militants and return with more casualties. Feelings for a fallen comrade run very high, but they rise again to the call of duty.

In the course of this partly disowned war, the top military command structure has remained loyal and disciplined. Over a course of time, Musharraf’s Praetorian Guard retired and those who were brigadiers in 1999 are now the Corps Commanders. This top echelon of the Army got commissioned in the early 70s or later. Some saw the war of 1971 as junior officers while others were never exposed to combat other than Kargil. This is also a generation born after 1947 that joined the armed forces from amongst the best in the country. Those were the days when young men aspired for recruitment and when folklores canonised soldiers as heroes.

Despite many military interventions, Pakistan Army has never assumed a praetorian character in the classic sense. Now that a new command has been assumed, would the army continue with the unstinted loyalty or would there be a change in dynamics? This is a question that many ask but have no answers. This paper explores the interaction between the professional hardcore and the politics in times of military intervention and the effects it would have on the future of the country.

Zia’s Legacy and Backwash of Afghan War
The long reign of Zia left scars on the military. It ushered an era of religious sycophancy. More than the survival of Pakistan, a war was waged against USSR for political sustenance. The cost that Pakistan had to pay was very high. In the post Zia era, the army was cognisant and continued to distance itself from this perception. It tried hard to pick the best out of the worst. During the tenures of Generals Aslam Baig, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar and Jeghanghir Karamat, the major military concern in a cramped economic environment, was to achieve strategic balance against India. Religious sycophancy was replaced by pluralism. Deserving non Muslim officers were promoted to high ranks as also to extremely sensitive appointments. However, there remained a BACKLOG that was to threaten the entire world.

Turmoil in Post USSR Afghanistan
The disintegration of USSR and subsequent ‘Hands Off’’ policy by USA created a turmoil in Afghanistan that raised security concerns for Pakistan. The huge influx of refugees, gun running and narcotics left serious scars on the Pakistani fabric. Warlordism in Afghanistan and a safe haven for Tran nationalist Islamists created new dynamics and distanced the dream of opening doors to Central Asia. The rise of Taliban was perhaps a very considered policy and could never be been pursued without the approval of the major actors. Oil cartels from USA hugged and entertained them so as to get an energy corridor to CARs. However, neither Pakistan nor any other stake holder exercised sufficient influence over these new actors to affect stability. Like so many countries in Africa, Afghanistan was being allowed to ‘BURN OUT’1 . The Taliban controlled opium production and kept the Northern Alliance at bay, with whom both Russia and India enjoyed considerable clout. It also diminished the influence of Pashtun Sardars albeit warlords that was to later have serious repercussions for Pakistan’s security. They espoused Arab militants and threatened the entire world. Militancy began to flow out of religious seminaries.

The Battle on Pakistan’s ‘Reverse Front’
9/11 gave a twist and time jump to events complicating Pakistan’s security concerns. The deliberate exclusion of Pashtuns from the political process in Afghanistan alienated the battle hardy Pashtun tribes and created an overlap between the Al Qaida Islamists and Pashtun. Northern Alliance was allowed to operate in Pashtun areas shattering the precariously held balance in Afghan politics for centuries. Any Pashtun quest for withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan was seen as an Al Qaida Threat. As the threat from both merged, Pakistan’s security concerns became graver.

Standoff with India in 2000-2001 forced Pakistan to undertake military deployment in the East. Some security analysts believe that this Indian deployment was consented by USA. To further complicate security concerns, India went public with its ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ forcing Pakistan into forward deployments by pulling out formations from the Afghanistan Border. This made the geographically pervious frontier even more porous for militants to cross into Pakistan which they did. The environment had been shaped and Pakistan’s worst nightmare hypothesis was materialising. The flow of the so called Afghan Jihad into the autonomous tribal areas of Pakistan was facilitated. The US sponsored marshalling area to fight USSR was turned around. As in Afghanistan, a cocktail of religion and Pashtun nationalism diminished the role of Pakistani tribal maliks, who had controlled the area for hundreds of years. Pakistan lost political control of the area. Indian consulates operating close to Pak Afghan Border infiltrated insurgents to mix with the Taliban. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) resurfaced. Amongst the foreigners present in Pakistan, Chinese were singled out for killing and harassment.
The entire Afghan policy maintained over decades had come home to roost. The Battle on Pakistan’s ‘Reverse Front’ had begun.

Role of Military-1988-99
Pakistan Army made concerted efforts to stay way from political interventions from 1988-1999. During this time the focus was shifted to supporting the governments in national development. However, the Army Chiefs continued to be dragged into political squabbles one way or another. To deter any future military interventions and relegate the prevailing TRIOKA, military think tanks came up with an idea akin to the National Security Council. However the very Prime Minister who sacked an army chief for propounding such an institution ironically became the victim for the lack of it. Handpicked General Pervez Musharraf inherited an army that carried the scars of this insult.

General Musharraf was an officer known for his many reforms in the army related to training and welfare. He was reputed as daring, down to earth and always in know of the needs of his command. It was but obvious that he carried the same ideas when he became the army chief. The army was now ready to play a vital role in national development like reclaiming land for agriculture, digging of canals, controlling salinity, dredging waterways and running primary level schools through its retied manpower. Comprehensive study papers and proposals were made and presented. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif however, had his own ideas and wanted the army to only check electricity thefts, ghost schools and control traffic, something that military had reservations in doing but yet complied. The project of dredging canals for provision of water to the tails was carried out by the army voluntarily. It contributed to bumper wheat and cotton crops the next year. Kargil proved a watershed. Nawaz Sharif, despite being briefed throughout its phases, disowned the Kargil Operation and failed to provide the needed political support. There was a feeling in the army that during the briefings, he had a very short concentration span and failed to comprehend political linkages.

The Kargil Fiasco was seen as an affront to the army and strategic objectives around Siachin. It undermined military prestige and morale. Having successfully removed the President, Chief Justice and Army Chief, Nawaz Sharif now shifted his focus to the opposition and army. Many politicians along with their relatives were abducted; in one case, his sleuths raided a military housing complex and abducted a serving senior military officer. The officer was later left abandoned after torture and interrogation. The intelligence agencies were politicised and tasked surveillance of military officers. Direct contacts were also established with some corps commanders; in one case the officer being unceremoniously removed by the army chief. Nawaz Sharif had left no space for anyone but himself to operate. He decided to remove the army chief while he was in air. The counter coup followed and got accolades by the entire opposition including Benazir and Imran Khan.

General Musharraf- From Reformer to President
To begin, Musharraf was a reluctant coup maker but yet decided to ride the wave of this mass approval. He created a hybrid by running the country through civilians while retaining the army as his support base. He refused to declare Martial Law and retained the incumbent President as the titular head of state. He forayed into such initiatives as engaging India, moderating Taliban, tax registration, dams and devolution. In earnest, he wanted himself to be remembered as a reformer and considered legitimacy secondary. However, this was not to persist. The hybrid of neither here nor there progressively distanced his main constituency. He formed concentric circle of advisors comprising political, military, diplomatic, analysts, intelligence and personal friends/well wishers. Many a times, it led to guessing as to who the real advisors were? It is this hybrid that can be singled out for the many bad decisions he made over the course of time. It is often commented that his close aids and advisors put an insular ring around him. The more he delved into internal politics, the deeper he fell into the quagmire.

Threat Perception is now a fine tuned social science. Various threats and vulnerabilities combine to create a decision making cycle. In the calculus Musharraf never was hesitant to put his own reputation at stake. Invariably, whatever the decisions; however good or bad; appear to have been taken on the premise of supreme national interest. Was Musharraf a victim of his exaggerated threat perception or exaggerated indispensability? Or do his perceptions on national security run counter to public perceptions?

To find the first answer, one has to critically analyse abundant chatter that emanates from US Think Tanks, universities, media, India and the White House. The status of Pakistan as an ally in War on Terror is neither that of a friend, nor a foe.

Pakistan is regarded as an unstable state for a long term association susceptible to implosion. The spectre of Islamic militants taking over nuclear weapons is over exaggerated. The thesis of ‘Blood Borders’2 has not gone unnoticed. To justify the doomsday scenario, environments have been shaped to create an insurgency in tribal and some settled areas. In the calculus of National Power, the most organised body, the army has been brought into disrepute. Nuclear weapons provide stability but have also become vulnerability. Military and the General can see through this strategy. They have adopted the most prudent approach; Gain Time and not allow another Iraq to happen. This is where the exaggerated indispensability lies.

