Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
With the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship. It was probably not the worst row — remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.
But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention – an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.
It was also the first serious row since the Obama administration began to build what it promised would be a new strategic relationship with Pakistan.
As I wrote earlier this month, overall relations between the United States and Pakistan were rather better than they looked (or at least than they appeared at the height of the Davis row). Compared to two years ago, Pakistan is more likely to talk now about the need for stability in Afghanistan than strategic depth (the extent of this shift is open to debate). The United States has also moved closer towards meeting Pakistan’s calls for a political settlement in Afghanistan by holding direct talks with representatives of the Taliban, according to several official sources with knowledge of those contacts.
Never in the history of Pakistan has a democratically elected civilian government served out its full term and then been replaced by another one, also through democratic elections. It is that context that makes the latest political crisis in Pakistan so important.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is scrambling to save his PPP-led government after it lost its parliamentary majority when its coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), announced it would go into opposition. A smaller religious party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), already quit the coalition last month. If the government falls and elections are held ahead of schedule in 2013, the opportunity for Pakistan to have a government which serves its full term will be lost.
U.S. pressure on Pakistan has always led to deep resentment within the Pakistan Army, which has taken heavy casualties of its own fighting Pakistani Taliban militants on its side of the border with Afghanistan. But there are signs that this resentment is now spiralling in dangerously unpredictable ways.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency has denied it was responsible for revealing the name of a senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official in Pakistan, forcing him to flee the country after threats to his life. But the suspicion lingers that the ISI, which falls under the control of the Pakistan Army, is flexing its muscles in response to U.S. pressure.
The Pakistan Army prides itself on being an institution which rises above politics and personal ambition, committed to defend the interests of the nation. That this has not always been the case is demonstrated by its history of military coups, and a tendency of past military rulers, from General Zia ul-Haq to former president Pervez Musharraf, to impose a very personal brand of leadership. Where Zia pushed Pakistan towards hardline Islam, Musharraf aimed at “enlightened moderation” in a country he wanted modelled more on Turkey than on Saudi Arabia.
While no one expects the military to launch another coup, some of that historical memory is feeding into increasingly intense speculation about the future of Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is due to retire in November.
from Afghan Journal:
Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.
Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.
So much for democracy. When Pakistan holds a “strategic dialogue” with the United States in Washington this week, there is little doubt that the leading player in the Pakistani delegation will be its army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.
We have got so used to Americans dealing with the Pakistan Army in their efforts to end the stalemate in Afghanistan that it does not seem that surprising that the meeting between the United States and Pakistan would be dominated by the military. Nor indeed that Dawn columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee would describe Kayani as the most powerful man in Pakistan. Even the grudging admiration granted in this Times of India profile of Kayani by Indrani Baghchi is in keeping with the current mood.
U.S. plans to triple aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year appear to have run rather quickly afoul of the law of unintended consequences – by threatening to create tensions between the government and the army.
The Kerry-Lugar aid bill is meant to bolster Pakistan’s civilian democracy and help the country fight Islamist militants. But it also stipulates that U.S. military aid will cease if Pakistan does not help fight the militants; seeks Pakistani cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and provides for an assessment of how effective the civilian government’s control is over the military.
With the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan likely to meet on the sidelines of a summit in Egypt this month, to be followed up by talks between the two countries’ leaders, newspapers on both sides of the border are exploring the space for progress in a peace process broken off by New Delhi after last November’s attacks on Mumbai.
The Hindu says that officials in both New Delhi and Islamabad are working to prepare the ground for the meetings – expected to take place on the sidelines of a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Sharm el-Sheikh – so that at least some progress can be made.
The Pakistan Army has been getting a lot of flak over the past week or so for its alleged failure to take a tough line against Taliban militants expanding their reach across Pakistan’s north-west. And although Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani issued a statement promising to fight the militants and security forces began a new offensive, doubts remain about the military’s willingness to take on Islamist groups that it once nurtured as part of its rivalry with India.
Among a spate of articles about Pakistan’s powerful military, Newsweek ran a piece headlined “Pakistan’s Self-Defeating Army”. It argued that far from serving as a bulwark against chaos, the military had helped destabilise Pakistan by undermining the development of a civilian democracy in the decades since the country was founded in 1947.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has put out a paper on the need to reform Pakistan’s intelligence agencies just as army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is winning much praise for playing what is seen as a decisive role in defusing the country’s latest political crisis and saving democracy.
French scholar Frederic Grare says in the paper the reform and “depoliticisation” of the agencies, in particular the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is imperative.