Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

In Pakistan, history may not even rhyme, let alone repeat


In his book, Between Mosque and Military, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani wrote of how military coups in the past were carefully planned, yet carried out in such a way as to give the appearance of being a spontaneous reaction to an emergency.

“The Pakistan military always insists on an immediate provocation as the trigger of its coups,” wrote Haqqani, who was forced to quit last month after being accused of involvement in a memo seeking American help to rein in the army, an allegation he denies.  “The army’s ability to swiftly execute a military takeover within hours of a supposed provocation is often attributed to its having contingency plans for such occasions. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals a pattern of careful prior planning, including disorder in the streets orchestrated with the help of the reliable street power of Islamist political parties.”

No one in Pakistan is expecting an outright military takeover – the army has specifically denied it. But that ghost of coups past is haunting Pakistan in its latest political crisis, one which could ultimately force out the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

First of all, the signs pointing towards a civilian-military confrontation have been there for months – before the scandal over the alleged memo. The U.S. humiliation of the Pakistan Army in the May 2 raid which killed Osama bin Laden, and subsequent attempt to corner it over its alleged support for Afghan militants, put the military’s back against the wall in a way not seen its disastrous Kargil war of 1999. That conflict led to the ouster of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup.