Pakistan’s general and the warring politicians

March 13, 2009

Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is much talked about these days as the one national figure who could lean on Pakistan’s warring politicians to back down from a confrontation threatening the stability of the country. The question is over how he would intervene while maintaining a commitment to keep the army out of politics.

Most analysts have ruled out a coup for now and in an interview with PBS Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed Kayani was committed to a civilian government.

But between a military coup and non-intervention lies a huge grey area in terms of how far Kayani will, or can, go to put pressure on political rivals President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to back down.

In an editorial in The News, defence analyst Ikram Sehgal says that while negotiators shuttle back and forth between the two parties to try to find a compromise, “the ultimate answer for this political confrontation will probably emanate from Rawalpindi”, the headquarters of the Pakistan Army. “While the Army has no business running the government, will it be responsible and/or patriotic to stand by and see the government and the opposition run the country out of existence?” he asks.

Indeed a meeting between Kayani and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Wednesday raised speculation that the army chief may have already begun to put pressure on the government to find a compromise.

In an editorial in the Daily Times, Ejaz Haider writes that Kayani could try to get Gilani to convince Zardari that his current confrontation with Sharif has to stop.

“The army chief is a worried man, as he should be. His troops are spread thin. He is fighting against an elusive enemy; and he is fighting a war for which there is not much public acceptance,” he writes. “The irreducible minimum he needs is political stability because with stability comes the possibility of a popular buy-in for counter-insurgency.”

While ruling out a coup, he writes that “what Kayani can do is to try and get the prime minister to signal to Zardari that the current confrontation is not sustainable; that some compromise formula needs to be arrived at to defuse the situation. Of course, the ‘or else’ qualifier for greater effect would be welcome.”

The biggest problem will come if the politicians fail to reach a compromise or if violence on the streets triggered by the Long March - the nationwide protest by lawyers and opposition politicians to demand an independent judiciary – reaches such a level that the army has to be called out to maintain order. As discussed in a previous post, that is exactly the kind of situation that has led to military takeovers in the past.

Defence analyst Brian Cloughley says the police and paramilitary forces could end up being overwhelmed by sheer numbers if the march gets out of hand, and demonstrations become violent. “The last resort is the army, which could not stand by and let the country fall deeper into chaos.  Indeed, the Constitution requires this — but of course the army must remain under government control. The problem will be if the government collapses, which is possible,” he wrote an in email. “This may lead to the army simply having to exert some sort of force in order to keep the country stable — or as stable as can be managed.  Kayani would of course prefer to do this through and on the orders of the civil power — but there might not be a civil power to exercise authority.

“In the event of a complete breakdown, Kayani would have to act, which he would do with great reluctance.  He is a constitutional patriot, make no mistake about that, and he would seek advice — probably, and ironically, from senior judges.”

We’re not there yet. But there is a terrible irony in the fact that just over a year after an election meant to restore civilian democracy following then General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup in 1999, Pakistanis are already looking to the Pakistan Army to restore stability. For now it seems to be limited to an expectation that Kayani will throw his weight around enough behind the scenes (or has already done so) to force the country’s politicians to make peace.  But if this assessment is correct, it suggests that the one person who can prevent a coup and help shore up the country’s fragile democracy is the head of the army. From a constitutional point of view, that does not sit right. But is there an alternative?

(Reuters 2008 file photo of Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani with then president Pervez Musharraf; 2008 file photo of political rivals former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari)


Dara write.. leave Pakistan alone…

Perfect, so be it! Now where is the guarantee that the events dont spin out of control and the civilians don’t lose to islamists grabbing the reins of power, or the military sitting in Islamabad for next 10 yrs.
*Back in 80s I met paks , a bunch of good humored guys, in middle east. They sounded happy with their tongue in cheek remarks about russo-afghan war; you know what they said, ‘thanks to refugees, we are well suffused with un and us funds.’ US and IMF money became inseparable to paks survival, and hence its justified to demand civil conduct in a global context.
*You do accept that humongous volcanoes are active in pak that burn your country perennially, like fundamentalism, thanks to Saudis. Go to core issues eating your country: reform madarassa education for starters. Remove hate literature in your school civic text books poisoning your children. Window dressings like elections without fundamental changes in your civic life whatsoever, takes your country nowhere.


Thank you for posting the link. Please note the following from that link:
“Yet disputes arose immediately. There were legal implications about sharing such sensitive military technology with a foreign power, and some senior U.S. officials balked at using the PALs, thinking they would give the Pakistanis too much insight into America’s own nuclear war fighting system. “The Paks are smart. What they can see and examine, they can re-engineer,” said one.”

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Lawlessness in Pakistan must put to an end by invading pakistan.Since they have abused their freedom by producing and exporting muslim terrorists everywhere, we need to revoke their freedom.Mosques and Madrasas must be the prime target of detruction as they are main harboring ground for terrorists.
As long as they(PAK) are confined as bond servant to US,world need not to worry about Pak’s smuggled nukes from china.Worl must concentrate on eradicating root cause of terrorism(many believe it is ISLAM).

Posted by Kumar | Report as abusive

@Just to comment about Nuclear Weapons, I do not understand why Pakistan cannot sell this technology to “rogue nations” only because a few elite countries say that you cannot.
- Posted by Ahmed

Ahmed: Are you the same “Ahmed” (Qureshi) with blog/website. If yes, then I pity Pakistan. The responsible people like you feel that there is “nothing wrong” to sell nuclear technology (and you do not even point out civil use) to “rogue nations”. This is not a matter of “a few elite countries say that you cannot” as you feel, it is moral and ethical question if you yourself feel they are “rogue nations”. If that still does not convince you a bit, then think about the safety issues—you and your near and dear ones. You can give Nukes to the rogues, but cannot ask them to use the way you want. They can vaporize anyone with out Pakistan’s permission when they feel they have nothing to lose. There is a difference between fighting against the “nuclear apartheid” and helping the rogues or irresponsibles.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

@On Pak Nuclear weapons:

“Some of the American technicians have had direct access to the nuclear weapons themselves, these sources said.
There is no denying that US is trying to check Pak nukes.”

US is definetely eyeing the Pak and Iran’s Nuke programmes (wrt Israel). From US’s POV, unless there is total US total control, it is as good as no control. I will doubt they have total control. Reports might be overestimting and you might be underestimating.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive


We are not so concerned about your country having the nukes. What your country will do with the nukes will not matter to you, because you are not going to be affected by it. If your jihadi machinery takes over and has the same attitude that you have, then it increases the probability of trigger happy action that will lead to mutually assured destruction of the sub-continent. If your non state actors get through the porous Indian border with dirty nukes and cause havoc, your establishment will wash them off (look at how they acted after the Mumbai attacks). Musharraf denied that there were any Pakistani soldiers involved in the Kargill conflict and later on it is being mentioned in the Pakistani circles about your soldiers. After the Mumbai conflict, the US almost came close to forcing Pakistan to stay quiet and have India go at some of the LeT camps inside POK. Somehow that got set aside as Pakistani establishment agreed to take the next course of action – accepting that the terrorists were Pakistanis. The US is very worried that its objectives in the region will not be met if a conflict arises between India and Pakistan. Otherwise they don’t care if the two countries decimate each other with nukes. They’ll condemn it in a forum and move on. If one more terrorist strike happens inside India, I can bet there is going to be a bloody nuclear war between the two countries. Do not celebrate it. It will be hell fire and not only us, you will go too. Do not day dream about becoming a martyr and having access to 18 virgins. No suicide bomber from the Islamic world has come back to tell us about it.

Realize that your country is being manipulated by external powers to meet their objectives – the US, UK, China etc. The reason why they do not mind your country taking a periodic bite at India is because they want to keep your country under frenzy at all times. If India and Pakistan choke each other’s throat and fall off the cliff, guess who gets to gain.

As time goes on, more and more things are becoming real. Do not drink too much chai.


The turn of events in Pakistan do not augur well for a civilian society , but the question whether Pakistan is at all a civilian society-where army backed by most dreaded and maligned intelligence agency ISI with active support from islamic terror outfits work only with limited agenda: to cause as much damage to India by waging low intensity war using these terror outfits, secondly to spread jehad all over the world as if Pakistanis are custodians of islam or islam is in danger and control the drug and opium growing region of Afghanistan ? To achieve these objectives when the international community get fed up with Pak army, they stage some election and ask Pakistanis to vote for a particular group of politicians, Zardari , Gillani and Nawaz Sharif are no different from them ,Pakistanis like very obedient citizens, select some of these politicians nominated .

For all practical purposes, Pakistan is controlled by Pakistani army and its stooge ISI ,whether directly or through their political nominees , so it does not make any difference who is in power.

The nefarious designs of Pakistan are exposed before the world , and the presence of nuclear weapons and the proliferators like A.Q.Khan , pose gravest danger to international community . It is incumbent upon international community to prosecute Khan and his cronies for crimes against humanity and take control of all nuclear arsenals.

Posted by anju2008 | Report as abusive

I seem to have gotten bored with hearing, listening and reading about Pakistan recently. Ever since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated things have been going downhill fast. Since then all news stories stemming from Pakistan have been bad, negative and terrible. I just now have looked at websites of BBC, CNN, NY Times, Times (UK) and a few more. All the front page news is about Pakistan. Frankly, it is enough to make you roll your eyes and say, “Oh, to hell with it all!”

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

General Kiyani is doing a good job and has restored the army’s image in the eyes of the public.


Chai keeps you sober, which is why our nukes are secure. I don’t know what you have been drinking to dream up all these scenarios of “Taliban” getting control of nukes.


India makes world’s cheapest car , Pakistan makes world’s cheapest terrorist

Posted by anju2008 | Report as abusive


Indians should also learn to be relevant while posting on this blog.


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