Vulnerabilities and indispensability notwithstanding, Musharraf was also under pressure to restore constitutionalism. He and his security analysts were of the view that to override the crisis, unity of command was extremely important. Unlike a military operation, this was to be handled by constitutional and political experts. Unfortunately the team chosen comprised individuals who had on previous occasions hobnobbed with military regimes. They cut and paste the old working and devised the road to democracy paved with unconstitutional measures, creating a crisis in the country. This charade of political legitimacy with a mindset of 1935 began with an ill advised referendum. Realising that a political vacuum had been created due to exclusion of major political parties, Imran Khan was considered a bold and honest choice, but he declined. Athe President had to rely on a ruling from the Supreme Court of Pakistan to hold elections and become a constitutional President in uniform. To run matters the way he wanted, he was advised to make a political constituency to enable constitutional indemnity. A combination of threat perception and indispensability strengthened this quest for legitimacy till it consumed his reformist self. The reforms that he carried out so zealously were turned around; judges removed, media gagged and emergency proclaimed. Alas! Policies of reforms changed to political expediency and the much trumpeted Seven Points Agenda was lost in the maze of day to day reactive politics.

Internationally, 9/11 was his test. He had not only to steer Pakistan safely from becoming a failed terrorist state but also contend with deployments of Indian offensive formations. He reacted by acceding to US demands while also holding elections to remove the stigma of dictatorship and concentrated at saving the day for Pakistan. I am sure that the compounded security concerns explained earlier tempted him to play for a draw in the best interests of Pakistan. PMLQ was drafted to fill the vacuum in which the religious right assumed more space than expected ominously, all along the Pak-Afghan Border. Under immense pressure from USA, he reluctantly moved the army into the tribal areas now proliferated by elements belonging to all shades of militancy and linkages conveniently lumped by USA and others as Taliban/Al Qaida.

It is now known that USA-NATO. Indian-Israeli eavesdropping stations to the north of Pakistan monitor the entire Pakistani electronic chatter be it military communications or cell phones. The fact that sophisticated and state of the art, FM radio stations operated by many groups cannot be jammed by Pakistani electronic counter measures, indicate the sophisticated level of intervention in Pakistan’s affairs.

The army has run into an ambush. It now operates in a most hostile and unfriendly environment. Every operation is watched, every communication eavesdropped and treacherously, every movement ambushed. There are pro Pakistan Taliban, Afghan Taliban, nomadic revolutionaries of the Al Qaida strain, Chechens, Uzbeks, Uighers, Tajiks, criminals and smugglers to name a few; each with the strings attached elsewhere.
The Army and Future
The shaping of the environment and the threats it poses to Pakistan have been seen at close hand by the army and its new chief. He was the DGMO when the Indian deployments took place. He was the general who reluctantly pulled formations from the Afghan border to the East. As DG ISI, he has closely monitored the murky world of agencies and counter intelligence. In the past six years he has occupied the most sensitive appointments. On the flipside, he has no political or feudal linkages. Son of a junior commissioned officer, he has toiled his way up the ladder. Known to be cool, calculative and expressionless, he has weathered many a crisis, including two assassination attempts on the President the red mosque incident and very recently, two suicide bombings against GHQ and ISI. He understands the message being passed to him as also who sends them.

The military hierarchy in Pakistan shares this perception. They also understand where the threat to security and stability lies. Therefore, under General Kayani, Pakistan Army will provide full support to President Musharraf in the policies that he formulates. There appears to be a consensus on national reconciliation, and any political party that shares these perceptions will be taken on board. In the view of the establishment, security concerns will continue to take precedence over domestic politics. But there is an if?

As time passes, the new military chief will become more assertive. In due course the present intelligence chiefs will be posted out. Slowly chatter will flow into the ears of General Kayani. Fly by night reformers will try their best to gain access. Ideas will be proliferated and he will be urged. The mind set of 1935 will try to prevail once again.
Knowing Kayani, he will do what he does best; listen and think.
(First published in November 2007)

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